The mounting concern over humanity's relationship with the larger world of nature should not mean the turning of attention away from human relations, but rather the understanding of human life as an interconnected part of the greater natural community of life.
-Stephen C. Rockefeller
If, in an effort to find guidance for an eternity, each of us was given a different frame from a movie we had never seen and then asked to describe and interpret that movie, the result would be discord, confusion, and a failure to comprehend the lessons that the film sought to teach us. This is not just because we each have a different frame of a movie to interpret. It is also because each of us approaches the task of interpretation with a different set of values, a different understanding of truth, and different circumstances from which to compare. Sustainable development causes us similar problems because each of us became aware of the term at a different place and at a different point in its evolution and, not seeing the whole of the process, we often think of that point in space and time as its totality. Yet, the final chapter in the maturation of the concept is still to be written. Only if it is seen as a continuing process, rather than a final event where a set of instructions must be obeyed will we begin to understand how to develop in ways that are more understanding of the past, more meaningful for the present, and more useful to the future inhabitants of this planet. We must work with what we have, to do what we have to do.
The previous sections sought to outline what one finds in much of the on-going discussions about sustainable development. What it found there is that we are a long way from being able to say for certain which is the route to sustainability. Our world is too complex and changeable; the future too remote. And we humans are, well, human - each individual a collection of needs, desires, and wants all his or her own. That will not change in the future.
If, according to Kai Lee (1993), "none of the basic requisites of sustainability is yet within grasp," then we have a problem. The problem is that if we can neither define nor measure sustainability then, for now, sustainable development is not very much different from development as we have always known it.
We can, however, define and measure unsustainability. We know that a project that has failed is a project that wasted resources. We know that a program which didn't work is a program that went for naught. And we know that a policy which did not fulfill its promise is a policy that was unfulfilled. Definition and measurement of failure are easy.
We also know that we can do something about it. Methods do exist which enable us to identify and manage development conflict to a larger degree than we think. Moreover, since development conflict is a major cause of development failure, the picture is not as bad as it may have first seemed. The identification and management of conflict are not easy tasks but they can be done and they do appear to work. Humans have survived on this Earth long enough to have learned something about how to survive together. Three different but related approaches seem to have the potential to make a difference: integrated planning, conflict management, and an understanding of our relationship with nature-that is, that the Earth is not just a planet, but that it is the planet that we correctly call home. Working with these themes may or may not take us to sustainability but there is no doubt that they will improve our rate of success for development that improves life quality for all of us in the least conflictive way. For those of us who feel that this is not enough-that conservation, concern for future generations, and environmental protection are absolute prerequisites for sustainable development, we still can have our say in court. We need only to convince the jury-which by the way, is a jury of our peers.