Although “sustainable” has become a corporate buzzword, a term used to legitimize various socially and ecologically destructive practices, sustainable human development has a radically different meaning: it is guided by ecological principles and rests on the assumption that freely and openly communicating, conscious human beings can solve the social and ecological problems of our time, that is, have the collective power to create a (rightly termed) sustainable society. Alternatively, we can think of it as an awakener intended to restore our sense of urgency and remove our fear of using whatever means possible to put an end to capitalist destruction. As such, it is emancipating, but only as long as it provokes our thinking, encourages us to act as if we were free to rebuild society from below, without being restricted by capitalist institutions. Thus, it not only invites us to build new frameworks for social interaction: it challenges us to make these systems free from oppressive relations and structural inequality, free from “invisible hands” that work behind the backs of people.
This also means that sustainable human development acknowledges the transformative power of technology, but not as an unambiguous, autonomous force, disregarding its structural embeddedness and historical development. On the contrary: it urges us to take control of technology, bring it closer to our shared realities in such a way that it helps us to build social systems centered around human needs and planetary sustainability. Rather than providing us with a toolbox of quick fixes, underestimating the need for precaution, it envisions a society where we are free to use appropriate technology and collaborative tools in a responsible manner, free to use knowledge for the common good. In other words, it aims to create an ecological society where technology is easy to use, easy to modify, and easy to control. What is to be done must therefore remain an open-ended question, ideally giving rise to a multitude of answers and not to insurmountable technological complexity.
A revolutionary practice, constantly in search of new ways to meet our needs and new ways to express solidarity, sustainable human development restores our sense of belonging, of being co-habitants on this planet. It is non-alienating in that it distinguishes between real and fictional dependencies – we cannot breathe, drink, or eat money, nor do weapons of mass destruction keep us alive – and it is non-alienating in that it gives us power to radically transform our lives, socially as well as ecologically. The ever more destructive reality of the vast majority of humanity makes self-determined activities and mutually beneficial interactions between individuals all the more important, challenging us to build a society for all.