STS - conferences, IST2012

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Sustainability in an age of austerity
Tim O'Riordan

Last modified: 2012-05-04


The manner in which sustainability is presented needs to change to fit the national mood of anxiety and frugality over the coming decade. It seems timely to portray a new form of social enterprise economy, where investment in social betterment and individual well-being takes on a higher purpose, and the overall value of nature’s bounties is fully included in national accounts. Above all, we face a future, not experienced since the end of the last war, when our offspring may be financially worse off than their parents, with fewer jobs of a conventional kind to choose from. If this is to be the case, then sustainability needs to embrace the confidence, sense of self worth, and capacity to adapt to new forms of employment and living that all people need to experience before they can become true citizens. Citizenship is both a frame of mind and way of sharing. It conveys responsibility and virtue, with companionship and neighbourliness.

All tribal creatures have to display such qualities if the group as a whole is to survive. Any significant change to take place in this shift to a ‘well-being sustainability’ will depend on the state of the conventional economy in the coming years, the experiences of young people in getting a decent education and employment, the tolerance of parents, and the plight of the growing underclass of the disadvantaged. This framework sets the scene for both opportunity and deepening crisis. To follow the first is to embrace the emerging age of sustainable development.