Social Sustainability: Historical Perspective from a Soil Health Biologist

George Bird, Michigan State University (Lansing, MI): Social Sustainability: Historical Perspective from a Soil Health Biologist

Not long after publication of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, Michigan State University (MSU) faculty embarked on the lengthy trek leading to today’s concept of Sustainable and Equitable Development. While the robin mortality described by Carson was important, pesticide drift damaging paint on a railroad train full of new Detroit automobiles was a far more significant catalyst. This led to in a consortium between MSU, UC-Berkley, Cornell and Texas A & M, resulting in the Systems Science concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is based on the imperative of favorable environmental, social and economic consequences. This was further defined in a 1979 Presidential Message to Congress. In the U.S., parts of IPM evolved into the concept of sustainable agriculture, which had federal legislative authorization two years prior to the U.N.’s Bruntland Report. The U.S.’s 1990 Farm Bill provided a statutory definition of Sustainable Agriculture and a unique social structure for program policy development, resource allocation and accountability. These events had a significant role in catalyzing the overall philosophy of sustainability. The resulting practices of sustainability are based on five precepts of nature: clean air, freshwater security, healthy soil, biological diversity and human ingenuity. For social sustainability to become a reality, in a world of 7.2 billion people, there is a distinct need for a true societal transition from a Mechanistic World View to an Ecological World View. It is likely that this is an essential prerequisite for successful sustainability infrastructure. With an economic system based on the principle of maximization and a significant portion of the world’s people in a “survival mode”, sustainability of a high quality of life for the majority, is a difficult challenge.