In the early twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi fought poverty and injustice through peaceful civil resistance. He championed local production, education, health care and self-sufficiency. Inspired by Gandhi’s ideas, members of the Chipko and Appiko environmental movements hugged trees in the 1970s and 1980s to prevent them from being felled. In 2014, after 12 years of campaigning, the Dongria Kondh forest tribe in India’s Odisha state won a lawsuit to stop a bauxite mine from opening and ruining the hillsides that they revered and depended on for food.
These strongly rooted local movements have brought sustainability issues into everyday conversations in India. They have inspired generations of activists. Yet most university courses on sustainability omit them. Teachings still have a Western focus, even in India. Most books on sustainability frame the discourse in terms of Earth’s finite resources and rising population.
The limited Western view of sustainability is stifling progress, just as the world faces crises over water, climate change, energy and biodiversity. That view also does a disservice to the variety and creativity of thinking and actions on sustainability in societies across the globe. Developing countries face the most acute challenges in this regard, yet they have the widest gaps in knowledge. Solutions that work in one place might fail in another. Excessive consumption, inequity and social injustice are not questioned enough.