Travel is an activity when I take for granted the existence of infrastructure and industry, but also when I am most reminded not to. After all, getting to the destination in the first place requires infrastructure, and prior existence of various forms of industries.

Some of my travels are work related, i.e. because of industry. And tourism, of course, is itself an industry. We demand for transport links to work, for utilities to be available at the flick of a switch. We insist on continuous telecommunications connectivity while we are away and when we return.

On the other hand, as someone from a place and a generation that doesn’t lack these things, it’s travel that reminds me how difficult life can be with unreliable infrastructure and an underdeveloped industrial sector. But on the other other hand, it’s also travel that shows me when not having a lot of these things can be quite fine, actually.

Key takeaway for SDG 9

I think the description for this SDG on the UN website is, frankly, awful. (Though the targets are ok.) No wonder many people don’t understand why industry appears as its own SDG. Ultimately, SDG 9 is when we move from development goals related to fulfilling basic human needs at an individual level, to societal goals which relate to the ability of the society to continue providing them, at scale.

Technology, infrastructure, and industry are things humans come up with as amplifiers, so that through collective effort and innovation, we produce more things to fulfil the needs of a lot more people. It allows us to modify our settlements to make it safer from nature, allowing us to live in more climate zones, and survive disasters. Understanding this makes clear how much technology and infrastructure we need: it depends on how many need to be provided for, and what risks we anticipate.

Technology and infrastructure are value-neutral. It just magnifies our ability to produce resources and manage risks. But whenever resources are magnified and access to them depends on another party, there is excess and power concentration. Whether industry is sustainable depends on who holds the power concentration, and whether productivity increase and access to resources really goes to facilitating people’s basic needs in the first 8 SDGs, or not.

A healthy society knows that it has the prerogative to decide how much industry and infrastructure it wants, and in which sectors. But we live in an unsustainable world, and not all of us are in such societies. And if we don’t keep in mind that the point of it is to collectively provide basic needs for all of us, we could end up meeting all the SDG targets and still do not feel fulfilled.