Sustainability Watchwords: "Developing, Developed, Undeveloped"
On the anniversary of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, examining old words facing new science
As you may know, I’m developing a #Watchwords series building conversations around words that are contested or confusing more than illuminating in pursuit of a better planet and society. This post from pre-Substack days centers on the words Developed/Undeveloped, with a big thank you to the marine explorer and conservationist Sylva Earle.
The reason will come clear below.
Original post, updated - 2022 saw the 50th anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, which was the first world conference to make the environment a major focus and laid the foundation for the Sustainable Development Goals and much more. A Stockholm +50 conference just wrapped.
As explained recently by Christina Borst of the United Nations Foundation (the nonprofit organization created by Ted Turner to support U.N. goals), the resulting Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment was the first effort to build dialogue between industrialized and developing economies and also linked the environment, poverty, and development.
You can explore the outcomes of this conference here and on Twitter via #stockholm50.
I've learned over the decades that these big meetings memorialize, more than determine, what happens on this planet, with the action, experimentation and innovations taking place on the ground in countless communities and involving individuals both above and below the radar.
One of the above-radar, below-the-surface leaders is surely Sylvia Earle, the extraordinary deep-sea explorer known to many as "Her Deepness."
In an onstage interview I did with her at the 2018 C2 Conference in Montreal on commerce and creativity, Earle encapsulated what makes this moment on Earth more consequential than 1972:
"You and I and everybody else alive on the planet today have come along at probably the most important time in human history because we still have options open, right? We still have choices that can take us in a direction that will give us the best chance we'll ever have of a long and enduring future on this little blue miracle that we call Earth. Fifty years ago, and all preceding time before, we did not know, we could not know what we now know, what kids are growing up with, a view of Earth from space, knowing what it's like in the deepest part of the ocean, because we have evidence. People have been there. They've they come back as witnesses."
Listen to the entire discussion in this C2 Conference Facebook video and read more here.
Watchwords - "Undeveloped"
There was another moment in our chat that I loved even more, when Earle picked up on a word I tossed into a sentence describing a film my Pace University students made in 2015 about coral reef conservation in Curacao. I mentioned research illuminating how the fate of reefs was tied to the fate of the land, with the best reef conditions off the "undeveloped" end of the island.
"Isn't that a curious word - undeveloped," Earle interjected gently.
It took me a second to ponder her point. I realized, of course, that undeveloped is a word that implies the end state of a landscape is to be developed.
"It's like it's our job to fix it," she mused. Yeah, that's a very wild place. It's undeveloped. We need to get in there and fix it."
It's even better to watch and hear her in the video above.
Given how much of the sustainability conversation revolves around the concept of being developed, or pathways to development, it feels entirely appropriate to use World Environment Day to add "undeveloped, developing, developed" to my Watchwords series here on Sustain What.
Back in 2010, I took a step along this path by asking if the top billion wealthiest people on the planet needed new goals along with those development agencies were trying to pursue for the poorest places.
My Watchwords living lexicon is not designed to banish terms like this, but to encourage conversations around them.
Earle's approach to the word "undeveloped" recalls my recent conversation with the leaders of the Global Press organization, which is nurturing, publishing and protecting dozens of female reporters filing stories and images from some of the world's least-covered regions. We focused in part on their innovative style guide, which is a living document that fosters the same kind of care in word choice that Earle displayed. Here's their listing for "developing world" and related terms:
developing world/emerging economy/Global South
This is a deviation from AP Style.
Do not use the terms developing world, emerging economy or Global South to describe any country or region. Instead, include economic data relevant to a story’s news value.
The terms are geographically imprecise, do not have widely accepted definitions and are generally used as sanitized synonyms for poverty. Using generalized terms to imply poverty across large land areas and countries that have little else in common reflects bias and defines complex communities by foreign standards of wealth.
If you missed my Sustain What conversation with Global Press CEO Cristi Hegranes and COO Laxmi Parasarathy, you owe it to yourself to watch when you can.
A day for everything
Today also marks the first time I've paused to explore the full calendar of United Nations official international days and weeks. Have a look and tell me which resonate for you!
Here's just the June calendar from the United Nations list:
01 June - Global Day of Parents(A/RES/66/292)
03 June - World Bicycle Day(A/RES/72/272)
04 June - International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression(A/RES/ES-7/8)
05 June - World Environment Day(A/RES/2994 (XXVII))
05 June - International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing(A/RES/72/72)
06 June - Russian Language Day
07 June - World Food Safety Day(A/RES/73/250)
08 June - World Oceans Day(A/RES/63/111)
12 June - World Day Against Child Labour
13 June - International Albinism Awareness Day(A/RES/69/170)
14 June - World Blood Donor Day(WHA Resolution 58.13)
15 June - World Elder Abuse Awareness Day(A/RES/66/127)
16 June - International Day of Family Remittances(A/RES/72/281)
17 June - World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought(A/RES/49/115)
18 June - International Day for Countering Hate Speech(A/RES/75/309)
18 June - Sustainable Gastronomy Day(A/RES/71/246)
19 June - International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict(A/RES/69/293)
20 June - World Refugee Day(A/RES/55/76)
21 June - International Day of Yoga(A/RES/69/131)
21 June - International Day of the Celebration of the Solstice(A/RES/73/300)
23 June - United Nations Public Service Day(A/RES/57/277)
23 June - International Widows' Day(A/RES/65/189)
25 June - Day of the Seafarer(IMO STCW/CONF.2/DC.4)
26 June - International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking(A/RES/42/112)
26 June - United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture(A/RES/52/149)
27 June - Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day(A/RES/71/279)
29 June - International Day of the Tropics(A/RES/71/279)
30 June - International Asteroid Day(A/RES/71/90)
30 June - International Day of Parliamentarism(A/RES/72/278)
The images in the banner above are from a 2007 mission in which the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) produced the world's first high-definition video of an Earth Rise and Earth Set using the lunar explorer KAGUYA (SELENE) which was injected into a lunar orbit.
Here's a video montage I created years ago on the original Earthrise image moment, via the Apollo program, and the Japanese video version:
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