Sustainable development a sham, says anthropologist

The Orang Asli protest against the proposed degazetting of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve.

PETALING JAYA: An anthropologist said he no longer believes in any government’s capability and commitment in “doing the right thing” on issues related to ecology and the environment.

Alberto Gomes, a professor at Australia’s La Trobe University, said politicians and multilateral agencies were driven by greed and more attracted to short-term economic gains instead of long-term ecological benefits for the future of humanity.

“Governments are often beholden to corporations and extractive industries like logging and mining.

“While it is the responsibility of governments to care for nature, they tend to cater to the interests of capitalists driven to profit economically from nature rather than ecological concerns,” he told FMT.

Prof Alberto Gomes of La Trobe University, Australia.

Gomes said the widely used term “sustainable development” was an oxymoron, stressing that growth and sustainability did not go hand-in-hand.

He said the past three decades of sustainable development, championed by the United Nations (UN), had not yielded results and had instead led to ecological and environmental degradation.

“Despite that, in 2015, the same group of people in the UN decided to come up with a new programme called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“When we come up with these very philosophical, rhetorical devices, they sound so persuasive and convincing, but when we look at growth and so-called sustainability, they are strange bedfellows.

“It’s a contradiction. You cannot grow and at the same time try to sustain.The word ‘sustain’ itself in the English language means to hold on, to strengthen, to keep something going, to maintain.

“The question I want to ask is can we strengthen or maintain the current system if we actually want to keep ecological health,” he said, adding that the term had become a buzzword in recent times.

Gomes said the problems faced by the world today could be traced to the pursuit of economic growth, and that countries had become “obsessed” with it.

He said much could be learned from the indigenous people, explaining that the perception about humans and nature of these communities differed from that of “modern” societies.

“Indigenous peoples consider humans as part of nature. Most Indigenous communities live in peace with one another and with nature. They take only what they need from nature.

”In modern societies, especially in capitalist societies, people take more than what they need. They over-exploit, over-extract driven by greed. (There is) an obsession with accumulation.”

Previously, Gomes had spoken out against the proposed degazetting of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve by the Selangor government.

He said it displayed ignorance of what the forests meant to the Orang Asli, and urged authorities to take heed of the community’s concerns for the benefit of humanity at large.