Lehigh Professors Discuss UN Sustainable Development Goals

By Matthew Cossel '17

The Lehigh University-United Nations partnership hosted a panel of professors to discuss the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

The Sustainable Development Goals are the replacement for the Millennium Development Goals that expired this year. These goals, 17 in all, aim to end such things as poverty and world hunger, among other things.  More can be found on the SDGs here.

The event was brought to life by Maggie Gurulé ’16, who is the current intern for the LU/UN partnership.

The LU/UN partnership is in its 11th year. Lehigh was only the sixth university in the world to obtain non-governmental organization recognition at the United Nations. This status allows Lehigh to offer many UN opportunities both on and off campus. This includes trips to New York but also events like this one and beyond.

The event began with a short video about the SDGs that included many celebrity cameos and then turned into a panel including three professors from across Lehigh’s campus. The three panelists were Professor Mark Orrs, Professor Kelly Austin and Professor Dork Sahagian. A Q&A session followed the panelist’s talk.

“These goals are all intertwined,” said Austin, director of the health, medicine and society program. She then explained that sustainable and healthy urban living without first achieving clean sanitation and other goals is not possible.

“Gender and degradation underlie all of these goals,” she said. If we empower women, many problems we see can be alleviated, said Austin.

“We need to do all of these things,” said Sahagian, a professor in the Earth and Environmental Science department, but he continued to say that some of them are conflicting.

Sahagian pushed that we can’t even sustain 300 million people who consume like we do as Americans, let alone 7 billion people who could potentially consume like that if we rose their standard of living to ours.

“Nowhere in the SDGs is there any discussion of population control,” he said and we can’t do anything sustainable without it.

The panelists agreed that a change in mentality was necessary in order to enact the changes proposed.

“We need to rethink development in order to achieve the SDGs,” Austin said. “Development is defined as consumption so we need to redefine development as sustainable development.” Economic growth does not affect mortality or disease rates, she explained.

Sahagian said that we are consumers; we are not preservers or restorers and this makes it difficult for us to be sustainable.

“The answer lies in consciousness and awareness,” said Orrs, director of the sustainable development program.

 “It would be ignorant to assume that we can continue with business as usual,” Austin said.