Educating for Sustainability –

Educating for Sustainable Development.


In this April 2009 blog-spot,

I focus on two integral aspects of

Educating for Sustainability: 

1) Interconnexions and 2) Modelling behaviour.


Over my years of work as a professional practitioner in Sustainable Development, I have moved to a place of inner understanding that Educating for Sustainability is one of the most important pre-conditions to human societies making the transition to Sustainable societies.


Educating for Sustainability’s importance is reflected in the declaration that the years 2005-2014 are the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.  Additionally, its importance is seen in that there are many books and chapters devoted to the subject. 


Why is education important to Sustainability?  It is because without some depth of awareness about Sustainable Development, people are unable to know what it actually is and why it is so important to humanity. 


A recent edition of Scientific American devoted to the Earth (Earth 3.0, Volume 19, Number 1, 2009), contains a feature article entitled Top 10 Myths about Sustainability. This article attempts to dispel common, widely held, Sustainability myths such as: “Sustainability is all about the environment”, and “ ‘Sustainable’ is a synonym for “green” ‘, and “It’s all about recycling”.  “[M]isunderstandings about what ‘sustainability’ is all about” is the stated start-of-article reason why such a prestigious magazine as Scientific American becomes compelled to educate toward dispelling myths about Sustainable Development. 


To paraphrase an old expression:  “It’s all in the details, Mavis.”  Sustainable Development, as both a theory and practice, is much deeper and more encompassing than is commonly and generally understood by the wider population; including as it is often understood by environmentalists.


Thus, Educating for Sustainability is essential for raising awareness – and eliminating misunderstandings – about Sustainable Development.


Let me now narrow my focus to two integral aspects of Educating for Sustainability:  1) Interconnexions and 2) Modelling behaviour.




Sustainable Development can almost be reduced to the word “interconnexions”.  That is, Sustainable Development aligns to a practice where human beings learn to both make and then pro-actively respond to (over being forced to “react” to) any negative consequences arising from the inter-linkages between its social, economic and environmental axes.


That said, my professional experiences; including in Educating for Sustainability, have shown me that people do not have a natural predisposition toward making interconnexions.  On the contrary, human beings need to be taught – we have a need to be educated in – what interconnexions are, why they are important, and how to make them. 


It is no coincidence that hard scientists speak the language of the Laws of Physics (along with these Laws understood limits to growth), while economists still commonly hold a belief in a naturally-impossible unlimited growth.  This contradiction of scientific views arises from an economic deficit (excuse the pun…) in making interconnexions.  Old school economists have not generally been taught to move outside of their narrow economic silo, to also make the necessary interconnexions between their field and the broader natural (and social) environment.  If economists had to link their theorems to accepted Laws and understandings of the natural (and social) sciences, then human economies might finally more clearly reflect 21st century interconnected realities; over seeming to remain rooted in 18th century economic ideals. 


Sustainable Development requires human beings to be trained to naturally incorporate all of the environmental, social and economic breadth of humanity’s possibilities in to all of their perspectives related to Earth’s health and human life.


When I Educate for Sustainability – no matter whether it is through a course or workshop or seminar or speech – I have learned through the hard school of experience to expect that no matter the audience I am working alongside, I must anticipate that people either don’t know anything about interconnexions or don’t know how to make broad inter-linkages.  Thus, I nearly always devote some degree of time to the subject of Sustainable Development’s three constituent parts and to the necessity for making interconnexions between each and every one of these components.


Summary in brief – Interconnexions: 

As Educators in Sustainability, we need to walk people through the process of understanding the importance of interconnexions.  We then need to help people learn how to establish inter-linkages between each of the social, economic, and environmental parts of Sustainable Development.  And we, as Sustainability Educators, do this as a means to help humans habitually make interconnexions; all so that this making of inter-linkages becomes as natural and accepted to people as is their very act of breathing.



Modelling behaviour.

It is ancient wisdom and a generally-accepted understanding for modern (post-empiricist) psychologists that the actions of human beings can often be better transmitters of learning than mere human verbal words.


A parent may tell a child that the child is the most important part of their life.  However, if the same parent promises to attend, yet then regularly misses, important events in their child’s life due to the parent’s work-schedule; the child quickly comes to understand that work is actually more important to the parent.


For, again, our actions speak louder than our words.


As Berghofer & Schwartz so clearly articulate this matter:


“Begin with oneself.  To engender trust … be trustworthy. To promote justice, one must be just; to engage enthusiasm, be enthusiastic. In other words … model all the qualities and characteristics he or she expects of others.” 1


The same holds true in Sustainable Development, which is literally trying to have human beings (especially Westernised human beings) live very different lives from the unsustainable lives they have become comfortably accustomed to.


One of the challenges I have regularly encountered for Sustainable Development is that people who do want to live with some degree of Sustainable living often truly and simply don’t know how to do so.  A subtext to this confusion is that people do not have tangible Sustainability role models to look up to and emulate.  For it is quite challenging to find prominent, public, leaders who evidence that they “live” the message of Sustainable Development. 


And what is that message of Sustainable Development?  As discussed elsewhere in my website and in this blog, Sustainable Development entails attributes such as: the participative involvement of a breadth and depth of a community’s citizens; quiet leadership; making interconnexions; empowering marginalised communities; economic systems that fairly share Earth’s resources amongst the widest spectrum of humanity and other life forms; adaptability to changing information; and, of course, care for all of the Earth (whether Earth’s mineral, vegetable or animal elements), including meeting the needs of both current and future generations of humans. 


As Educators in Sustainability, we need to consciously model Sustainable behaviour.  This way, through our own actions, those people we train can begin to acquire glimpses of what life in a Sustainable society might possibly be like. 


Here are four of my own personal examples in trying to model Sustainability behaviours in training environments:


  1. In classrooms and workshops, I purposely use the “Democratic Classroom” model for learning, one in which I model a broadly participative democracy by actively engaging students and participants in decisions around their own direct learning process.  As a facilitator/instructor operating under this model, I still have set outcomes to meet and so loosely develop course outlines and training plans around those outcomes.  Yet the actual training environment activities I engage in are open to change and adaptation based on the specific needs and interests of any given group.  People might have pre-existing “knowledge” of theories around participative democracy and its applicability to Sustainable Development, but we as human beings can only really come to understand how this might work in “practice” by our seeing it modelled in the behaviour of others.  And with participative democracy inherently requiring an instructor/facilitator to “check their ego at the door” and to adapt the training environment to changing circumstances, by my modelling participative democracy I also, at a minimum, model quiet leadership and adaptive management.


  1. The participatory processes which underpins a Local Agenda 21 process (LA21s) requires that the processes’ facilitator-educators posses near endless bounds of goodwill, patience, understanding and even empathy.  These internal traits are needed to help bridge the diversity of competing interests participating in these LA21 processes, including those often many people who may have anger-management issues simply arising from a fear of change and change’s implications for them.  Those future practitioners of Sustainable Development who we train will only know the very real possibility of practicing these and other skills required in the LA21 tool-kit when we, as educators, model these same behaviours in our own training environments.


  1. To highlight the importance of equal relationships in LA21 processes, when I was teaching at a university in México – a country with a self-identified machismo culture – I would intentionally link female students to important societal roles and these positions’ ability to further Sustainable Development practices.  Linkages I would make included a female student’s ability to either be the first female President of México, or the first female Governor of the Mexican State of Quintana Roo, or the first female Secretary-General of the United Nations.  Additionally, to emphasise the importance to Sustainable Development of supporting marginalised communities, I encouraged a group of classes to lead a university clothing and food drive for the hundreds of thousands of residents in the Mexican State of Tabasco who, in 2007, had lost all their worldly belongings in a state-wide flood.  Separately, these types of efforts also help students make their own personal interconnexions about Sustainable Development and society.


  1. An educator who drinks water from store bought plastic water bottles or buys café-bought coffee in a disposable paper cup cannot speak with any deep integrity about matters such as waste and overflowing garbage dumps (even if they live in one of those few wealthy countries on Earth which engage in active recycling). Try to “live” – and thus, publicly demonstrate – the variety of options available to humans for replacing otherwise environmentally unsustainable practices.  Such as, bring your own refillable water-jug to class, or demonstrate that you use your own portable coffee-mug to be filled at your school’s coffee-counter, or take public transit to your workplace so you can directly speak about the benefits of public transit, or bicycle about your community in season.


Summary in brief – Modelling Behaviour: 

As Educators in Sustainability, we need to model in the classroom or in our training environments those behaviours we know that people need to consider practicing in a Sustainable society.  Our only speaking to required behaviours is not enough and is actually of limited effect if we otherwise (and often, unconsciously) model opposite behaviours.  Additionally, humans need role models who they can look up to as examples of Sustainable living.  With such examples seeming rarefied in the highest levels of social strata, then these behaviours need to be modelled by Educators in Sustainability.  This way, Sustainability role models will actively exist for and be publicly seen by those we train.




In Educating for Sustainability: teach, explain and make as many interconnexions as you can between each of Sustainable Development’s economic, social, and environmental components.  This way the people you educate and train can learn to naturally make these types of inter-linkages on their own and to then regularly practice making interconnexions in their own lives.


Model Sustainable behaviour, for people learn more directly through actions than from words.  Have your personal actions serve as public examples of Sustainability to all the people you both train and educate in Sustainable Development.


As always, your comments and observations on this blog-spot are both invited and welcomed.




1 Berghofer, Desmond and Schwartz, Geraldine. (2007).  “Leadership in the First Decade of the Millennium.” In Berghofer and Schwartz, eds., The Ethical Leadership Scales. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford Publishing (page 53). 

Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | March 31, 2009

The Sustainable Development message of Oneness in poem.

The Ides of March.  Earlier this month, a colleague of mine who reviewed my website advised me that he thought it reads as “wordy”.  That is probably true for many people, as I purposely write to explain Sustainable Development (SD) in some detail over writing about it for entertainment. 

Yet, wanting to accommodate those folks who might prefer word-lessness, this month I offer a short poetic insight in to SD.  While I cannot claim to be an accomplished poet, I did write this reflective poem as a way to help briefly capture some of the deeper essences of SD. 

As always, please do feel welcome to share your thoughts on this blog-spot or on any other matter related to SD.

The message of Oneness

Eternally embraced in a heavy darkness,

With life’s light gently shared by a neighbourly sun,

Earth radiates a speck of imperceptible blueness;

Deep in the bosom of its singular universe home.


Separateness is unknown by Mother universe,

For in Herself the universe can only be One,

This Oneness is the universe’s ancient message;

To forever remind: “As above, so is it below.”


Undeterred human mites mindlessly choose separation,

Dividing life even when Mother universe intones certain unity,

A regretful sigh: daughter Earth violently convulses;

With humans gone, rightness in Oneness is now restored.


Forever remember choice seeds human action,

And consequences are the fruit of all human choice,

Accepting Earth’s Oneness is within human choosing;

So Oneness’ fruits can be nurtured and deliciously savoured.

Sustainable Development:  Does it require regulation, free-markets, or some balance between both?



(The current, ongoing, global economic crisis offers the basis for this month’s blogspot. As you read through the thoughts shared for this month, try and contemplate an answer to the Sustainable Development-related question that leads us off.  Later, at the end of the blog, you are encouraged to share your own answer to this question.)



In the spectrum of ideas, there might be two small points which mark the collective ends of the spectrum, yet there are endless other points of possibility found in between and beyond.



I ask you to consider these topical thoughts of others:


“[F]ree market environmentalists advocate the creation of institutional arrangements that facilitate private solutions to environmental concerns. Markets are not perfect, but they are superior to the regulatory alternative.”(1)



“There is a general consensus that, to overcome this [global economic] crisis, we need a new rules-based strategy,” said Giulio Tremonti, Italy‘s Minister of Finance and the Economy.”(2)



“It is becoming increasingly clear that the [global economic] system is broken,” said Kirby Daley, senior strategist at Newedge Group in Hong Kong. “And there does not seem to be a comprehensive long-term solution being formulated by any country, let alone a coordinated solution to the world’s economic problems.”(3)



Now, using these differing points of view as the starting point for our blog discussion, we initially find one thinker who definitively tells us that free markets are “superior” to regulation, including for the care of Earth’s natural environment.


Yet, in seeming stark contrast, a prominent G8 politician is quoted as definitively saying that human societies now have a “general consensus” that “we need a new rules-based strategy” (i.e require regulation) for our global economic marketplace.


A financial strategist goes so far as to definitively state that the global economic system, governed as it is by freer markets, is “broken”.  Thus, he seems to further call in to question the integrity of the first statement and its definitive claim about the superiority of the free market system.


Finally, there is the strong, nearing definitive, statement offered that “there does not seem to be a comprehensive long-term solution being formulated by any country” as this relates to current global economic situation.  This statement is given even when, in 1992 at the United Nations Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, 176 countries in all agreed that Sustainable Development – with each of its economic, social and environmental components – does provide a long-term strategic solution for all countries on Earth.


So…. what is my intention behind sharing these rather definitive quotes and their contrasting, even conflicting, points of view?


My point is to have us consider “human thinking patterns” and their potential impacts, including on Sustainable Development.


These quotes reveal something I have observed throughout my lifetime in regards to our species: that being, we humans often seem predisposed to definitive statements and rather “simple solutions” to what are otherwise and more often complex challenges. 


That is, humans often seem inclined to choose to relate to our world in concrete blocks of black & white perceptions.  Otherwise stated, we seem inclined to see our lives as being framed by more limited options, even though we live on a planet that instead supports a rainbow of diverse life forms, reveals near countless ways of being, and offers almost endless possibilities.


Many major world religions call for humans to live “love”, yet this is not what I mean by an example of a “simple solution”.  I say this as, in point of fact, for any human being to learn to live unconditional love (to “live acceptance”) amongst all of humanity’s diversity would be, in itself, an obviously complicated process.  It would require of us humans that we learn to not “judge” things and instead learn to relate to difference.   And learning to relate to difference is not at all easy, especially when we try to do so only through an accepting action such as “love.”


When I speak of “simple solutions”, I refer to those solutions that we humans see as being “simple” for each of us as individuals.  And in my own experience, the simple solutions most often sought by people are those that, not coincidentally, seem to agree with our own senses of personality (our own senses of self) as formed within us. 


In other words, I have found that people often see “simple solutions” as those that agree with our already existing points of view.  “Simple solutions” seem to become simple for people to accept only because they already form a part of a person’s living identity, something which is itself often culturally or religiously determined. (See my January 2009 blogspot, Sustainable Development and the local flavour of ideas and concepts, for more discussion on this last point).


Thus, we human beings easily learn to subjectively judge “things”, and also to subjectively judge other peoples’ “behaviour”, and even to subjectively judge other “life” forms as being either “right” or “wrong”, or “valuable” or “worthless”.  Yet what we are really only doing is judging from our own sense of personal identity and personal reality.  The “rightness” or “wrongness”, or “valuableness” or “worthlessness” of things becomes, most often, simply subjective.


Unfortunately for us humans, as should by now be more than obvious to us after thousands of years of our species learning to live this experience called life, it is through this process of judging that we human beings actually make our lives more complicated.


And why is this so?


It is because no two human beings are ever completely identical in personality or thought, and certainly no human or other life forms are ever 100% identical in physical appearance.  Thus, we humans will always be able to find things to subjectively judge as different, to then next be in a position to further consider these same different things as being either acceptable or unacceptable to us. 


Our learning to judge as human beings has, thus, become our “simple solution”, for it is a thing that is so very easy – even seemingly natural – for us to do.  And so humanity teaching itself to fully embrace life’s diversity and its many differences (that is, for us to learn to “accept” or “love” all), does in itself become the more difficult path for us human beings to follow, but only because this is really the harder thing for us to do.


Over these past few months since November 2008 and the increasing fallout from the global financial crisis, the global economy often appears to be melting before our eyes.


But how can this be so?


Free marketers have been saying for years that economic regulation was a problem, especially so expressed since the days of former USA President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher. (Remember Thatcher’s expression: TINA? If not, research it for yourself on the Internet).  And so in response and over decades, economic regulation has been significantly lessened in countries around Earth, done so to supposedly help better the global economic system. 


The ancient Greeks well-knew that when humans are fully left to their own devices, hubris inevitably re-appears to humble us.  Today, hubris has re-surfaced in the form of a prevailing human greed in global finance; at least this is so in some prominent Anglo-American countries.  And this re-emerged hubris has, as often is the case, been detrimental to the broader “community of life” (or to the detriment of what some people, those with a more narrow view of life, might call the “global economy”).


A seemingly simple economic solution to a complex global reality – that being, more fully free markets – came to reveal its clear drawbacks. And these drawbacks are captured in a recent headline of Barron’s:  Recession? No, It’s a D-process, and It Will Be Long” (with the “D”, unfortunately, standing for “Depression”).[4]


So, if free markets are not the panacea that they were promised to be, is a more fully regulated economy then the solution?


Well, there are also many, even quite recent, examples of the consequences to the global “community of life” from those countries, themselves often classified under the heading of “Communist regimes”, which strongly adhered to a more fully-regulated marketplace (also known as “planned economies”).


Planned-economies provided their own seemingly simple economic solution to a complex global reality.  And they, too, eventually revealed their own shortcomings, including their now well-documented societal repression, famine, and also environmental degradation.


The scientific evidence is extensive about the impacts – mostly negative, in my own reading – that aggressive human development patterns (whether those of free-markets or planned-economies) are having on Earth’s natural environment.  There are also now a near countless number of studies undertaken that speak to the various, yet often similar, economic inequities that have arisen from these differing economic models. 


In my lifetime, humans have seen living examples in various countries of both the pros and cons of the “simple solutions” of either highly regulated or highly unregulated economies.


Simple yet extreme actions in economics have resulted in not-so-simple yet extreme consequences for both human societies and Earth’s biodiversity of life.  Do the words “Climate Change” ring any mental bells in this regard?


So where does this take us for Sustainable Development?


Colin Soskolne et al remind us “that the word “economy” derives from the Greek, meaning “managing the home.”[5]  And I think humans are now slowly coming to agree that we have not been good managers of our shared Earthly home.


Now underway in Earth’s human societies is what some people refer to as a global “Green Shift.”  It is a shift that remains below the radar screen of life for so very many people.  But, nonetheless, this Green Shift is revealing itself in many countries.  It will one day lead human societies to the new paradigm of sustainable living, one which is necessary for the long-term viability of all life on Earth (or, at the very least, is necessary for human life to continue on this planet).


At its core, the shift human societies are making is toward a balance in life.  It entails a change in perspective, one which calls for consideration of all the diversity of life forms on Earth and also for an appreciation for the countless ways of living found throughout this planet.


Related to our economic theme, I share with you below some of the integral elements that this shift would include and do so by also borrowing from one of my favourite recent academic books on Sustainability, Colin L. Soskolne’s SUSTAINING LIFE ON EARTH.


A paradigm shift in human thinking and economics requires us to understand what William E. Rees, one of the co-creators of the Ecological Footprint, says is a natural trait of species:


“…a natural predisposition humans share with all species.  Unless constrained by negative feedback… populations tend to expand to fill all suitable habitats and to use all the resources prevailing technology makes available to them.”[6]



This “Green Shift” will apply the Precautionary Principle / Approach, as agreed to by governments at the 1992 Earth Summit, which states that:


“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”.[7]


Under a new Green paradigm, the application of this Principle / Approach to economic activities will be essential, especially when we consider that:


“…even if neo-liberals were correct in their view that a pure, “perfectly competitive” market would eventually solve its own problems, such a market does not exist outside of economics textbooks.”[8]


Certainly, these same insights as applied to “neo-liberals” can equally be said for believers in fully planned economies.



And possibly the most important change, the “Green Shift” and its new paradigm will find humans understanding, and our species’ economic models reflecting, that:


“…we must replace the dominant worldview – which dissociates humans from ecosystems – with one that regains awareness of our dependence on the rest of Earth’s complex living systems.”[9]


Shifts to extremes in economic or political models have generally only offered humans simple solutions and their later-related extreme consequences. 


Our human minds have near unlimited potential to broadly create and generate ideas, so why should we instead choose to limit our minds and ourselves to narrow, extreme, points of view?


So I leave the final word to you. 


Sustainable Development:  Does it require regulation, free-markets, or some balance between both?


You decide.


And then let us know what you think by sharing your thoughts with us.






1.         Adler, Jonathan H. (1995). “About Free-Market Environmentalism”, as reproduced with permission from “Ecology, Liberty and Property: A Free-Market Environmental Reader.”  The Commons: Markets Protecting The Environment [online].  Available at: . [Accessed:  18 February 2009]. 


2.         Reguly, Eric.  (2009).  In Canada, G20 countries see the future of banking. The Globe and Mail –, 15 February 2009 [online].  Available at: . [Accessed:  15 February 2009].


3.         Pylas, Pan. (2009).  World stocks down as Dow hovers round November lows.  The Associated Press – Yahoo News, 18 February 2009 [online].  Available at: . [Accessed: 18 February 2009].


4.         Ward, Sandra. (2009).  Recession? No, It’s a D-process, and It Will Be Long: An Interview With Ray Dalio: This pro sees a long and painful depression.  Barron’s – THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Digital Network, Monday February 9, 2009 [online].  Available at: . [Accessed: 18 February 2009].


5.         Soskolne, Colin L., Louis J. Kotze, Brendan Mackey, and William E. Rees, 2008. Challenging Our Individual and Collective thinking about Sustainability. In Soskolne, Colin L., ed. SUSTAINING LIFE ON EARTH. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books (Pages 413 – 424, quote on p. 420).


6.         Rees, William E., 2008. Toward Sustainability with Justice: Are Human Nature and History on Side? In Soskolne, Colin L., ed. SUSTAINING LIFE ON EARTH. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books (Pages 81 – 93, quote on p. 85).


7.         UNEP – United Nations Environment Programme. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 20 February 209].


8.         Westra, Richard, 2008. Market Society and Ecological Integrity:  Theory and Practice. In Soskolne, Colin L., ed. SUSTAINING LIFE ON EARTH. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books (Pages 41 – 50, quote on p. 46).


9.         Karr, James R., 2008. Protecting Society from Itself: Reconnecting Ecology and Economy. In Soskolne, Colin L., ed. SUSTAINING LIFE ON EARTH. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books (Pages 95 – 108, quote on p. 95).


Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | January 30, 2009

Sustainable Development and the local flavour of ideas and concepts.

30 January 2009


Sustainable Development and the local flavour of ideas and concepts.


A key aspect of both the theory and practice of Sustainable Development is that it must be developed for and applied at local levels. 


It is incompatible with the theory and practice of Sustainable Development to suggest that there is one, over-arching, model or style of Sustainable Development that can ever be applied in all places of Madre Tierra. 


This “one-size-does-not-fit-all” underpinning of Sustainable Development arises, in part, because flora and fauna can and do differ in and between eco-systems, eco-sub-systems, and even right down to micro-eco-systems. 


Additionally, the one-model approach to Sustainable Development is not accepted in its theory and practice for humans already know through experience (as now acquired through centuries, if not through millennia), that cultural and social differences can and do dramatically differ in and between geographical levels.  This includes significant social and cultural differences arising amongst neighbouring countries, and even between neighbouring regions and towns within the same country.


For just as flora and fauna can and do differ greatly amongst small and large geographies, so too do humans have vastly different ways for living – for “Being” human – throughout Earth’s many, varying-sized, geographic regions.  Diverse flora, varied fauna, unique geographical patterns, specific topography, and different weather patterns can and do all contribute to very different local senses of what it means to live life as a human being.


For example, let us consider those of us who inhabit so-called Western countries.  We Westerners live under many concepts that our societies’ have locally or culturally developed (or appropriated) and evolved over long periods of time.  Many of these same concepts have become integral aspects of the way we now live and understand our lives as human beings.  These would include concepts such as “sedentary agriculture”, “rule of law”, “taxation with representation”, “democracy”, “freedom of expression”, “human rights”, Western “rationality” (over other cultural types of reason and logic), the “scientific method”, “industrialised society”, “progress”, and “time”.  These are all in addition to very many more concepts that can be considered as integral to the lives of our Western societies.


Of course, concepts themselves are simply intellectual “ideas”.  And accepted concepts are nothing more than those very ideas, those “thoughts”, that humans and their given societies have chosen to more-generally act out on in their lives.  


Although Westerners have their own understandings about their concepts, Westerners should also be aware that human understandings of concepts as developed through Western traditions can be – and very often are – understood in noticeably different ways by other, non-Western, human societies of Earth. For a room of 20 humans, let alone a planet of 6.5 billion human beings, does share some thoughts in common, yet also comes to understand these similar thoughts through very different cultural and social contexts. 


Any person with an open mind and who has extensively travelled about or lived in different parts of Planet Earth should well eventually come to the realisation that any claimed truth or falsity of concepts can only be understood as relative to time and place.  This realisation may not correspond well with Western Enlightenment thinking (itself grounded in “thought”ful concepts) but it is, nonetheless, an unmistakable understanding a person can realise when they experience even a few small bits of the great diversity of human societies on Earth.


For even concepts such as “rule of law”, “freedom of expression”, “democracy”, “citizenship”, “right to education”, “private property rights”, “multiculturalism”, or more generalised concepts related to “trust”, “community”, “family”, “society”, “ethics”, “moral behaviour”, “public security”, “communication styles”, “urban planning” and so on will be understood as being clearly relative to any given society that a person may become a part of.


For example, take only the concept of “Rule of Law”.  This is a concept held in high importance by Anglo-American societies, as well as some other Western societies.  It is also a concept that Anglo-Americans in particular have come to see as important for their ideas on “free markets” and its related ideas on “liberalised trade”.  Yet what exactly is the “Rule of Law”? 


Textbook definitions of the “Rule of Law” are many, yet a legal website definition captures the essence of the term as I have come to understand it through an Anglo-American lens: 


“That individuals, persons and government shall submit to, obey and be regulated by law, and not arbitrary action by an individual or a group of individuals.”

(Source: – Law – Legal Information – Justice. (2009). Rule of Law.  Duhaime’s Legal Dictionary [online]. Available from: [Accessed: 27 January 2009].)


This is a fine definition of the “Rule of Law”. Yet remember, it is only a Western definition of this idea and concept.  And, I respectfully suggest, only a rather rigid mind would argue that mental concepts as defined by the people of one small region of Earth (i.e. white-skinned, cultural Westerners) are the definitive statements for those same concepts as they are to be understood by that much larger body of humanity that lives in most other regions of Earth (i.e. non-white, cultural others). This is because, as I will next discuss, non-Western understandings about the concept of the “Rule of Law” do exist and these are most particularly evident in practice. 


Certainly, non-Anglo-American and non-Western countries have laws that exist to define societal rules and behaviour.  Yet borrowing from the sciences, which has an expression that goes along the lines of “Theory ends where practice begins”, the same can be said as this relates to the Western concept of the “Rule of Law” as it is applied in non-Western societies:  that being, the Western theory of the rule of law ends where the local practice of rule of law begins. And the local practice for many non-Western countries is very different from the Westernised theory.


In many countries, even those who claim to practice the “Rule of Law,” laws are often not applied equally. In France (itself a hotbed of Enlightenment thinking) and many other countries, elected Presidents are not able to be prosecuted while they hold elected office (witness the recent example, as amply-reported in the French and international media, of former French President Jacques Chirac).  In many other countries, once a person holds the office of President they are often even “seen” as being figures above any future prosecution, regardless of their actions while they held political office. (The examples of this are too numerous to mention, but would include cases on all continents (except Antarctica) and include, in full-fairness, the example of Richard Nixon of the USA, who received an unconditional pardon for the seemingly criminal activities that he was a part of when he held the Office of the President of the USA).


I think I would not be far from the mark if I said that the “global norm” over the “global exception” is that laws are often easily skirted through their offenders offering subsidiary payments to an appropriate authority (or offering what we Westerners might otherwise refer to as “bribes”).  These unofficial payments have become integral to the perceived proper functioning of the legal systems of so many countries.  They have been embraced by many non-Western societies and so have come to inform local, non-Western, practical definitions of the “Rule of Law”.  These unofficial practices are also evidenced in Western societies, although to much lesser degrees.  (See “Transparency International” at: , for further information on matters related to individual countries and “subsidiary payments”, aka “corruption”). 


When I held my regular university classes in México on the topic of corruption, the majority of students I taught (yes, the majority and that was upward of 70% or so of all students) argued that corruption was a “good thing”.  Why? Because the practice was seen by them as speeding up legal processes for all parties involved, whether these were the legal officials themselves or the legal offender.  Clearly, this was not my own encultured idea of how the “Rule of Law” is to work, but nonetheless it was the local idea that seemed embraced by the majority of students in my classes. 


So, were these students in the wrong because their own local definition of the “Rule of Law” did not meet the test of my western, theoretical, definition?  Or was I possibly in the wrong for trying to suggest to these Mexican students that my foreign-developed theoretical definition for the “Rule of Law” had a cultural superiority to their own local and practical understanding of the idea and concept?  I leave to you to decide an answer for yourself.


That said, as a Westerner, I still personally hold my head high in that no matter where I have travelled or lived on Earth, I have never purposely or intentionally paid a bribe to any official, even when pressed to do so or when placed under situations of duress. (But, of course, this is only me speaking as a Westerner and from a Western perspective, so take those factors in to account when considering these words of mine!)


“Rule of Law” is itself just one example amongst countless others that can help us to identify ways in which various human societies might differently interpret and understand seemingly similar concepts and ideas.


After my time working in México, I came to identify some very clear differences in how similar concepts and ideas are understood and applied between Canadian and Mexican societies.  Actually, the differences between our two countries were so unexpectedly and starkly contrasted for me that I started to engage in some mental math to arrive at the conclusion that, 7 out of 10 times, if I thought of how things were done in Canada and then thought of the complete opposite scenario, then that was how Mexican society operated.  This life experience eventually came to provide me with a great understanding of exactly “what” my Canadian socialisation (indoctrination?) was and is.  


Now before I share some of the differences I identified between how Mexicans and Canadians comprehend seemingly similar concepts and ideas, I ask you to consider the further “idea” that no one way of being or living should itself be seen as either better or worse than any other way.  I encourage you to seriously contemplate that there are only unique ways of living for humans, which then offer human beings with very different ways for us to understand and experience this thing we call life.  Try to suspend your judgment on differences, so that you can then better consider them with an open mind.


A few of the differences in concepts and ideas (amongst a countless many), which I experienced and mentally noted as existing between México and Canada, include:


  • The idea of “trust” in relationships differs.  Canadian society seems grounded in the idea of what I might term as “positive trust”, which results in our citizens giving another person the benefit of the doubt if and until that same person might demonstrate to us that they cannot be trusted.  Mexican society, on the other hand, presented to me the complete opposite perspective and what I might term as the idea of “negative trust”, in that people often mistrust one another and are not given full trust until such time as they prove themselves as trustable.


  • The idea of “lemons” differs.  Lemons in México are coloured green (and these green lemons are not the same as limes), whereas in Canada the lemons we eat are yellow.  So in contrast to Canada, the “idea” of a lemon in México is not something that is yellow, but something that is green.


  • The concept of “time” differs.  In México, time is seen for the mental construct that it is, resulting in people “using” time as a tool but not in their constricting their lives by the “idea” of time (thus arises the famous Mexican phrase of “mañana” or “tomorrow”).  In contrast, Canadians seem taught to live their lives governed by time, just as if time was actually real and had a life of its own.


  • The idea of “work week” differs.  In México, the formal work week is spread over 6 days, Monday to Saturday, and the weekday workday (at least as it operates in the tropical southern region of México where I worked) is scheduled around the afternoon siesta.  This results in a weekday workday in this part of México going from 9 AM to 2 PM, then the siesta is held from 2 PM to 5 PM, and then the weekday workday continues from 5 PM until 8 PM.  The Saturday workday in the tropical south of México operates from 9AM until 2 PM.  This is contrasted in Canada, where the average workweek is of 5 days, Monday to Friday, and runs on average from about 8:30 AM until 5 PM, and with the Canadian workday including (but not designed around) a brief, mid-day, lunch period.


  • The idea of “fashion” differs.  Outside of culturally-traditional areas in México, Mexicans seem to be generally fashion conscious (over “label conscious”) and tend toward wearing brighter, more vibrant, colours in clothing along with wearing more noticeable pieces of jewellery.  By contrast, Canadians seem more “label conscious” and tend to wear darker, more subdued, colours in clothing while also tending to wear less noticeable jewellery pieces.


  • The idea of “pedestrian crossing” differs.  Cars have the right of way in Mexico, resulting in that when a person wants to cross a street at a pedestrian crossing, cars are given the priority.  Contrast that to Canada, where pedestrians are given the right of way at street pedestrian crossings.


  • The concept of “communications” styles differs.  Mexicans, joined by most Latin Americans and Mediterranean persons, use what is termed (at least in academic literature) as an “Inter-actional” style of communications, where the conversation itself and the relationship with the person(s) involved in the conversations are seen as most important, with any eventual transaction that might take place between all people involved in a conversation considered as secondary to the dialogue itself.  In contrast, Anglo-Americans utilise what is termed as a “Trans-actional” style of communications, whereby a trans-action is the focus of the conversation and is often the basis of the relationship, and where the trans-action itself is often considered as being more important than the person(s) involved in the dialogue.


  • The concept of “counting numbers” differs.  In México (and elsewhere in the Latin-rooted world), when counting numbers the “billions” is arrived at when a given number is followed by 12 zeros, whereas when we count numbers in the Anglo-American world the “billions” is arrived at when a given number is followed by 9 zeros.


  • The concept of “family” differs.  In México, your family – which is not just your mother, father, siblings, and grandparents, but also your aunts, uncles, first and even second cousins – are THE most important people in your life.  They are not seen as only your family, but are also considered as your best friends, your social network, your safety social net, your health insurance policy, your unemployment bailout package, your retirement plan and so much more.  And visiting with extended family on a daily basis is quite common in México.  Contrast that to Canada where, at the least, family is often seen as persons connected to us by blood, yet it is our non-blood related friends who are often considered as the closest people in our lives and who we might see on a daily basis.  Governments in Canada also provide many of the social services people need in social emergencies, resulting in blood family being less important to Canadians for these purposes.


  • The idea of “public security” differs.  Machine-gun toting police officers and military soldiers, guns-at-the-ready police caravans, and gun-ready military checkpoints are a common sight and occurrence in México, and they seem to provide Mexicans with a sense of public security.  In contrast, such occurrences and sights are rare in Canada, for their presence is considered as a sign of public insecurity.


  • The concept of “education” differs.  Canadians are legally required to attend school from Kindergarten to Grade 12, whereas Mexicans are only legally required to attend school from Kindergarten to Grade 9 (and even then, dropouts before Grade 9 are high across the country).  As well, whereas in my experience the Canadian formal education system seems designed to teach people “how” to think, what I witnessed in the Mexican formal education system is that it is clearly designed around teaching people “what” to think.

(For more information on México and its education system, you can read a paper I co-authored on the Mexican education system: 

Esakin, Thomas C.; Lòpez Rivera, W.; Rivera Ruedas, N; and Barbour, M.K. (2006). “Educational Technologies in Mexico: Nation Case and Case Study”. In. Orey, M.; Amiel, T.; & McClendon, J. (Eds.) The world almanac of educational technologies (online). Athens, GA: University of Georgia. Available from:


  • The idea of “thinking styles” differs (and this may well arise from the previous point on education).  In my own experience, Canadians often seem more inclined toward “lateral thinking” patterns (i.e. creative thinking), whereas Mexicans I know and also those Mexicans for whom I served as a teacher seemed most inclined to a “linear thinking” style (i.e. more structured thought processes).  Yet these cultural thinking styles struck me as being quite contradictory to each of our differing societies’ internal workings, for while Canadians may be more inclined to creative thinking patterns, Canadian society itself is self-evidently and strongly developed around structure, with rules and planning and other such related things being normal practice in Canada.  Yet while I found Mexicans more inclined to structured thinking patterns, their society clearly operates in a strongly unstructured manner. 


  • The idea and treatment of “indigenous peoples / First Nations” differs.  After extensive travels and work throughout the south of México (a region which has some of México’s highest-concentrations of “indigenous peoples”, which is the name that First Nations peoples’ are referred to by in México), it would seem that México relates to its 62 distinct indigenous cultures in a much more respectful, even less assimilative, ways than has been the Canadian example with its First Nations peoples.  This may well be a result of the Mexican people considering themselves as “mestizos”, a people who are a mix between indigenous and Spanish bloods.  México’s most famous and respected elected President, Benito Juarez, (who is also famed throughout Latin America) was himself a person of indigenous heritage.  In my own humble view, Canada’s treatment of its First Nations peoples continues as a blight on the history of Canada.  Canada has also yet to elect a person of First Nations heritage as the leader of a major national political party.


Noguez, Alejandra. (2008). México: indígenas que emigran [online]. BBC, 29 marzo de 2008. As available from: . [Accessed: 23 April 2008].)


  • The concept of “citizen” differs.  Canada seems a country more welcoming to new immigrants, as evidenced in the multicultural makeup of the country’s demographics.  Canada also welcomes naturalised Canadians to take full part in the social, cultural and political life of the country.  In contrast, while México has many local indigenous cultures that make up its ethnic landscape, the faces you see on México’s streets (excluding its main tourist zones, which themselves tend to be heavily visited by, firstly, Americans (called Norte Americanos by Mexicans) and secondly, by Canadians), are by and far Mexican over reflecting any real sense of the ethnic diversity of Earth.  Like many other countries on Earth, to be Mexican seems to mean (even paper documentation aside) that one is “born” Mexican.  Naturalised Mexicans are also restricted in the national activities which they can legally engage in, with their restrictions including that they are forbidden by law from: holding any political office, serving as police officers, serving in the army, or being an airline pilot.


  • The general idea of “police” differs.  When a traffic policeman pulls you over in México, you can generally expect “he” (and policemen in México are mostly male) wants an unauthorised payment (i.e he is soliciting a bribe or, as many of my Mexican university students would politely state the matter, he “wants to buy a Coca Cola” or he “wants to buy lunch”).  Additionally, police cars in México are wired so that the overhead police-lights are always flashing when the police vehicle engine is on.  By contrast, when a police-person pulls you over in Canada (and police in the country can as easily be female as male), you can almost always expect that you have broken a law.  Additionally, police cars in Canada generally only turn on their overhead flashing police-lights when they are pulling some one over or in transit to a crime scene.


  • The concept of the “federal police” differs.  When a person faces a situation of personal insecurity in México, the Mexican federal police are often only contacted as a last-resort as México’s citizens consider these police to be “sharks” (dishonest) and Mexican police are even acknowledged by the federal government as being behind many of the kidnappings and drug-related activities which have engulfed the country.  In contrast, Canada’s federal RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) are held in international regard as a trusted, credible, and respected police force, one which has even been called upon to help rebuild police forces in troubled foreign countries (i.e. in the Republic of Haiti).


Bussey, Jane. (2008). Mexico mourns another kidnapping death.  McClatchy Newspapers, August 12, 2008 [online].  Available from: . [Accessed: 30 January 2009].


The Economist. (2008). Spot the drug trafficker., October 30th, 2008. Available from: . [Accessed: 30 January 2009].


Human Rights First. (2003).  Mexico Policing Project. Available from: . [Accessed: 30 January 2009].)


(For the views that some of México’s young adults citizens hold of their police forces, see Section 11.4.8 (which is available from: ), of: 

Esakin, Thomas C., ed. (2008). México and Sustainable Development: Ideas founded in youth [online]. Cancun, México: Universidad del Caribe. Available from: .)


  • The idea behind “walking” differs.  For many Canadians the act of walking, especially in the outdoors, is often culturally-considered a social or recreational past-time.  In México, walking is something you only do out of necessity because you are poor (and so you do not own either a vehicle or a bike, or you have no money for public transit), OR walking is something you do at a shopping area.  These contrasted differences in perceptions on walking are captured in a double-entendre that a Mexican friend once said to me: “Walking is for dogs.”


  • The concept of “public transport” differs.  In México, public transit is seen as something offered for the poor.  In Canada, public transit is used by people from all cross-sections of the social strata and also seen as something akin to an efficient and cost-effective way of moving people within a city or town.


  • The concept behind “highway signage” differs.  In México, highway signage (i.e. related to speed limits, distances to destinations, construction signage, etc.) seemed to me to serve more as “general guidelines” to drivers over their being legal directives. (Construction work on federal highways seldom seemed to be signed and instead was often marked by rocks placed on the highway to warn of an even later impediment.  Mileage signs on federal highways often seemed to contradict one another.  The private collectivos (public transit) vans that travel between Cancun and Playa del Carmen in the Riviera Maya, which have signs posted at the back of the vehicles noting they have a 95 kilometre per hour speed limit on a highway that has a posted speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour, were most commonly experienced by me as travelling at speeds of up to 140 kilometres per hour and without one ever having been stopped by the highway police). Contrast that to Canada, where highway signage represents regulations to be followed and is provided for driving safety.


  • The idea behind the “use of words” differs.  In Canada, verbal words are generally accepted at face value, people are generally “taken at their word”, and words can even be considered as legal contracts.  Contrast that to México where words are only words and where words very often do not connect with the actions of the person who says them (people often seem to say what they ‘think’ someone wants to hear, before then doing what they wanted to do anyways).  However, paper documentation means absolutely everything in México and can be as important as the holiest of books (thus the Mexican phrase: “papelito habla” or “paper speaks for itself”).


  • The idea behind “manual labour” differs.  Many physically-intensive labour activities in México are still undertaken using manual human labour (i.e construction and road work still often utilises humans using picks, shovels, and manual-pulleys), whereas in Canada energy-intensive machines are the common tool used for such work.


  • The concept of “urban planning” differs.  Canadians are said to engage in the structured urban-planning of their cities and towns (although the design and appearance of cities like Toronto (built around the car), and the urban sprawl found across much of Canada would certainly call this premise in to question).  By contrast in México, the country’s cities and towns develop in a virtually organic, unplanned, manner.  As I found in my neighbourhood in Playa del Carmen and also saw in Cancun, people seem to build what they want, where they want, and as they want, without regard for neighbours or laws.  Any fines in México that might be levied for violating supposed building-codes or even for violating federal laws that are said to strictly-protect mangrove lands seem to be helpfully off-set by unauthorised payments (as discussed earlier in “bribes”).


  • The idea of “community” differs.  In México, the community you are most specifically concerned with and also the one that you even more broadly care about is that of your immediate, extended, blood-family.  Volunteerism and charitable service to help a broader-community is almost non-existent in México and is not part of the national psyche. (The Mexican State of Quintana Roo in which I lived, where Cancun and its one million inhabitants reside, had only 5 federally registered charities located in it up until the end of 2006).  In Canada, there is a broader sense of community that extends to other people beyond your blood-family.  Volunteerism and charitable work are an integral part of the culture, with there being over 83,000 charities registered in Canada in 2008 and with Canada, in 2004, having an estimated “45% of the population aged 15 and older [who] volunteered their time to charities and other nonprofit organizations”.


Personal interview held with the President of Ayuda de los Angeles, AC, one of the 5 federally-registered charities then existing in Quintana Roo.  Fall 2006, interview held in the offices of Ayuda de los Angeles, AC, Playa Del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico).


Government of CanadaCanada Business. (2008).  Information of Charities [online].  Available from: [Accessed: 28 January 2009].


Statistics Canada. (2006). Caring Canadians, Involved Canadians: Highlights from the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating.  Available from: .  [Accessed: 30 January 2009], p. 31.)


  • The concept of “workplace” differs.  Working within the formal, structured, economy is generally considered a cultural norm in Canada (although some statistics suggest that Canada has upwards of 20% of its workforce working within the informal economy of the country). This is contrasted with México, where anywhere from 27% to 44% of Mexicans choose to work in the informal, unstructured, economy of their country (and so don’t pay any taxes on their efforts).


Hill, Roderick. (2002).  The Underground Economy in Canada: Boom or Bust?  Canadian Tax Journal [online], Vol. 50, No. 5 [online].  Available from: . [Accessed: 30 January 2009], p. 1642.


Brambila Marcias, Jose. (2008).  Modeling the Informal Economy in Mexico. A Structural Equation Approach.  Research Papers in Economics [online].  Available from: . [Accessed:  28 January 2009].


Schwartz, Jeremy. (2007).  Mexico City seeks to Corral an Army of Street Vendors.  Cox Newspapers, May 08, 2007 [online].  Available from: . [Accessed:  28 January 2009].


Franco, Pilar. (1997). Informal Sector – A Billion Dollar Lifeboat.  InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS), 23 May 1999 [online].  Available from: . [Accessed:  28 January 2009].)


  • The concept of “taxation” differs.  Through their tax system, Canadian citizens are major contributors of revenue to all their levels of government by their contributing the equivalent of 33.3% of Canada’s GDP in the form of taxes (which are then returned to the Canadian populace in the form of health care, education, other social services, infrastructure, police and national defence services, and more).  In comparison, the practice of paying taxes is less common and less accepted in México, with Mexican citizens contributing the equivalent of only 19.8% of its GDP in the form of taxes (and, thus, the clear evidence one sees in México of reduced social services offered to its citizens and the much-needed infrastructure improvements required in the country). 


Wikipedia. (2009).  List of countries by tax revenue as a percentage of GDP [online].  Available from: . [Accessed: 28 January 2009].


Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. (2007).  Tax Reform:  Mexico Marks the Path to Follow in Latin America [online].  Available from: . [Accessed:  28 January 2009].)



So let us again return to Sustainable Development, to end our discussion by considering its connexions to this dialogue on differences in understanding that diverse human societies may have related to seemingly similar ideas and concepts. 


The simple thing to take away from this discussion is that, while it is accepted that it is important for Sustainable Development to account for local differences in flora and fauna, it must also become as equally, if not more, accepted for Sustainable Development to also account for local differences in understandings of concepts and ideas.


Otherwise stated, if Sustainable Development is to realise any significant degrees of success, its practitioners must not wrongly assume that ideas and concepts themselves have any real universal meaning across all human societies and cultures.


Just as Sustainable Development treats flora and fauna as relative to place, so must it accept that understandings about ideas and concepts are also relative to place (and even also relative to time).


As practitioners of Sustainable Development, it is the actions of human beings that we are ultimately trying to change.  For we, as Sustainable Development’s practitioners, are trying to change human behaviour toward those actions that are more strongly aligned in harmony with nature’s own workings. 


However, that said, changing human behaviour is never easy. 


Changing human behaviour requires those who are trying to do the changing of human behaviour to also attempt to understand the individual and collective motivations behind human actions.  Yet motivations themselves are often based in thoughts, such as ideas and concepts.  So to ensure that our understandings about other humans motivations are as accurate as possible, we must not assume that our own understandings about a given idea and concept will be the same understanding held by other human beings located at each and every locale on Earth. 


Thus, there is a need for practitioners of Sustainable Development to try and understand, as best as we are able, the local interpretations of seemingly similar ideas and concepts. 


Only that way are we, as Sustainable Development’s practitioners, better prepared to try and change human behaviour toward that which is more in harmony with nature’s workings and, thereby, more sustainable.


Hopefully this discussion helps you understand a little more about why Sustainable Development is about so much more than the environment. 


As always, your thoughts on this blog are encouraged and appreciated.


Thomas Esakin



Other sources used for this month’s blog:


Labossiere, Michael C.  (1995).  Fallacy Tutorial Pro 3.0.  The Nizkor Project [online].  Available from: .  [Accessed: 30 January 2009].

Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | December 5, 2008

Leadership and Sustainable Development

Leadership and Sustainable Development

Leadership is today – and, arguably, has been for millennia – a prominent topic on the minds of many humans. 

 About 2,500 or so years ago, the topic of leadership was addressed (interpretations depending…) in Plato’s Apology and in his Crito.  In the Apology, Plato writes of Socrates defending himself in front of the men of Athens (the then City-State’s leaders) against charges brought against him.  In the Crito, Plato writes that Socrates was given a chance to clandestinely flee away in to exile from the death sentence given to him by Athen’s leaders, but that Socrates purposely chose against fleeing; based on what might also be considered as leadership principles. 

 With this 2008 year being one of a USA Presidential election, the topic of leadership has also received much discussion.

So let’s talk about leadership and Sustainable Development (a combination of topics also known in SD jargon as “Leading for Sustainability” or related to a person being a “Sustainability Leader”).

 This past November 2008, Barack Hussein Obama won an historic victory in the USA Presidential Election.  Following his election win, he has announced as his early selections for White House appointments some of the best-and-brightest leaders from across the spectrum of USA gender, regional and partisan-political differences.  Obama has publicly offered an early example of how a person can lead with strength, integrity and bi-partisan leadership in the interests of all citizens. 

Contrast Obama’s uncommon example with the embarrassing display of federal politicians in the USA’s northern neighbouring country of Canada.   The past week’s power-grabs by Canada’s national political “leaders” who represent all colours of the political spectrum has had the result of publicly displaying political self-interest over any demonstration of national interest.  And this has all been evidenced during a time of a global financial crisis, when real leadership is truly required by politicians of any political stripe.

Unfortunately, Canada’s recent political circus-show is more common in Earth’s human societies than is Obama’s fine example. It guides me to paraphrase a popular Pete Seeger song of the 1960’s, where I change lyrics to ask:  “Where have all the leaders gone?”  (I started writing this blog on a Thursday and on the next day The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, had a December 5, 2008, editorial on it being Canada’s “Time for a real leader”, see: ).

In a world that is realising growing environmental degradation, increased social inequity and its consequences (which can only deepen during the current global financial crisis, which is now being termed by many media commentators as the worst such crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s), and a global economic implosion coming after years of so many of our human societies and their organizations choosing to live (un)sustainably… a new type of human leader is, indeed, now required.

The new type of “Sustainability Leader” that human societies require is not an old-style, MBA- or business- or legal- degree holding, type of individual who simply ‘includes’ optical environmental and social considerations in what is otherwise a business approach to planning.  Nor is the new style of “Sustainability Leader” a traditional politician who makes political trade-offs as a means to acquire and retain political office and its many advantages.  Nor is it the type of environmental activist who has arisen since the 1960s: a person who fights for things-environmental yet seems to do so at the expense of all else.

To return to Socrates and Plato, a “Sustainability Leader” might be more akin to a “Philosopher King”.  These are those humans who are found in all walks of life (and who are not always formally educated). They are recognised as being the best and brightest of our societies (and so are endowed with some degrees of knowledge and wisdom, which would rationally seem as essential requirements to good decision-making).  “Philosopher Kings” are also persons who are honestly and sincerely reluctant to accept political office (thus making them better suited for politics, for they are not persons who are actively seeking power but are individuals “uplifted” in to political service for the good of their society).

¿What, then, might be some of the “Traits of a Sustainability Leader”?

Consider that a “Sustainability Leader”, whether she or he, might be a person who…

…. is able to balance each of the competing social, environmental and economic parts of Sustainable Development;

… tries to comprehend the collective whole through understanding its individual parts;

… is comfortable in “Leading from Behind”.  That is, they are individuals who realise that “best outcomes” come not from any one person (and even then, often from that one person’s own ego-driven needs), but from finding ways and strategies for any and all interested people to offer and achieve their best for Sustainable Development;

… has the ability to reach across any perceived political, gender, orientation, racial, cultural, educational, social, economic, regional, national or any other imaginable divides, all in an effort to help human societies and their diversity to develop mutual understandings.  Then, they are able to reach a societal consensus toward action based on those same agreed mutual-understandings. (Thus, a “Sustainability Leader” is not a person who “tells” people “what” to think or do, but is an individual who discerns differing points of view and then, through reference to human knowledge and access to their own acquired internal wisdom, finds the commonality that unites differences and helps motivate action.)

I have developed the following Principles of Sustainable Development Leadership, for consideration when thinking of “Leaders for Sustainability”:

Principles of Sustainable Development Leadership

(Thomas C. Esakin:  11 November 2008)

A “Sustainability Leader”:

  • Is grounded in an inherent respect for all:
  • Has an awareness that learning about the collective whole through individual parts is an essential part of “Leading for Sustainability”:
  • Recognises that each and every person, no matter their station in life, has valuable knowledge to share related to the advancement of Sustainable Development:
  • Understands that every human being is both a student and a teacher of life, thus a “Sustainability Leader” does not accept any false separation between teacher & student:
  • Identifies each and every person as a leader in their own right, an affirmation which recognises that all of humanity can – even must – contribute to the advancement of Sustainable Development on Earth:
  • Is an active listener, for they intuitively know that they can learn more by listening to others then they can ever learn through hearing their own voice:
  • Actively seeks or facilitates other peoples’ participation in discussions on Sustainable Development, for they understand that the more people who join together in learning, then the more humans can, both individually and collectively, be active learners for Sustainable Development:
  • Considers all ideas as good ideas, and so listens to and acknowledges all ideas as such, and does so while also accepting ideas in reference to and by building on previous knowledge: and
  • Realises ideas of right and wrong as constructs of thought, which may often have personal or cultural value but may not have universal meaning or applicability.

¿What do you think of the suggested “Traits of a Sustainability Leader” or of the “Principles of Sustainable Development Leadership”?  

How might you change or add to them, to then help strengthen them as traits and principles to guide future leaders of, and Sustainable Development in, our human societies?

Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged….

Feliz Navidad y Propsero Año 2009.


Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | November 1, 2008

Dia de Muertos…. and Sustainable Development

01 November 2008


This weekend holds the Dia de Muertos, a cultural tradition commemorated in México and throughout Latin America. 


Dia de Muertos is a Latin American tradition that pre-dates the first arrival of the Spanish to the Americas.  Some anthropologists suggest the tradition is hundreds, if not thousands, of years old.  For many Mayan of the Yucatan, this Dia de Muertos weekend will be an annual occasion to take the bones of ancestors out of their crypts, to sweep the past year’s collection of dust out of the boxes and off of the bones, and to lay new cloth in the old bone boxes before returning the bones to the boxes and the boxes back to the crypts.  This Mayan ritual, as with Dia de Muertos commemorations in general, is enacted in large part as a sign of respect for and connexion to the past. 


Of course, ancestor worship is not solely a Latin American cultural phenomenon.  It is also an old and important cultural tradition still practiced throughout Asia (albeit, practiced at different times of the year).


Culture can be a complicated subject to discuss.  For culture is not simply things that humans look at as we walk past altars on display in Zocalos, or an activity we observe performed on theatrical stages, or objects which we view in art galleries, or even images that we fleetingly glimpse at out of the windows of tour buses we may travel on throughout foreign and exotic lands. 


Culture is primarily about identity.  In large measure, the culture(s) that human beings are part of help define our very essence as individual human beings. 


There are continental cultures. These are ones where people identify at one level as an inhabitant and member of a specific continent and that continent’s geographic community.  Continental cultural identities include a person identifying as South American or Australian or African or Asian or American or European. 


There are national cultures, ones where people identify as a member of a specific country and its geographic territory. These can include Ethiopian, Nepalese, Tahitian, Lao, Lithuanian, Paraguayan, or any one of the 195 countries currently counted on Earth.


There are also indigenous cultures, ones where the people who inhabit a defined geographic area have the earliest historic connexion to that area (whether this historic connexion is through birth or migration). Indigenous cultures include the Ahousat people of Vancouver Island, Canada, the Huaorani peoples of the Amazon, the Chontal of Tabasco, México, the Maori peoples of New Zealand, the Kuna peoples of Panama, the Tau peoples of Taiwan, and the Inuit of the USA and Canada Arctic, amongst almost countless other indigenous peoples across Earth. 


Even peoples like the English, French, Welsh, Germans, Italians, Belgians, Norwegians, Russians and other European identities can be called indigenous cultures.  That is because while they each represent a national culture, they are also peoples with the earliest historic connexion to their geographic area.


It is at the indigenous level where culture takes on some of its deepest meanings for human beings, as it is at this level that culture then includes things that impact us humans in our daily lives.  Indigenous cultures touch on things like: communication methods (whether verbal or non-verbal languages); the clothing and jewellery we wear; the food we eat; the eating utensils we use (whether chopsticks, our hands, or knives & forks & spoons); religious beliefs; social rituals and customs (including things like body markings, social hierarchies and social mobility, ancestor worship, and warrior societies), governance styles and approaches, urban development and building styles, economic development patterns, and much, much more.


For a country like the USA, the more would entail the cultural implication found in the famous quote of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, who said that “The business of America is business.”  In other words, Coolidge said that, at the indigenous level of the newcomers to the New World’s USA, the American cultural identity is one that is connected to business activity.


So you may ask:  What does this discussion mean for Sustainable Development?


Well, human cultures – human societies – on Earth are widely spread out and richly diverse in many, even countless, ways.


And Sustainable Development acknowledges that, for its successful advancement, it must take in to account local dynamics, local differences, and local realities in each of the social, environmental and economic spheres. Culture, including cultural differences, would come under the social aspect of Sustainable Development.


So if human beings can find real, tangible (i.e. solid), ways for living with and alongside our species’ cultural diversity, we would then be in a better position to advance the social component of Sustainable Development. 


Social advancement in Sustainable Development would then place humans in a better position to achieve one of the stated Aims in the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, that being:


“to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.”


I personally believe that one of the best ways for humans to achieve a common place, one where we daily live with and alongside cultural diversity, is by our learning to accept, embrace, support and even celebrate cultural diversity and cultural differences.  


The “one size fits all” approach to cultural identity (which is a more traditionally nationalistic approach) seems not only contrary to sustainable development, it also seems to me to be unrealistic and even undesirable.


Human life becomes eminently more alive and joyful when the Maltese of Malta can be Maltese and the Flemish of Belgium can be Flemish and the Chamula of Chiapas, México can be the Chamula and the Gitskan of Canada can be the Gitskan. And when each and every other cultural identity is fully welcomed and encouraged to be its own cultural self (no matter how any other cultural identity may collectively choose to define its sense of cultural self). 


In one simple sense, all that is required for humans to accept, embrace, support and celebrate cultural diversity is for us to come from an initial place of respect within our own individual selves.  Then from that personal, individual, place of respect what we next need to develop is an understood and agreed respect for other selves… no matter how different or strange any other self may appear to us.  For remember, normal to us can often be strange to another.  And strange to us can often be normal to another.  So if all human beings grounded ourselves in mutual respect, then even the seemingly strange to us can be celebrated for its normalcy to others.


So here’s the question: 



If you were to develop a Sustainability Strategy for your city (municipality), what “specific” goals & objectives would you develop and implement to ensure that cultural diversity was encouraged, accepted, embraced, supported and celebrated in your city?



Over the past year, global financial markets have been experiencing what internacional media have, at various times termed either as the “sub-prime mortgage crisis” or a “credit crisis” or as a “global financial crisis” or as a “banking crisis”.


I am not an economist.  My only claim to being familiar with things economic has been through an undergarduate university course I took in the subject, through laymen readings I engage in as a compliment to my professional work, and as an ongoing personal interest. 


That said, economics, politics and sustainable development all seem to me to share at least one thing in common: “pendulum swings”.  That is, each of these fields experiences the phenomenon whereby economic or political or ecological swings made in one direction can often be followed by near equal swings in the complete opposite direction.


For me, the current financial crisis – which is a variant of the olde adage that: “What goes up, must come down” – simply provides further solid, even practical, evidence of the existence of pendulum swings in systems. 


Financial crises are not new.  Earth’s humans have ample historical evidence of financial crises happening in various locations and at various points over historical time.  Interestingly for the purposes of this discusion, these crises have often arisen after an earlier period of financial excess (i.e. after an earlier period of time where the pendulum had swung itself in to the complete opposite direction).


“And so, what does all of this have to do with sustainable devlopment”, you may ask?


Absolutely everything.


This is because sustainable development denotes a “balance”: a balance between the social, environmental and economic components of human societies. 


And it is an “im-balance” in the workings of the global economy that has lead to the current financial crisis.  (With much of this im-balance still tied in to the financial markets’ ongoing inability to accept limits to growth, which laws of physics, particualrly the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamcis, so clearly address).


Otherwise stated, it is in the striving for a balance in each of the three aspects of sustainable dvelopment that human societies can help avoid extreme swings of the pendulum, such as the global economy is currently experiencing.


Traditionally throughout human history, humans could be certain that, no matter what specifically happened within the confines of our constructed economic systems – whether a financial crisis or a recession or whatever– at the end of the day all things would eventually work themselves out in some manner. 


Yet today, with the added pressures humans are placing on earth and the planet’s ecosystems, humans can no longer seriously hold any same degree of certainty in a positive outcome to a financial crisis. 


Unlike in the general workings of human-constructed economic systems, should earth’s ecological balance give way – and earth’s ecological balance itself increasingly appears threatened by the dominant economic system we now watch in the media as being in a free-fall – then those ecological consequences will be beyond human ability to control. 


Most of those global banks currently identified in the media as facing final stages of collapse are now being bailed-out by national governments, which are offering billions and billions of taxpayers dollars in loans and guarantees.  However humans need be clear that no human financial bailout can ever save or rescue an earth ecosystem in the final stages of collapse. 


And while paper calculations of devalued assets are generally the main losses in a financial crisis, the physical lives of countless humans and other biodiverse species will be what are lost in any ecosystem collapse on earth.  While paper losses can be chalked up to personal experience, physical losses are permanent. 


Soon global governments and the business community will have done all they can do to mitigate the effects of the current financial crisis.  And after that time has been reached, national governments would then be wise to shift their attentions toward developing and implementing policies for acheiving greater degrees of balance within human societies. 


By necessity, this shift in attention cannot be a backward shift toward trying to recapture the past glories of an oft-failed economic system. (i.e. evidence of such failures are found within the current global financial crisis, the Argentine financial crisis of 1999, the Russian financial crisis of 1998, to name only some of the most recent such examples). 


National governments should instead make a forward shift: one toward seriously thinking about “how” human societies can be restructured to begin their necessary process of bringing about “sustainable development” and its intended balance between its social, economic and environmental components.


For me, such a shift would include solutions requiring humans to end a habitual return to past patterns of behaviour.  This shift would, instead, require humans to become aware of how better life on our planet would be should all countries pull together and work alongside one another for the “Commonwealth” and “Common Good” of all life on earth.


And how might a “sustainable devlopment balance” appear in your part of earth? 


Social Sustainable Development could include:

  • policies to increase social cohesion, integration and equity;
  • K-12 public education, mandatorily and freely-available for all citizens;
  • health care, freely available to all citizens;
  • participatory decision-making, whereby the practice of democracy is expanded to one where citizens are actively involved in the making of major societal decisions;
  • ending of corrupt official practices;
  • creating a culture of meritocracy;
  • food security (i.e. food sustainability); and
  • encouraging individual creativity by ensuring freedom of thought and freedom of belief.


Economic Sustainable Development might involve:

  • development and implementation of locally-appropriate policies to create a strong middle class and to eliminate any wide income divide between the wealthiest 30% and poorest 30% of a national population;
  • diversification of local economies away from any primary reliance on single economic activities and instead repositioned toward a basket of varied economic potentialities;
  • the pursuit of localised economic sustainability (economic self-sufficency) within a larger national and global reality; and
  • expenditures in Sustainability R&D (research & development).


Environmental Sustainable Development would entail:

  • living within the bio-regeneration capacity of a local ecosystem. This would include humans not taking more resources out of the earth and its local eco-systems than can be replensished by those same eco-systems and the earth itself AND that humans not dispose into the earth any waste that is not easily biodegradable nor place in the earth more waste than the earth can easily degrade by natural processes; and
  • varying and locally-appropriate degrees of respect for all life and life-forms on earth and in a local eco-system.


Tus, to reduce the potencial ferocity of “pendulum swings” – such as the one currently being experienced in the global financial system – and to ensure a greater harmony within human societies by our pursuing an economic, environmental and social balance, human societies need, by necessity, to move toward Sustainable Development. 


Currently, Earth’s pendulum swing is to the positive, with an adundance of resources still available if they are shared fairly and justly with all life forms on earth. 


Yet in the way humans are developing our societies, science has been warning us for some time now that earth’s pendulum is now swinging in the other direction.  


Are humans really eager to try and live through the ecological equivalent of a “global financial crisis”?


Your thoughts…?


Is it time for humans to engage in a “Sustainable Development Re-think”?



Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | May 24, 2008

Sustainable Development and youth.

I am particularly proud of a group of my co-students (as we refer to one another) in our Sustainable Tourism Topics II course of the Spring 2008 term at Universidad del Caribe ( ), the public university in Cancun.  These wonderfully talented people have just accomplished a number of firsts for our university, with these being:


  • the first book ever written by students at Universidad del Caribe;
  • the first e-book produced at UCaribe; and
  • the first English-language book written at the university.


Their book is entitled:


México and Sustainable Development:Ideas founded in youth. /

México y Desarrollo Sustentable:Ideas encontradas en los jovenes.


In this Internet e-book, which is being translated in to Spanish, the students explain the concept and practice of sustainable development, and generally detail México’s progress in this area.  They also discuss some of the pressing social, environmental and economic realities of México, and offer solutions to these through the lens of sustainable development.


This e-book should be an informative read for any one interested in the unique cultural and social realities of México, as examined through sustainable development and the eyes of a new, young, generation of Mexicans. The students discuss such traditionally uncomfortable subjects as police corruption, wealth inequality, political nepotism, the nearing end of México’s oil resources and potential consequences for México, population control, the “brain drain” of Mexicans to the USA, environmental laws printed on paper but not enforced in reality, and the Mexican concept of family. Particularly engaging is the students’ developed list of “20 essential elements for building a sustainably strong society”, which includes “Trust” at the top of their list.


The book’s reference and web-link is as follows:


Salas Velázquez, Gabriela et al (2008). México and Sustainable Development: Ideas founded in youth. In: Thomas C. Esakin (ed.) Sustainable México” [online]. Cancun, México: Universidad del Caribe. Available from:


If these ten students represent the future of México, then México and its people have much to look forward to.


I warmly invite you to read this book of a new and impressive generation of Mexicans, to then learn more about sustainable development and México.



Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | May 13, 2008

Our journey to sustainable development begins….

Welcome to this blog on sustainable development (SD).

Where ever any of us may be located on Earth, each and every one of us is invited to join together in this shared blog conversation on how we can actively collaborate to achieve the SD of human societies.

Please… share any and all of your ideas, thoughts and experiences related to SD. Let us know of things you are doing in your own personal life to practice sustainable development. Tell us about what your community is doing to further SD. Advise us of ways your province / state or country is fostering sustainable development at regional and national levels.  And as importantly, share your own – even new – ideas for the advancement of SD at any level.

Additionally, please feel welcomed in this blog to ask any questions related to SD. All questions will be seen as having value.  I, or any others who join in with us on this blog conversation, will do our best to answer your questions or to otherwise direct you to where answers might be found. 

So, let our shared conversation now begin on humanity’s common journey in trying to understand how to practice sustainable development in our individual, community and national lives.


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