Sustainability and a wide range of issues and topics related to it have been some of the most frequently discussed subjects in the contemporary world. Today, sustainability has grown into a concept of quite a complex nature with multiple layers that apply to many different aspects of life. As a result, sustainability can be discussed in terms of the modern economy, the globalizing trading relationships, the rapidly developing field of technology that tends to produce adverse effects on the environments, the global society’s attitudes toward the resources and their allocation in the future, and the planetary boundaries that help to define the ecological aspects of sustainable development. As the contemporary world is highly fragmented regarding cultural, economic, political, and social development, there exist several various perspectives of sustainability and the need for sustainable development. The primary focus of this paper is the review of the concept of sustainability, the discussion of industrialization as its most powerful factor.
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Sustainability as a Concept
The concept of sustainability can be treated as a controversial subject because there are many stakeholders in this issue with very different approaches. Moreover, as a theoretical and practical field of expert knowledge, this sphere is relatively new, and thus it still has a wide range of questions without answers, untested hypotheses, and predictions that require further research.
The concept of sustainability is tightly connected with that of sustainable development. The former derives from the latter; and both present a topic that has quickly become central in modern society (Sachs 1). Moreover, starting to discuss both of these concepts, Sachs noted that the key to the understanding of their objectives and meanings lies in many different issues such as the development of technology that has skyrocketed over the last centuries and the impact it produced on the global society (1).
In other words, the development that human civilization has seen over the last couple of centuries has produced a massive impact on the world around affecting the resources people require to continue living. As a result, there exists a problem of creating a way of development and life that would not clash with the environment but would maintain and restore the important resources. In turn, sustainability, as a concept can be defined as an ability of the human society (or its separate aspects) to maintain the desired practices and behaviors for an indefinite or a very lengthy period. In this regard, the desired practices referred to the continuation of life itself, as well as the maintenance of a comfortable and safe lifestyle. Differently put, sustainability is a concept that is expected to provide answers to the question of how should human society manage its existing resources in order not to run out of them?
In this way, the sustainable development involves the practices designed to resolve the present environmental concerns on our planet and also come up with new strategies helping to introduce and use technology without harming the environment or at least achieve the possible minimum of damage resulting from the human activities.
Industrialization and Its Global Consequences
For many centuries, the vast majority of people in the world used to live in rural areas and maintain their households with the help of farming occupations. However, the onset of industrialization that occurred in Europe in the 1700s and lasted for several centuries gradually gaining pace contributed to a massive change in the allocation of the population (Sachs 101). To be more precise, the industrializing cities began to attract more people as they provided jobs at factories and plants and the populations of the industrializing countries started to relocate from the rural areas to the urban centers. Alongside the growth of the cities, the development of science and medicine powered by industrialization contributed to the reduction of the mortality rates among both the adults and children and the growth of average lifespans. Consequently, the population of our planet became much larger within a short period.
In turn, the consumption of natural resources grew significantly. At the same time, the active leap in the rates of production increased the harm done by humanity to the environment. Namely, the multiplying modes of transportations, plants, factories, and the growing need for more goods led to a higher amount of emissions, chemical discharges, litter, waste, and pollution.
At the same time, alongside the advancement of technology, the communications grew as well. As a result, the countries of the world began to interact with one another thus powering a complex process that is now referred to as globalization. The latter led to the formation of the global economy and politics that are based on the connections and relations between different states. In that way, all of the countries are deeply involved in the highly penetrative global network where large-scale processes such as military conflicts and economic crises tend to produce a massive impact not only on the direct participants but also on the stakeholders who can a secondary type of connections to the events.
Advantages (Economic Prosperity Perspective)
Discussing the process of industrialization, it is critical to describe its multiple effects. It is possible to notice that whenever this concept is spoken about in the West, it is generally presented as a beneficial phenomenon that contributed to a huge improvement of life in terms of comfort, safety, prosperity, and self-actualization. At the same time, it is critical to remember that even though the process of industrialization could be observed all around the globe, only a few of the world’s countries managed to benefit from it. To be more precise, according to Sachs, since the earliest stages of the Industrial Revolution and by the second half of the 19th century, the threshold of two thousand US dollars per capita had been reached only by the countries of Europe, North America, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the Soviet Union (101). The vast majority of the world’s countries remained poor regardless of the technological revolution. In fact, the harsh division between the rich and the poor states can still be observed in the global arena.
However, when it comes to the advantages brought about by industrialization – they are multiple. All the modern conveniences such as the advance healthcare, fast communication, easy transportation, reliable banking, longer and safer lives, diverse and healthy diets are among the numerous tangible advantages of industrialization. For Western individuals, industrialization is responsible for all of the things and activities that surround them. On the global scale and from the perspective of economic prosperity, industrialization has served as a powerful source of employment creating millions of new jobs and providing a variety of ways of gaining income for many households.
Moreover, industrialization is also responsible for the mechanization and digitalization of a list of operations and thus making a lot of the daily activities faster and more convenient; some of the examples as a better and more accessible education (long-distance learning and e-learning), free-lance jobs and virtual offices with the fast communication and an ability to cover larger customer bases faster, safer medical procedures and more effective treatments, secure banking, faster access to information and databases. All of these activities contribute to the overall prosperous and safe society protected from the vast majority of external and internal risks. Moreover, today, developing science and technology create a fruitful ground for future advancement.
Drivers of Industrialization
When it comes to the onset of the Industrial Revolution that took place in Great Britain in the 18th century, its primary drivers were the need for a new source of income for the rural population, the support from the state government that was oriented at the implementation of change, progress, and innovation, and the development of the education system. The three factors created the basis for the future advancement as the population was ready to obtain and use their skills and knowledge in the new spheres of work to gain better income, and the government was willing to provide the people with new jobs thus creating opportunities at the individual and state levels.
However, it can be stated that the process of industrialization continues to take place in the modern world; also, it has its new set of driving forces. In particular, as was mentioned previously, the development of technology serves as one of the major factors pushing forwards the processes of globalization and industrialization. One more significant factor is the contemporary culture based on consumerism whose main point of interest is gradually switching from the quantity and magnitude to quality and value.
Development of Industrialization
Industrialization was not a process that occurred simultaneously all around the world. On the contrary, its primary source was Great Britain, and from there, the phenomenon began to spread to the other states (Sachs 101). This one of the factors that contributed to its inhomogeneous allocation. Moreover, by the time industrialization occurred, many of the world’s countries were in the colonizer-colonized relations thus forming the dominant and prosperous states and the poorer and subdued colonies. This uneven balance of power created an advantage of some of the countries over the others. Eventually, the balance shifted only in some areas of the globe; yet, there is still a wide range of states that can be recognized as dependent on the larger economies and used by them in different manners.
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Industrialization and Environment
Sachs mentions that the technological advancements of the era of industrialization can be direct and indirect; the former present a set of economic, social, and political benefits, and the latter refer to the environmental side effects (10). In particular, the plants, factories, and modes of transportation powered by different types of fuels create emissions and pollute the air, the growing population and its rates of consumption lead to the creation of more plants, the need for more food and resources thus abusing the environment and exhausting the supplies it has.
The major problem is that the natural resources as essential as freshwater and air are limited and humanity is running out of them. As a result, the need for change and policy emerged preventing the inevitable environmental crisis. The complexity of the problem contributes to the barriers for the policy creation and implementation as there exist many different spheres where it is needed; however, the viable change is difficult to introduce due to the society’s dependence on the activities harming the environment. For example, the introduction of regulations in farming could minimize the pollution but also lead to the increase in prices for food and the decrease in the number of products in the market thus shifting the entire domestic and international balance of economies.
Own Understanding of Sustainable Development and Its Key Contributors
The sustainable development today should begin not only with the policies obliging the industries and consumers to accept limitations and rules but also with the public awareness and understanding of the necessity of change. In other words, the population’s inability to change or rejection of the new practices is one of the major barriers preventing the new policies from succeeding. In that way, I believe that education and environmental literacy are some of the key contributors to sustainable development. After all, the implications of all the policies made for the purpose to address the environmental issues are going to impact the everyday lives of the members of the general public.
Planetary Boundaries and the Ecological Aspects of Sustainability
All precautions and conclusions made on the topic help to recognize how dangerous environmental destruction could be for people. Therefore, it is not enough to consider the concept of sustainable development and its connection to the process of industrialization. What is required is to understand the real natural limits which Sachs defines as “the planetary boundaries” (182). Economic growth and sustainable development are two complicated processes that have to be considered to solve some current ecological and economic problems. However, the root of these problems lies in the planetary resources that people continue ignoring and exceeding in several crucial areas at the same time (Sachs 184). The world’s population, as well as the need for natural resources per person, grows fast.
The researchers define nine planetary boundaries with each of them having serious ecological effects on people and sustainable development. They are biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, land-use changes, chemical pollution, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, freshwater use, and stratospheric ozone depletion (Sachs 186). Still, there is one aspect that is defined as the most important for consideration. It is climate change with the proposed boundary of 350 and the current status of 387. People neglect the impact of greenhouse gases when they try to succeed in industrialization and continue taking the steps that release such gases as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Numerous ecological effects including solar and ultraviolet radiation define the quality of sustainable development. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the inevitability of demolition of planetary boundaries and think about the methods that could be used to save the planet.
To sum up, the industrialization that started in Great Britain in the 18th century was the force that brought about the technological progress transforming the world forever. The changes have made the lives of modern people safer and more convenient. However, it also has caused irreparable damage to the environment and the changes in planetary boundaries. As a result, there is a need for a policy addressing the problem and enabling sustainable development – the type of technological and economic advancement that would not destroy our planet.
Sachs, Jeffrey. The Age of Sustainable Development. Columbia University Press, 2015.