Social justice central to successful sustainability

No one gets left behind.

No one gets left behind.

The sustainability concept of intergenerational equity says that present and future generations are responsible for the survival of nature and culture on Earth. However, at a recent social capital forum in Newcastle Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits, presented data showing that social justice was not doing so well in Australia when assessed by the actual percentages of us who are involved in helping our fellow travellers. Data available in the 2017 report on indicators of Australia’s welfare by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indeed showed that fewer people were volunteering.

For intergenerational equity to be successful and fair, there needs to be major changes to political will, government policy and funding, the industry balancing between social benefits with profits, and public generosity towards protecting our diversity and equity. A belief in social justice is therefore central to the path of finding sustainability. Global indigenous cultures could teach us how to follow it.  For Australian First Nations, inclusion in the extended family protects generational survival in a spiritual web of kinship, ancestors, totems, and country. African Zulus introduced Ubuntu and its universal bond throughout humanity. Hawaiians have Ohana, and New Zealand Māoris Whānau, that considers a family to be blood-related, adoptive, or chosen.

The global signing of the United Nations New Urban Agenda for Sustainable Cities in 2016 flagged the moment that “sustainability” had reached maturity, with intergenerational equity promising “no one gets left behind”. However, we in Australia still have a long way to go in finding sustainability in our daily practice.

Professor Tim Roberts, director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, University of Newcastle  and Susan M Effenberger, PhD (Environmental Engineering) candidate