• Radhika Iyengar

Student reflections on "The Age of Sustainable Development" by Jeffrey Sachs

Rebecca Ganzekaufer

Plainedge High School

Class of 2023

20 April 2021

During the course of the past week, my peers and I have read and discussed the chapters and ideas presented within The Age of Sustainable Developmentby Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. Throughout our reading experience, we collectively agreed that we’ve gained a greater understanding about the core concepts of sustainable development. Originally, I had a general base of knowledge about sustainable development but had not been exposed to the complexity and broadness of all of the subjects that it enconpasses. Reading this book has raised my awareness of the urgency of addressing the problems that my generation will inherit. Dr. Sach’s work has inspired me to continue learning about topics including the availability of healthcare, food and education; and to fight poverty (seen in the chapters 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10).

I found the book to be insightful, clear and expansive, a valuable resource to people in my age range, the future citizens who will have an integral part in furthering sustainable development. Dr. Sachs covered a wide range of topics to which everyone can relate, while articulating potential avenues of action. I recognized the value of inspiring open and active communication and participation in achieving a more sustainable future.

As for my recommendations for the book, a future edition of the book could further address topics that appeared underdeveloped in comparison to other topics. In Chapter 13: Saving Biodiversity and Protecting Ecosystem Services, overfishing is a topic whose problems and solutions are discussed in depth, while deforestation felt comparatively less developed. A reader may believe that more information suggests greater importance of one issue over the other. I would love to see further development of the SDGs through additional chapters or volumes that detail the specifics of the all-encompassing information, examples and solutions of Sustainable Development. My last point of feedback concerns the discussion of proposed solutions, solutions in progress and solutions currently in effect. These discussions are valuable and would benefit from explanations and ideas for mobilizing governments, local people and communities to enact change in every aspect of the SDGs. For the everyday person reading and learning about the sustainable development goals, seeing what can be done beyond broad and open-ended answers that overwhelm would motivate teenagers like me to make a stand and do our part to help transform the SDGs from an academic discussion into actual and practical change.

Questions for the author

1. In most of the chapters, we see problems being named and solutions being listed for what to do and where the outcomes should be, but I noticed that there isn’t really a timeline for exactly where to start or continue in addition to how world leaders should be convinced to do these projects or even where to start in the long list of SDGs we’ve read about. Do you have an idea about how to fill in these how, when and where gaps in the book?

2. In chapters such as Chapter 12: Climate Change there is mention that, of many other things, climate change is an intergenerational problem where the older generations either don’t care as much or don’t take responsibility for the consequences of actions that have happened in their lifetimes because they won’t be alive to see those consequences. How do you suggest that we reach out to these people in our lives who are less open-minded to hearing about the issues mentioned in the book whether their reason being not wanting to be involved in the controversy some of these issues seem to hold or they either just don’t care?

Reviewer profile:

Rebecca is interested in cognitive psychology and during the pandemic, developed several online instruments testing students' working memory. Rebecca is still exploring the field of psychology and wants to continue learning about how people think, perceive, and remember before committing to a formal research focus.

Miranda Garvey

Plainedge High School

Class of 2023

20 April 2021

Over the course of these past few weeks my team of researchers and I read and reviewed the imperative topics of The Age of Sustainable Developmentby Dr. Jeffery Sachs. I found that this work maintained a certain broadness that made for an interesting and digestible read. Upon talking with my team I have also found that they too, liked the simplicity and informative chapters. The facts and figures presented by Dr. Sachs transcended politics and emotional discussion to remain grounded. I feel that Dr. Sachs’s arguments are compelling and empowering for people of all backgrounds and beliefs. In this current social climate of polarization and anger, I found Dr. Sachs' use of statistical analysis refreshing and inspiring. Before reading this book I did not know practically anything about Sustainable Development, now that I have educated myself, I believe that we need to incorporate this information into our educational systems and daily lives. I feel that the more people need to be exposed and have that incorporated into our daily lives will truly make a difference. Certain chapters in the book however really piqued my interest. Chapter 4 linked the Industrial Revolution to why some countries remained extremely poor while Chapter 14 introduced me to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Overall this book was truly amazing and really helped inspire me to continue expanding my knowledge and quest for understanding the Sustainable Development Goals. I am eager to see future editions of the book go into more depth for each SDG. I would also want to know whether new solutions have been proposed based on newly collected data. Further work on this book could expand the scope of the book to engage the world, incorporating statistics exploring specific hurdles in the path to achieving sustainable development.


1. Would you consider the current state of government and relationships with big businesses an obstruction to the SDGs?

2. Do you think that governments are miss-handling the funds to generate momentum on building the SDGs and supporting sustainable development?

About the reviewer: Miranda has her sights set on becoming a pediatric surgeon. She rapidly learned 3DSlicer and Blender and created a workflow whereby students could download CT and MRI scans and convert them into 3D models for biomedical applications.

Aalok Bhatt

MIllburn High School

Class of 2023

20 April 2021

I recently read the book The Age of Sustainable Development, written by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, and it was an eye-opener. I finally see why so many young people supported Bernie Sanders in the last election. He addressed many issues that are vitally important to my generation such as affordable education and universal healthcare. Dr. Sachs’ book teaches us that for any type of development to be meaningful and sustainable over a long period of time, governments will have to reconcile materialism with morals, and economic development with social inclusion and environmental protection. Development must include everyone. The recent Black Lives Matter protests and the stark political polarization in our country demonstrate that even high-income and highly developed countries struggle with income inequality and problems with discrimination based on race and ethnicity.

I was intrigued to find out that many countries, particularly in the global south, with high natural resource wealth, tend to be poorer than others with fewer resources. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, like corruption, gender inequality, and failure to put in place government policies that emphasize economic and social investment. The book helped me see the various components of development like education, geo-politics, government policies, implementation of laws, climate, gender equality, and technological innovations. I like Dr. Sachs’ idea of developed countries donating a certain percentage of their GNP to developing countries. The Millennium Village project in Africa is a fine example of how developed countries can make low-cost investments in health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, and technology, and bring relief to struggling underdeveloped countries who have been stuck in a poverty trap for generations.

I also learned how development needs to be responsible. For instance modern agricultural practices have increased food production and reduced food insecurity in many South Asian countries and yet, genetically modified foods and pesticides pose a danger to human health and biodiversity. Urbanization has improved our quality of living, and yet unchecked development and construction are threatening our ecosystems and contributing to global warming. Therefore it is important for countries to collaborate as the future of the entire planet now depends on how we can come together despite our differences to implement the UN prescribed sustainable development goals.


How can we convince developed countries to donate funds to poor countries, especially during these Covid times where most countries are now turning insular? For instance, India donated millions of vaccines to poor countries, and now it is being criticized for doing so, as it is facing vaccine shortage during its second wave. The Europeans have also tightened export controls for its vaccines given their sluggish vaccine rollout. The United States, after looking at these countries, understandably wants to prioritize its own people, on the pandemic front and on the post covid economic front. The Chinese are in a position to help out other nations but their assistance often comes with strings attached, (ex. The BRI and debt trap diplomacy). So in the post-Covid world, as countries struggle to get back on their feet, how can we convince the western democracies that donating is in our interest?

In your book, you mention how China was able to alleviate 900 million people from poverty within a forty-year period. The country though is an authoritarian one-party state. How can this success be emulated in democratic countries in South and Southeast Asia?

About the reviewer: Aalok Bhatt is an Eco-ambassador and has consistently taken environmental initiatives in his community. He recently won Millburn's STEAM Environmental Challenge. Aalok wants to be an environmental policy expert when he grows up. His favorite subjects are social sciences.

Tessa Read

Plainedge High School

Class of 2023

For the sake of transparency, prior to immersing myself in this project, the only information I had regarding sustainable development was that it was needed. Now informed and updated, I am more aware of how sustainable development is simultaneously a global issue whose implementation is intimately unique to each country, nation, town, or village. This book serves as an entry guide to the complexities of sustainable development, a friendly textbook or dictionary of sorts, a conversation introducing how sustainable development is necessary for the climate, economy, and equality. Surveying historical developments ranging from the Industrial Revolution to more contemporary events such as the current economy, this book introduces, explains, and develops all the foundational areas of sustainable development necessary for further action. Understandably, such a vast amount of information makes it difficult to deep dive into the specifics, future editions or volumes could provide a deeper analysis of the details. Overall, the read was digestible and informative, introducing (without intimidating) the reader to a preliminary education in sustainable development.

As a number-brained individual, the facts, visuals, data sets, statistics logic provided in the text proved to be useful on a number of different occasions, providing almost a rock in a very emotionally driven world (as you can’t argue with statistics). However, readers who connect with emotions may struggle to connect the data to a deeper story.

It may prove useful to possibly provide another addition, deeper chapters, or a revision on the points that may connect with certain individuals on what draws them in on the topic in general. For example, my team and I each took interest in specific aspects of sustainable development. Whether it was public health, business, climate change, or the history behind human development, once we were given the information necessary to understand the topic that we were discussing we all wanted to deep dive into our specific niches. Chapters dedicated to these specificities may prove useful, in not only education but drawing in a bigger audience. Keywords that draw in people’s attention would provide a sort of gateway from, for example, the interest in public health leading into an interest in sustainable development. In further additions or revisions, I would also be interested in seeing include a more solution-based volume. Being presented with such an overwhelming problem, it brings comfort to know there may be a way out of the hole we have dug ourselves into. Being providing with the information necessary I, and I’m sure others, are now eager to make a change in the specific areas that have peaked our interests.

However, as stated solutions vary globally. After reading this book, and speaking with my team we have been inspired and are excited about not only sharing the knowledge we have learned but possibly connecting with others. It may be interesting to develop a way for readers to connect beyond reading the same pages. A forum, blog, channel, or podcast of sorts may prove to be away, to not only get the word out about the necessary changes that must be made but connect globally and propose solutions by incorporating others’ opinions, questions, and statements that may have arisen during the reading.

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