Nation & World

The environment

2 min read

The Obama administration’s admirable early focus on the connections between energy use and climate change needs to be expanded to encompass the broader agenda of sustainable development: devising paths of development that bring prosperity and poverty alleviation while conserving the life support systems of the planet. Just as the president’s energy initiatives are seeking ways to meet society’s needs for heat and power while producing more good jobs, more security, and a gentler footprint on the planet, so we need comparable revolutions in how we meet our needs for food, housing, and health. In agriculture, this means preserving our best land for crops, not subdivisions; reducing wasteful use of biocides, fertilizers, and water; and getting much more serious about health and safety all along the food chain. In housing and urban development, it means building and rebuilding our cities as though we intended people to live healthy and rewarding lives in them: job producing, pedestrian, and bicycle friendly, welcoming of greenery, and much more focused on reducing and closing the loop on waste. And in health, we need to realize that as important as improving care surely is, even more so is shaping our energy, food, and urban systems in ways more conducive to healthy living in the first place. The agenda of sustainable development is a complex and connected agenda that cannot be advanced by individual sectors — or countries — acting in isolation. It is nonetheless an agenda that individual people grapple with every day of their everyday lives. Surely we can expect no less engagement from our leaders.