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The greatest problem at global level is the total dominance of economic patterns of thought

We put 5 questions to Friedrich M. Zimmermann, Head of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Research of Graz University.

How did you arrive at your field of research?
I’ve been occupied with the issue of sustainability for almost 25 years now, and came to tourism thanks to my long-standing research into regional development. In the field of developing regions and communities in particular, it’s important to offer decision-makers and actors long-term perspectives, so you offer rural and peripheral areas opportunities within a globalised economy. This doesn’t just apply to developed regions; sustainability has become a core paradigm, particularly in the area of research into developing countries.

What can each of us, as individuals, contribute to sustainability?
In a globalised society in which individual consumption has become a central pattern of thought in which an economic rationale determines all activities, it’s difficult to diffuse the issue of sustainability into all areas of society. Despite this, fields such as education and communications technology offer the clearest opportunities – from kindergarten right through to post-secondary education and life-long learning – to give individuals an understanding of how important and significant sustainability to ensure the future of life on our planet. I believe each and every one of us have to gradually adjust our consumer behaviour to the new demands of a post-modern society, particularly where this involves designing and improving our own life environment, and open up new opportunities for long-term (regional and local) development by strengthening regional identities, cooperations and networks, mutual trust and intergenerational cohesion.

What challenges are you faced with at global level? What needs to be done to achieve sustainable development?
The greatest problems at global level is the total dominance of economic patterns of thought over our political and entrepreneurial decisions. The vulnerability of the global economic system, manipulation of the market, speculation and corruption are the greatest challenges, which are clearly also working counter to sustainable development. In my opinion, we need to develop new, people-related models based on the underlying concepts of social sustainability and capable of placing people back at the centre of developments. The right to an education, to work and health, a dignified life and social peace, and the right to a healthy environment should be priorities in all our political and economic considerations.

Despite such efforts, resource consumption is higher now than it ever has been. Why is that?
The loss of values, greed, and a blind compulsion to buy underpinned by advertising in our society, a society oriented to economic growth and nothing else, are producing a constant glut of products which, while they might be bought, are not actually required, and then go on to cause new problems as waste after a very short time.

If you had the chance to focus public attention on just one statement, what would that statement be?
My central credo for a future society is humanity, the ability to find simple things beautiful too, and not just to spare the environment, but also to experience and enjoy it anew.