presentation on Brundtland as a paradigm shift away

The Brundtland Report
as Paradigm Change
Professor Wayne Hayes
V. 0.6, Build #8 | 10/22/2013
The goal of this
presentation is
. . . to understand the origins of
. . . and to explore . . .
How the Brundtland Report,
Our Common Future,
altered the
paradigm of development
and changed the
conversation about globalization.
The 1987 context is:
• We are living in the Anthropocene. Our Home
is astonishing, but also in danger.
• Forests are burning and native people and
others are unsettled.
• Growth destroys limited resources and cannot
be the answer to the challenges of the
• The dominant paradigm is riddled with
anomalies but no alternative has coalesced.
We need a pathway
toward another paradigm.
So before proceeding,
we must illuminate
our core concept,
upon which
our course focuses:
Here is where we turn.
Note the title of this
classic book:
Report of the World Commission on Environment
and Development:
Our Common Future:
From One Earth to One World.
Or, simply: The Brundtland Commission Report.
Who was Gro Harlem Brundtland and
what was her background?
Brundtland has a resume!
• She was born 20 April 1939.
• She is a medical doctor with a public health degree. She is
former director of the World Health Organization.
• A feminist, she was Prime Minister of Norway (1981, 1986–
89, 1990–96), the first woman and youngest ever.
• She was chosen to direct the U.N. World Commission on
Environment and Development.
• Since 2007, she is a special U.N. envoy on climate change.
• She is among the Elders --- view the web site.
Brundtland’s classic definition of
sustainable development is:
"Humanity has the ability to make development
sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of
the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs.“
(Cited from original report. This is important section is brief.)
So what?
The audacity,
and horizon
of Brundtland is noteworthy,
but the strategic insight
has been neglected.
(Hey, we are still talking about sustainable development over a quarter of a century later. This
discourse has become central in political economy, geopolitics, public policy, social movement
formation, and academia.)
View the table of contents of
The Brundtland Commission Report
Click on the web site of the Report.
Study the organization of the report.
Professor Hayes will provide background.
Note the Overview of the report.
Please scan the Overview
but focus on
the Global Challenge and
the Call for Action.
Note the title of the Overview:
Our Common Future,
From One Earth to One World
Which rises
to the challenge
of the Anthropocene:
The challenge is to reconcile this
With this:
Sounds familiar?
The Brundtland Commission
attempted to define in 1987
a reconciliation
of the occupation of the Earth
by the human species.
The scope of the report is daunting.
• The time perspective is generational.
• The geographical scope is global, but
attempts to harmonize the interest of poor
nations and rich.
• The report calls for a synthesis of broad
themes: nature, society, and the economy.
• The report stands outside the dominant social
paradigm of growth.
The timing is auspicious:
• The post-colonial Third World challenged the
global power structure within the U.N. over
poverty and inequality.
• The global ecological crisis had emerged but
was defined as an environmental issue.
• Neoliberalism had become entrenched as the
paradigm of globalization.
Which puts Brundtland’s classic
definition of sustainability in context.
"Humanity has the ability to make development
sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of
the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs.“
(Cited from original report. This is an important but brief
Brundtland achieved consensus
The Report’s approval was
unanimous among its 21 commissioners
and translated into 20 languages.
The report was an immediate sensation
and is still a living document.
Oxford University Press
reprinted the Report in 2009.
The report is a good starting point
from which to understand
sustainability .
Browse the original report to get a sense of the
historical mission of sustainability, why it is
important, and how the concern represented by
sustainability is framed.
The substance of the
conversation changed.
The vocabulary, data, worldview, values
all shifted from neoliberalism discourse
and neglected constituencies were given voice.
We need a paradigm shift?
• A paradigm is a conceptual system by which we
understand the world. The paradigm provides
form and meaning. We can use the metaphor of
operating system as a helpful heuristic.
• When information does not fit the prevailing
paradigm, such anomalies can shift to new
paradigms, not always smoothly.
• The dominant paradigm vigorously resists
paradigm shifts.
Recall Annie about paradigms.
• Philosophy of science: “a very general
conception of scientific endeavor within which
a given enquiry is undertaken” (
• The concept originates with Thomas Kuhn’s
1972 classic, The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions. See Stanford Encyclopedia of
So, unpack your paradigm!
Brundtland paved the way.
• Is nature a “reservoir of supplies” for human
consumption (utilitarianism) or is nature “a
sacred, complex system” (page xxiv)?
• Is pollution a right? Are markets always right?
Read what Annie says, page xxiv.
• Take the Red Pill? Remember The Matrix?
• Remember that the dominant social paradigm
will resist paradigm shifts.
Read a classic on paradigm shift.
Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to
Intervene in a System (August, 2005). Notice the
context: classics in complex systems thinking.
This short article is highly recommended.
How did the Brundtland Report
change the paradigm?
The Brundtland report was not
another dull, bureaucratic U.N. tome.
Rather, the report was
more audacious and revolutionary
than commonly perceived.
To understand this claim,
we must critically examine
the historical and global context.
Recall the rule makers.
An organized regime, or mode of governance,
over global trade
was negotiated by the victors of WWII
at the dawn of the Age of Acceleration
in July 1944
at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.
Bretton Woods
The story begins at Bretton Woods as an
arrangement among nation-states under the
auspices of the United Nations:
1. to provide order to the international
2. to promote post-World War II economic
3. to forestall relapse into a global economic
depression similar to the 1930s.
The Bretton Woods accord
framed the international economy.
The accord negotiated in July 1944 set up the
framework for global trade since, paving the way
for the Great Acceleration.
Welcome to Bretton Woods!
Source: New York Times
The deal was struck in
the Gold Room.
Source: New York Times
The Bretton Woods set up three
institutions to promote world trade.
1. The International Monetary Fund, or IMF
2. The World Bank
3. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(GATT), which led to the World Trade
Organization (WTO).
The significance of Bretton Woods
We will discuss Bretton Woods later in the
course as we examine
the origins,
and trajectory
of economic globalization.
(See my notes.)
Brundtland promotes local and
regional economic development.
This topic, too, gets much attention later in the
course. For now:
1. Look at the Business Alliance for Local Living
2. Peek at my notes around Bill McKibben, Deep
Brundtland changed the paradigm.
Thus redefined the notion of globalization from
purely economic growth based on increasing
export industries to a more inclusive agenda
that included
• Local economic development and the
livelihood of indigenous people
• Respect for Nature, putting the environment
in a larger context
• Ethics, equity, fairness and rights of peoples.
Recall the epilogue from
The Story of Stuff
Shrink the growth-driven paradigm of economic
progress. Focus on the quality of life not the
quantity of stuff. Some advice:
• Share, aka, reciprocate.
• Build communities.
• Preserve the commons.
• Discourage commodification of nature.
What’s hiding in the
Brundtland Report?
The Brundtland Report was
a paradigm shift
that altered the assumptions
that dominated the
existing approach to economic development.
How does the Brundtland report
change the paradigm?
Ecology and economy are interlocked and
embedded in society and must be thought of
together. The report states (p. 5):
“Ecology and economy are becoming even more
interwoven --- locally, regionally, nationally and
globally --- into a seamless web of causes and
Brundtland challenged the orthodoxy .
The prevailing paradigm was neoliberalism
“which holds that the social good will be
maximized by maximizing the reach and
frequency of market transactions, and it seeks to
bring all human action into the domain of the
market” (David Harvey, A Brief History of
Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, 2005,
page 3).
Or, according to Margaret Thatcher:
The Prime Minister of Britain, elected in 1979,
“There is no alternative.”
Or, more simply:
Brundtland disagreed.
The Brundtland Report provided a
concrete and specific,
inclusive, comprehensive, robust,
thoughtful, insightful
Uh, by the way . . .
. . . did you notice that
the two major texts in
Ecology, Economics, and Ethics
after the Anthropocene
are authored by very audacious women?
Population is still important but
. . . population is linked to other issues such as
1. The empowerment of women (after all,
Brundtland is a feminist)
2. The right of tribal and indigenous people to
livelihood, an alternative term for economics.
Speaking about educating girls:
Listen to Malala
on The Daily Show
and learn about her story:
Class Dismissed: The Death of Female Education.
Right after population comes the
discussion of food and agriculture:
The issue is now food security to include:
1. Agricultural subsidies by the rich countries
that hurt farmers in other countries
2. Lack of purchasing power among poor
nations as income distribution
3. The need for rural development (pp. 12-13
and later chapters).
The agents of sustainability were
enlarged and made inclusive.
As an arm of the U.N., such commissions are generally limited to
nation-states. Not so here:
• Civil society organizations were central players in the
• Poor nations were to be active and not simply a recipient of
aid from rich and powerful nations.
• The role and status of women was central
• All stakeholders were to be empowered and mobilized as
agents of sustainability.
The report questioned the role of the
international economy.
1. The destruction of the environment that was so
obvious in the 1980s
2. The growing inequality produced by the global
3. The growing debt burden of the poor nations
4. The lack of attention to the shared Commons
5. The lack of economic diversification at the local
and regional levels.
See specifically the Role of the International Economy.
Brundtland Report re-defined the core
concept: development.
The prior definition might be called the Truman Doctrine (1949
Inauguration Speech):
"All countries, including our own, will greatly benefit from a
constructive program for the better use of the world's human
and natural resources. Experience shows that our commerce
with other countries expands as they progress industrially and
Truman articulated a doctrine that implied that progress
for the multitude of the world's peoples and cultures was to be
found through emulating the material progress of the USA and
its partners in what was then called the Free World (WSY Wiki).
Wolfgang Sachs explains the
assumptions of the Truman doctrine.
"Truman's imperative to develop meant that societies of
the Third World were no longer seen as diverse and
incomparable possibilities of human living arrangements
but were rather placed on a single 'progressive track,'
judged more or less advanced according to the criteria of
the Western industrial nations. Greater production is the
key to prosperity and peace. And the key to greater
production is a wider and more vigorous application of
modern scientific and technical knowledge" (Sachs, 4).
The Report led to the Earth Summit.
In 1992, five years after the Brundtland Report,
the U.N. convened the
United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development (UNCED),
popularly known as the Earth Summit.
The outcomes included the
Rio Declaration
that includes Agenda 21, an action plan.
See some of my notes on the Report.
• My overview and context
• Background, Preface through Chapter 3
• Chapters 4 through 6.