Greener through Grey? Boosting Sustainable Development through a Philosophical and Social Media Analysis of Ageing

Valentina Carella, Paola Monachesi
2018 Sustainability  
Sustainable development is challenged by the exponential growth of the older population, which threatens available resources. In this paper, we question current negative views in the ageing debate by considering the ageing process from a philosophical perspective. By focusing on frailty, a feature that is usually associated with old age, we show that ageing can be the means to highlight the constitutive vulnerable condition of human beings which makes them exposed to others. As a result, we
more » ... As a result, we redefine the relationship between the human and the natural world as one of co-constitution and reciprocal sustenance and promotion. We move away from the current approach to sustainable development and we suggest a vision in which the concept of care becomes central. We claim, on the basis of social media behavioral analysis, that the elderly could be involved in care practices of other human beings and especially of nature, contributing actively to sustainable development. Sustainability 2018, 10, 499 2 of 13 and the ecosystem should be preserved, essentially because human welfare depends on them [9]: this necessity is what makes it a duty for every human being to protect and restore the integrity of the planet [10] . Ageing is considered a challenge for sustainable development since the exponential growth of the older population threatens the resources that are globally available with relevant consequences at the environmental, economic and social level [11] . In addition, the ageing population contributes to environmental problems due to the growth of independent and assisted living facilities that contribute to a passive consumption of energy [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] . Car use is another element of concern since older people are more likely to have a driving licence and to make trips than previous generations of seniors [17] , and this is especially the case in low-density areas where public transport is not well developed [18] . Furthermore, these environmental problems, which play a role in climate change, expose the elderly to great health risks [13] with economic consequences for the care system [19] , making seniors more prone to social exclusion. In this paper, we question the current negative views on ageing as a threat for sustainable development. Our aim is to show that the elderly represent a theoretical resource to challenge the anthropological framework that is behind both the contemporary debate on ageing [20, 21] and the definition of sustainable development [22, 23] . Both, indeed, share a vision of "men being [...] by nature all free, equal and independent" [24] (pp. 8-9), that is of a self-determined subject [25] . It is precisely this vision that we want to question by considering the ageing process from a philosophical perspective. By focusing on frailty, a feature that is usually associated with old age in the current debate, we show that ageing can be the means to highlight the constitutive vulnerable condition of human beings which makes them exposed to others. To this end, we adopt a methodology which relies on a combination of hermeneutics and phenomenology. We take from the former the etymological analysis of terms that allows to identify their original meaning [26] , while the latter aims to reveal both the essence and the conditions of possibility of the experience, considering it from a subjective perspective (i.e., phenomena) [27] . As a result, we redefine the relationship between the human and the natural world as one of co-constitution and reciprocal sustenance and promotion, in which the concept of care becomes central. In this respect, we differ from current views on sustainable development that consider the environmental pillar simply as functional to human welfare [9] . Our view shares similarities with that proposed in the Earth Charter, which states that it is humanity's choice 'to form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life' [8] (p. 71). However, we differ from it because, by acknowledging the ontological vulnerability of human beings, we recognize the relational nature of mankind: a relation that includes also the environment. In this view, the principles behind sustainable development should be perceived not as imposed by an external Charter but as inherent to our human nature, thus necessary to realize our true human existence (cf. also [28] ). An innovative aspect of this paper is that we complement the existing literature on sustainable development and ageing that relies on technical, medical and social considerations [11, 29, 30] with philosophical insights in order to show that vulnerability is an essential feature of human beings. The intent is to address sustainable development, at least in its environmental pillar, from a non-functionalistic perspective. In addition, we carry out a behavioural analysis of social media data to assess the attitude of the elderly with respect to environmental issues and we claim that social media could play an important role in involving the elderly in care practices of other human beings and especially of nature, contributing actively to sustainable development. An interesting side-effect of our vision is that it might become more easily accepted in those non-Western societies that stress the important role of social relationships rather than the needs of the individuals, as in Chinese society, which is still strongly based on the Confucian tradition that considers human society as family-based rather than individual-based, assigning an important role to social relationships [31] [32] [33] .
doi:10.3390/su10020499 fatcat:ltd57hjgxfbmzpesqtp3h7j2ua