Creating a New Civilization Project: From Sustainable Things to Sustainable Beings

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Beatrice Melo, KASA Sustainability

The Future of the Earth: Conversation with Marina Silva (video conference, February 2020). Credit: Sophia University.

In February 2020, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper organized an event to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Mottainai campaign in Japan. Ms. Marina Silva, Former Minister of Environment of Brazil, was invited as the main speaker of the International Environmental Symposium 'The Future of the Earth: Conversation with Marina Silva' (「シルバさんと語ろう地球の未来 ~持続可能な世界のために」), held at Sophia University. In 2005, Ms. Wangari Maathai, the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the environmental field, began the Mottainai campaign. The spirit of Mottainai expresses "a shame for something to go to waste without having made use of its potential in full." Ms. Maathai reinterpreted the meaning of this Japanese Expression by including Respect to the well-known 3 Rs – Recycle, Reduce, and Reuse – in the diffusion of a style that incorporates the love for the environment and the construction of a sustainable society. The purpose of the event was to debate the creation of a sustainable world by bringing together environmental leaders in Japan. The politician and environmentalist, Ms. Marina Silva, is known worldwide for her activism protecting the Amazon rainforest along with the demand for social justice for the communities and sustainable development of the region. During her tenure in office, her tireless efforts helped the government realize the reduction of deforestation, the prevention of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, as well as the fight for indigenous rights, women's rights, and rights to democracy.

Her speech focused on the necessity of reviewing the current definition of development to one that can genuinely express sustainable development. She denominated the current crisis we live in as a "civilizational crisis." This crisis is systemic and generalized – "it includes the whole planet geographically and demographically the whole humanity." Once we view global issues in a holistic and interconnected way, we can understand that the current model is unsustainable.

Therefore, the climate system collapse, the ecosystems exhaustion, extreme social inequality, the lasting economic crisis in many countries around the world, the intensified xenophobia, toxic nationalism, and terrorism, help us identify the essence of this "civilizational crisis" concretely. Even though many are conscious of these facts, the extremes cannot realize it. Due to the lack of equal opportunities and access to resources, communities worldwide face extreme poverty. At the same time, the extremely wealthy can destroy nature and exploit people due to excessive greed. The acknowledgment of both existences is the recognition of the world's inequality. In her talk, she called on the world to embark on a "New Civilization Project." What she meant was that we need to learn from the historical experiences of humanity to redefine the concept of "development." According to Ms. Silva, the current discourse of "development" is socially excluding and environmentally destructive. The problems we face today are not a result of a lack of sustainable techniques and technologies, but a lack of ethics and commitment to humanity. Thus for a "Sustainable Development," we should regard beyond things we produce and consume, not only focused on waste reduction.


Sustainability "is a way of being, an ideal way of living, a way in which we will build relations with each other, with nature and with ourselves." Marina Silva

In the Amazon region, where Ms. Silva was born, there is a strong social and cultural relationship with nature among the hundreds of indigenous communities. Known by its vast biodiversity, the Amazon Forest also contributes to stabilizing the global climate and the salinity of the water that benefits the biota. Notwithstanding, the intensified fires and exploitation harms the world's most important tropical forest and neglects the indigenous people. It is an environmental genocide where the government deprives indigenous people of their rights to land and other resources, disrespects their traditional relations to nature and their communities. Accordingly, to identify the barriers in implementing sustainability, it is crucial to foster a better understanding of its dimensions (social, cultural, economic, environmental, aesthetic, political and ethical) Ms. Silva suggested that our efforts towards sustainability should focus on:

  • Leadership by doing – Inspire others by actions. Mobilizing people by empowering their dreams and commitment, instead of mobilizing by their fears;

  • Global solidarity – Organize large-scale collective activism aiming for concrete actions.

  • Shift from the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to Gross National Happiness (GNH);

  • Development of new business metrics – Establish goals such as environmental conservation and GHG emissions reduction.

  • Redefine the notions of happiness and identity that are not attached to production, consumption, and accumulation of goods and services.

  • Reframe our relations with people and nature.

  • Connect governments, societies, companies, scientific communities, and other segments to build sustainable models of development and commit to its achievements. The strategic plans designed by governments, enterprises, and individuals must integrate the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Finally, she declares that by states and people's actions, the Paris Agreement will not succeed in its targets. Thus, when developing a Global Sustainability Plan, they should consider the knowledge and practices of each country, since each state has its own innovative experiences that can help our civilization to avoid collapsing along with civil society participation – and women empowerment.

Sophia University's Ph.D. student in Global Studies, Beatrice Melo, asks Marina about how to include nature in the sustainability debate (February 2020). Credit: Sophia University.

As a graduate student at Sophia University, Brazilian, currently researching social and environmental justice, I had the opportunity to take the stage, along with two other students of the department of Global Environmental Studies, to talk to Mrs. Silva at the end of her video seminar. I started by introducing myself as a "Cearense" (born in the Brazilian state Ceará), a sustainable fashion designer and researcher at Kasa Sustainability in Tokyo. I mentioned that an important – yet neglected – sustainability approach decenters the human being from sustainability discussion and includes nature in the discourse. Ms. Silva proposes the creation of a Sustainability Culture founded on the existence of sustainable relational human beings connected to the environment, society, and themselves. Concerning this, I asked Ms. Silva how we can include nature in the debate to become aware that we are part of it? Ms. Silva put a smile on her face, warmly thanking the question and conveying how happy she was to hear someone from Ceará doing such relevant research for our planet. She replied to us by explaining that humans are proud of the things they create, and they care about it. Nonetheless, nature is there, they have not created nature, and that is why they take it for granted. For that reason, "an 800 years old tree in the Amazon, older than Brazil itself, can be cut down by an electric saw in 20 minutes", stated Ms. Silva. When she came to Japan, in 2015, she learned through the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper the word "mottainai" (勿体無い) - a philosophy of responsible consumption and respect for the planet by sorrow for the wastage. Therefore, regarding the concept behind this word, Ms. Silva emphasized that we have to learn about not only reuse, reduce, and recycling but also respecting nature. The mindset change starts by placing our ideals at the foundational level of our actions. Silva also pointed out the value of the academic, scientific, technological, and nature-based local knowledge to promote peace, social justice, environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and democracy. In response to Silva's keynote address, the Japanese panelists at the event echoed her in the most critical aspects that Japan needs to consider to change for a better world, which includes: The search for an environmental harmony through an ethical culture; the visualization of the interactions between people and nature, and between distinct countries, that enables the understanding that local actions have global impacts; the minorities empowerment; the voice of the youth; the fight for democracy. Hence we should cherish the social and cultural relevance integrated into the sustainable development project and be conscious that sustainability is not a matter of having sustainable goods – but being sustainable.

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