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Sustainable Development for Estonia: Why Not? 01.02.1993

Development: Journal of SID, lehekülg 72-73



For a brief overview on sustainable development, it would make sense to start from looking back on human development.

It can be said that mankind started influencing the Earth at the beginning of 20th century. The increase of this influence was too slow which did not gave us a sense of danger on our forthcoming future. Only the enormous industrial revolution and the total increase of the scope of production started after the 2nd World War which gave mankind the power to change the appearance of the Earth. Unfortunately, we have to note that man is still too irrational to use this power safely and its disregard gave rise to enormous pressure to nature and started irreversible changes of our planet. The biggest problem actually is that the above-mentioned self-destruction is continuing with accelerated speed jeopardizing our common future directly. According to this, there is an increasing need to the new world development strategy which can change some human value priorities and would slow down our world’s moving towards destruction. We have to join our efforts to stop the machine which is rushing towards abyss and to hope that it is not already too late...

First coming into media, as in the documents of the UN Conference on Human Development in Stockholm 1972, the concept of sustainable development has been developing and improving. Nowadays it is suggested as the most recognized strategy for the future. Mentioned in different historical strategies,[1] as the base line, sustainable development is becoming more and more supported in development issues all over the world.

The word ‘sustainable’ says a lot in and of itself, but in spite of that, I would like to interpret some basic ideas of sustainable development. As one of the millions of species on the Earth, Homo Sapiens use various kinds of resources (or more simply – nature) to meet its basic needs to survive and reproduce. Accomplished by the development of civilization and exponential growth of the human population, there is a danger we will use all resources to create our well-being, not thinking of the coming generations that have the same rights to use resources for existence. The basic aim of sustainable development is to use natural resources by way which can guarantee to last until forthcoming generations. For “first world” countries it means they have to decrease their consumption; it is possible to manage with less and start living more simply, sustainably and close to nature.

As individuals we do not usually think about our future. Have you ever seriously thought about yourself in the year 2010, 2030, ...? I predict that not. We have never worried about our tomorrows; our way of living is still to live for today. Mankind is always talking about the fact that we are our successors, but our actions show that there will not be many generations living on the Earth after us.

We need changes, radical changes. The best way of change is to start from the grass-roots level. Globally, it means every country has to develop its own strategy. Documents are being adopted at massive global conferences (for example UNCED 1992) which are too full of generalities to put them into practice in concrete situations.

As one example of a developing strategy I would like to introduce the “Estonian Own Way” strategy for a sustainable future,[2] is created as an opposition to the typical homocentric scenarios which are actually valid in most “developed” countries now.




After being annexed by the USSR for the last 50 years, Estonia got its independence as a result of the failed coupe d’état in the Soviet Union in August of 1991. With starting to develop all fundamentals of an independent republic, Estonia has a unique opportunity to build up a society of the 21st Century; a state which would exist on a qualitatively new base.

The main reason to choose sustainable development could be the need to reach for a better quality of life, with less expenditures and smaller amounts of energy. “Developed” western countries are starting to comprehend that their development and traditional way of living has no outlook for the future. Evidently there is a need to change this system but it is cleaver to see the complexity of principal revalues. Subconcious conservatism is rooted too deep to dare to change life-style and philosophy. In this case, Estonia has a good chance. Communistic ideology was forced on Estonians and is now cast aside. Currently, there is still no new ideology prevailing. This creates a good opportunity to convince people and policy-makers to choose Estonia’s own, sustainable way of development.

There are a number of reasons to hope that Estonia can become a country with new attitudes amongst the balance between man and nature.




Estonians have settled on this land for almost 6,000 years without having opportunities to ensure their lasting as a nation. Surviving the pressures of different empires, Estonians have shown their vitality and now we have, at last, the possibility to start influencing our future and to choose the ways of developing.

Culture and folk-traditions can be a strong base for changes. Being annexed created a strong feeling of national identity and uniting together, as well as protesting against powerful larger countries’ world governing policies. At last we can start realizing our long-lasting dream to develop own policy to oppose the Super Powers who are inimical to humans. Favourable conditions for quick changes can also be found in the fact that Estonia is a small country with only 1.5 million inhabitants on 45 000 sq km of land. In this case, we can be quite mobile and it is easier to make experiments which can give results faster.




A relatively high level of education and science will guarantee the potential to develop and model a detailed strategy. In Europe, one of the highest percentages of people with higher education from the total population is giving a reason to hope people’s understanding and interest, as well as co-operation in realizing this strategy. More than 80-years-history of nature conservation and reserves, and the number of people that have been connected to that job, have given knowledge to protect the environment (and man itself as part of it) against extensive industrialization. Subconsciously, in respect to the nature and honour of the trees and forests, at the age before Christianity came, Estonians had their own indigenous belief in which nature was holy.




Even optimistic forecasts are not promising very quick changes in reaching the balanced relation between society and the environment. Because of taking the time to realize this, the strategy has to stress the role of coming generations in making things happen, and therefore children and education should be prioritized in this strategy. Changes have to start at the bottom to reach changes in the whole system. The new basis of looking at human history, as well as to the state of the world has to be developed to start teaching forthcoming generations to take care of the Earth. ‘Earth First’ ideology has to relieve ‘Develop First’ ideology which is now valid. Investigating in the children and education is the best way to guarantee the future and the lasting of a nation.

Some key terms in “Estonian Own Way” strategy are:

-         ecologically-minded;

-         ethnicity;

-         rurality balanced with urbanization;

-         communicativeness;

-         privacy;

-         high level of education.

One important standpoint of this strategy is that there should a transition from the consumption of matter and energy to the consumption of information, as well as abandon being excessive. As a good mechanism for supporting transition to a new life-style, a new system of taxes is suggested: excessivness of energy, polluting, alcohol, tobacco, arms, etc. (to name only a few) will be taxed and at the same time, humanities, education and vehicles of information, etc., will be subsidized.

The objectives to attain the “Estonian Own Way” are:

1)      to reach the environmentally friendly information community by consumption fixed by regulations; with a ceiling of consumption as low as possible;

2)      to reach person-centred society of a market economy from the state of centralized economy;

3)      forming of nation-centred society.

The authors of this strategy have also advanced the following stages on obtaining the goals:

2-3 months – creating of detailed strategy;

7-9 months – to play-out various political scenarios;

2-2.5 years – reaching the essential turning point;

6-7 years – economic stabilizing;

60-200 years – becoming ingrained among the people.

I hope Estonia will have enough courage to choose the own, sustainable way of development to achieve the lasting of the nation and to recommend our strategy to other countries if it is successful. Estonia should become the country of science which is rich because of its nature; the country as a balanced ecosystem.


[1] World Conservation Strategy, 1980 and, Caring for the Earth, 1991, both by IUCN-UNEP-WWF, Agenda 21 from UNCED, 1992 etc.

[2] Jagomägi J., Kikas J., Kull K., Mander Ü., Oja T., Olesk P., Roosvee R., 1991. „Eesti oma tee.“ – Elva Sügiskooli materjale. Tartu, lk. 44-62.