Sustainable Development and Basic Human Needs

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The focus on basic human needs is the key to resolving the development riddle as well as the ecological crisis. Gandhi said "the world has enough for everybody's need, but not enough for anybody's greed". This insight can become the guiding star for a new political philosophy. We can reach a sustainable and just way of living on this planet by ensuring that everyone's needs are met. Other aspirations are downgraded to second priority. In order to transform our societies according to this principle, we first need to establish what exactly the basic human needs are. Anthropology and psychology can help in defining them, but a wide participatory process similar to the one that lead to the Earth Charter may be necessary to construct a global consensus. The human rights may also serve as a starting point, because they already try to establish something similar (economic and social and political rights, whereby some may have to be rephrased, some may enter directly). Once we have an idea of what the basic human needs are, we can change legislation and economic processes in a way that meeting basic needs is subsidized by states and additional "needs" are taxed in favor of the national or global community. This will lead to a redistribution from the rich to the poor. Doing this on a global level should be a priority, because it might enable us to finally tear down borders as well! It will also slow down the production of material goods and the exploitation of natural resources. Everything that is not immediately necessary for meeting basic needs will become a luxury and accordingly expensive and less likely to be bought and produced. The pressure of mankind on our Mother Earth will relax a big deal. We may well be able to decide on mechanisms to let the life-support systems replenish instead of reducing them all the time.


A first step towards this revolution in the organization of our societies should be to lay the foundations for the operationalisation of "basic human needs". One way can be to create an economic indicator that shows how much of the price of a product goes into the basic needs sector and how much ends up elsewhere.


The richest is not the one who has most but the one who needs least. (Zapotec saying)

  • Oktober 2008: Gibt es das denn inzwischen? Eine bedürfnis-basierte Nachhaltigkeitstheorie?

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