Wolfgang Sachs

Refining Development

"We must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and. growth of underdeveloped areas."

-U.S. President Harry Truman, Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1949

This series is another in the set of programmes I made between 1985 and 1985 on the theme of "development."  In this. case, the programmes were an overflow from "The Age of Ecology," an eight hour series broadcast in the spring of 1990, which was already longer than anything one person had presented on Ideas before.  (Going back to the 1970's, there had been lots of lengthy Ideas series on big themes like "Rivers" or "Balance and Biosphere" but they always assembled the work of many different programme-makers.  I was pushing the limits of what could be done by one writer/broadcaster.). Creating a separate series for the interviews concerned, broadly speaking, with economic development made sense, and "Redefining Development" was the result. 

These programmes took up many of the same issues as "The Earth is Not an Ecosytem," broadcast a couple of years later.   The first considered the question of whether development could be renewed and refocused under the name sustainable development.  David Brooks, then with the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, argued for this view.  Wolfgang Sachs asserted, to the contrary, that development was a concept, deserving only "an obituary," as he put it in The Development Dictionary, a volume he edited and published two years after this broadcast.  The second programme featured Patricia Adams of Toronto's Probe International.  She had just published Odious Debts, a study of the debt crisis produced by all the lending and borrowing that had gone on in the name of development.   With reference to a doctrine in international law which allows repudiation of debts where the money is misappropriated or the debt is undertaken under fraudulent circumstances, she claimed that many of the debts incurred were "odious,"    The third broadcast gave the stage to Herman Daly, an American economist who had spent much of his career reflecting on how to get to a no-growth, or steady state economy.  And, finally, I presented Robert Swann and Susan Witt of the Schumacher Society in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, pioneers in creating the modallities of a new economics through their work in developing local currencies and community land trusts. 

The series was broadcast in the fall of 1990...


Age of Ecology

When I introduced "The Myth of the Secular," the last series I did for Ideas, I mentioned that it was done in a style that I had first used in this series, "The Age of Ecology," broadcast in 1990.  During the 1980's I had grown restive with the conventional documentary in which a group of speakers are deployed as beads on a string created by the programme maker.  A couple of things bothered me.  The first was that the you-go-then-I-go rhythm of the documentary inevitably limited each speaker to a certain short span of time - it was a lot longer in an Ideas programme than in a television documentary, where one point per "clip" or "insert" is the almost unvarying rule, but more than three or four minutes was unusual and likely to make the documentary feel lumpy and unbalanced.  So people with a lot more to say were often limited to what the exigencies of the documentary allowed them.  The second was that the narrative momentum of the documentary often prevented much attention to what was individual about the individual speakers in the programme.  To talk about their curiculum vitae, or the way in which their ideas had formed and developed, or how these ideas might differ from the documentary's artificial consensus was often difficult or impossible.   So I settled on the one person at a time, and sometimes one person per programme, scheme that I worked with on and off for the next twenty years or so. 


This method allowed me to present a spectrum of views without having to reconcile or even compare them.  Each person's thought could unfold in its own time and on its own terms.  There was time to explore how each one came to think as he or she did, and how each one defined his or her terms.   My theme, the age of ecology, was well-suited to this treatment.  Practically everyone agrees that we live in such an age, now sometimes called the Anthropocene in recognition of the fact that human impacts on nature now register on geological time scales, but there the agreement ends.  Do we need more management, more science, more regulation, or less?   Can a retooled capitalism pilot "spaceship earth" to salvation, or is a more fundamental change of attitude required?   I first became aware of this question in 1970, when Ivan Illich spoke at a teach-in some friends and I had organized in Toronto.  The environmental crisis, Illich said, presented a fundamental choice:  either we would turn back from the edge that was beginning to become visible, or we would try to manage a precarious life on this edge by means of an ever more comprehensive and intrusive set of calculations and controls.   Illich, typically, was a little ahead of his time, but twenty years later the choice he had offered was rapidly being decided in favour of the management option.  My series was an attempt to draw attention to some of the more searching and more critical approaches to the age of ecology that I had come across; and without, as I've said, having to bring them all into precise alignment.  Included in the series were the following thinkers:

Part One: Wolfgang Sachs and Donald Worster

PartTwo: David Ehrenfeld and John Livingstone

Part Three: Thomas Berry

Part Four: Vandana Shiva and Frederique Appfel-Marglin

Part Five:  John Todd

Part Six:  James Lovelock and William Irwin Thompson

Part Seven: Murray Bookchin and Stuart Hill

Part Eight:  Bill McKibben, David Rothenberg and Erazim Kohak

The year after these shows were broadcast Jim Lorimer published a book called The Age of Ecology - the cover is pictured above - in which transcripts of a number of my programmes, including some episodes from this series, were gathered.  Remarkably the book is still in print.