William C. Clark: ‘Sustainability isn’t a new concept’

Listen to Harvard’s William Clark talk about what ‘sustainable development’ really means, and why it’s a matter of life and death.

Many of us have become acquainted in this century with the idea of living sustainably. But William C. Clark of Harvard said sustainability isn’t a new concept.

William C. Clark: Sustainability, or sustainable development, is a concept that’s been around since the first farmers or hunters.

EarthSky asked Dr. Clark for the current definition of ‘sustainable development.’

William C. Clark: A view that humanity couldn’t be advanced over the long run without treating the environment carefully enough that you didn’t undermine the very productive base of your activity. Reciprocally, that you couldn’t do environmental protection unless you recognize the needs of people to advance their well-being and livelihoods and economies while conserving the environment.

Clark said the concept has immediate relevance in the developing world.

William C. Clark: Two billion people have their livelihoods just immediately connected to how well they do farming, pastoralism, or fishing. In other words, sustainability issues are right in the frontier of their activities. And when they fail, they go hungry or they die. In that sense, sustainability is direct and immediate. It’s not a long term, distant global phenomenon.

Clark’s research focuses on how societies can use science and technology to learn to live sustainably. He said access to useful technology like remote sensing data can help farmers and land managers in the developing world maintain the balances of sustainability.

Lindsay Patterson