Press release

Institutional roadblocks are crippling our ability to achieve sustainable development

December 11, 2008

Leading environmentalist urges ordinary people to take extraordinary action and demand change

GENEVA—December 12, 2008—Institutional roadblocks are crippling our ability to respond to the toughest issues facing humankind and are diverting us from achieving sustainable development, according to leading British environmentalist and authority on biodiversity Norman Myers.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development has just published The Citizen is Willing, But Society Won't Deliver: The Problem of Institutional Roadblocks, described as one of the "toughest" books ever written by the co-authors, Myers and Jennifer Kent. The book is only available in electronic form from the IISD website.

"There are dozens of institutional roadblocks, and they are proliferating like crazy," Myers and Kent said. "Plainly the environmental cause is failing. After decades of efforts by governments, businesses, media and others—and despite many success stories—we are losing ground faster than ever."

The book outlines some of the largest failures of our time and traces the fault back to institutional roadblocks that prevent citizens from doing the right thing.

"The world features more than a billion people without sufficient supplies of that most basic element of human existence, water. Poverty afflicts 1.4 billion people in the developing world. Some 860 million people live with hunger as part and parcel of their daily lives. The world is losing topsoil that in principle could grow enough grain to meet the needs of 27 million people. Over 800 million people, mainly women, are illiterate, and 115 million children receive no schooling. We are dislocating the world‘s climate systems to a degree that could set back our societies by at least two generations. The world is poised to lose perhaps half of its 10 million species during this century, with severely downside implications for the planet and hence for the world extending several millions of years ahead."

Myers said these failures need not be outright disasters, if people will take action now to break free of institutional roadblocks and demand their governments tackle the world's most pressing and urgent problems.

"The deficiencies reside in the lack of political leadership. Many politicians are so ecologically illiterate they would think a food chain is a line of supermarkets."

Meyers and Kent also offer some success stories and examine the value of such concepts as "creative destruction", where old ideas, technologies, skills and equipment become obsolete and are swept away, so that they can be replaced by continuous progress and improved standards of living for everyone.

What others are saying about The Citizen is Willing, But Society Won't Deliver: The Problem of Institutional Roadblocks:

"As this book well demonstrates, many of the ways in which we manage our societies need radical revision. Too often we are locked into wrong ways of thinking, particularly in the field of economics. The focus should be on wellbeing rather than mere productivity. This book lays out the pathways of change." Sir Crispin Tickell, Director of the Policy Foresight Programme at the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization, University of Oxford.

"Myers and Kent have again put their fingers on an essential problem of our time—and on its solution. If we really want to solve the interconnected problems of climate disruption, biodiversity loss, poverty, and sustainability (rather than arguing about them), this book is a must-read and this approach is a must-do." Professor Robert Costanza, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, University of Vermont

"This great book is about one of the most dangerous aspects of our time. We know how to deal with most of the problems—there are pragmatic solutions—but all too few in society are taking any action. Instead, there is paralysis." Professor James Martin, Founder, 21st Century School, University of Oxford

For more information please contact Norman Myers +44 (1865) 750387 or IISD's communication team members:

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to create a world where people and the planet thrive. Our mission is to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resources, and fair economies. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, the private sector, NGOs, and communities come together to share knowledge, commit to change, and build resilience. With offices in Geneva, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg, our research spans the globe.