Is sustainable development really the best response to the challenges of globalisation? Walter D. Mignolo argues that the concept of ‘sustainable economies’, based on the idea of ‘living in harmony and plenitude’, is necessary in order to change the terms of the conversation. We need to move away from a focus on development towards a more holistic concept of human and ecological flourishing. To accomplish this, peaceful political organisations need to be given more say in conversations currently taking place between states, corporations, banks, and extant international institutions on how to address development issues.  The point is not to do away with development, but to offer another perspective and to take these co-existing options seriously.

Executive Summary

This paper invites a sustained conversation on concepts of ‘development’ and ‘living in harmony and plenitude’. It reflects on three co-existing trajectories: 1) rough (or unsustainable) development; 2) sustainable development; and 3) the radical differences in meaning in indigenous cosmologies related to development.

Both sustainable development and these indigenous cosmologies are local responses to globalisation and rough development, but their goals are very different. Sustainable development changes the content of the conversation, but indigenous cosmologies aim to change the terms of the conversation.  For them the issue is not ‘sustainability’ but ‘development’, because ‘development’ (whether rough or sustainable) leads to growing ‘inequality’. Development in both forms presupposes an economy of accumulation and exploitation. Sustainable development may solve issues such as ‘global warming’, but cannot solve issues such as ‘global inequality’. Development is not the goal of the third trajectory; the goal is rather balance and harmony, among humans and all living organisms on the planet. With harmony rather than development as the goal, ‘inequality’ would be addressed before it happened. The choice between rough or sustainable development is not the only option; changing the terms of the conversation and delinking from the idea of development is a third option underway today.

Considering these three co-existing options seriously would lead not only to a multipolar world order, but also to a co-existing pluriversal world order in which emerging and peaceful political organizations would ideally have as much to say as the state, corporations, banks, and extant international institutions. Changing the terms of the conversation would lead to shifting our visions of living on the planet and reducing both rough and sustainable development down to size.

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