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Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development

The concept of sustainable development was popularized by the World Commission on Environment and Development in its report "Our Common Future" that was published in 1987. The Commission defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This definition is the one most often cited, but the World Commission also made the following observations:

  • Sustainable development requires that overriding priority be given to meeting basic human needs, especially those of the poor, and recognition of the limitations associated with technology and social organizations that impact the capacity of the environment to meet both present and future needs.
  • Sustainable development requires the integration of economic and ecological considerations in decision-making.
  • Governments must make key national, economic, and sector-specific agencies directly responsible for ensuring that their policies and activities support development that is economically and ecologically sustainable.
  • No single blueprint exists for sustainable development, because conditions vary among countries. Each country will have to create its own approach to reflect its needs.
  • No quick-fix solutions exist. The journey towards sustainable development is often as important as the end product.
  • The outcome will not always leave everyone better off. There will be winners and losers, always making achievement of sustainable development difficult.

Key Principles of Sustainable Development

Regarding water management, sustainable development has generated attention on four principles. First, fresh water should be regarded as a finite and vulnerable resource. Effective management links both land and water across the whole of a catchment or groundwater aquifer, and therefore effective management requires a holistic approach in which social and economic development is linked to protection of natural ecosystems.

Second, water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners, and policymakers at all levels. This also means that decisions should be taken at the lowest (most basic) appropriate level via open public consultation with, and involvement of, users.

Third, because women play a central role globally in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water, they should have more opportunity to participate in planning and managing of water resources.

Fourth, water has significant economic value, and thus should be recognized as an economic good. However, it also is essential to recognize the basic right of all humans to have access to safe, drinkable water and sanitation. Pricing water as an economic good will discourage wasteful and environmentally damaging uses of water by encouraging conservation and protection of water.

Yet current policies and practices often do not reflect these four principles of sustainable water management. The basic human needs for drinking water and sanitation are not met for many people in various countries. During the 1990s, one billion people lacked an assured supply of good quality water, and 1.7 billion people had no adequate sanitation. Water-related diseases caused about 8 percent of all illnesses in developing countries, affecting two billion people each year.

Moreover, most countries do not treat water as an economic good. And in many countries, water management is fragmented among many sectors and institutions, making it difficult to manage water holistically. Fragmentation also makes it difficult to integrate environmental, economic, and social considerations, or to link water quality to health, the environment, and economic development. Management often over-relies on centralized administration, with few opportunities for local people to participate in planning, management, and implementation.

The World Water Council, with headquarters in Marseille, France, was established in 1996 to provide global leadership for sustainable water management. The council promotes a holistic and participatory approach, combining development of new sources of water supply with economic incentives, especially pricing, to encourage water conservation and to discourage wasteful water use practices. By 2001, the council had led preparation of global and regional "visions" related to water use, development, and management, as a first step toward ensuring water is managed systematically in the twentyfirst century.

Different Perspectives on Sustainable Development

Given the above observations from the World Commission, it is not surprising that many different interpretations have emerged for sustainable development. In developed countries, the main interest has focused upon integrating environmental and economic considerations into decisions about development. Particular emphasis has been given to intergenerational equity , or how to ensure that decisions taken today do not have unreasonably negative effects on future generations. For developed countries, there has been concern that in striving to avoid environmental degradation, decisions do not jeopardize economic competitiveness at a global scale.

The perspective of developing countries has been different, with priority usually being on how to meet basic needs of present citizens. Thus, the focus has been on intragenerational equity (i.e., fair treatment for the present generation), in the belief that people whose basic needs are not met will not worry about long-term environmental degradation. Furthermore, to ensure meeting basic needs, developing countries often give priority to achieving economic development. These countries are resentful when developed countries argue they should forego the economic benefits, for example, from cutting down rainforests or damming rivers for hydroelectricity. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, these different interpretations led to major disagreements between representatives of developed and developing countries.

Pros and Cons of Sustainable Development

In the debate over water management approaches, some view sustainable development as a vague and ambiguous concept, leading people to define it to suit their own interestseither economic development or environmental protection. Some suggest that its emphasis on achieving balance between economic development and environmental protection overlooks the importance of ensuring sensitivity to the social and cultural attributes of societies. Others argue that sustainable development imposes the values of Western capitalist systems, and therefore reject it on ideological grounds.

Yet supporters of sustainable development argue that ambiguity provides desirable flexibility to customize strategies to reflect the needs and conditions of different countries and societies. Furthermore, its attention to the importance of protecting the environment is viewed as an essential counterbalance to a pattern of decision-making that often gives overriding precedence to economic benefits, regardless of environmental and social costs.

As the World Commission on Environment and Development observed, sustainable development is not a magic formula to guarantee economic prosperity, ecological integrity, and cultural sensitivity. However, it has become a powerful concept, triggering much debate and discussion about the implications of development decisions, related to water and other resources, and has led to much more attention about what is an appropriate balance among economic and environmental considerations.

see also Economic Development; Environmental Movement, Role of Water in the; Integrated Water Resources Management; War and Water.

Bruce Mitchell

Bibliography

Gleick, Peter H. "The Changing Water Paradigm: A Look at Twenty-first CenturyWater Resources Development." Water International. 25 (2000):127138.

Keating, Michael. The Earth Summit's Agenda for Change: A Plain Language Version of Agenda 21 and the Other Rio Agreements. Geneva, Switzerland: The Centre for Our Common Future, 1993.

Loucks, David P., and John S. Gladwell, eds. "Sustainability Criteria for Water Resource Systems." IHP International Hydrology Series Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Serageldin, Ismail. Toward Sustainable Management of Water Resources. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1995.

World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Young, Gordon J., James C. I. Dooge, and John C. Rodda, eds. Global Water Resources Issues. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

In 2002, the city of Johannesburg, South Africa hosted a 10-year follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The purpose of this international meeting was to bring together major groups, governments, and the United Nations to take action for sustainable development and to review progress since the 1992 Earth Summit.

Known as the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the 2002 Summit focused on five key areas: water and sanitation, energy, health, agriculture, and biodiversity. At the meeting, negotiators for 191 countries agreed to the 71-page Summit Plan of Action, intended to set the world's environmental agenda for the next 10 years.

The 2002 action plan included goals for reducing by half the proportion of people without access to proper sanitation by 2015, and similarly reducing by half the proportion of people without access to clean drinking water. More information about this Summit is available at <http://www.waterdome.net>.

WATER GOALS FOR 2025

The main publication from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, emphasized that fresh water is essential for a variety of activities: drinking, sanitation, agriculture, inland fisheries, industry, transportation, hydroelectricity generation, urban development, recreation, and other endeavors. The prime goal set in 1992 was to ensure that all humans have access to adequate and good quality water and sanitation. The year 2025 was set as a realistic target date to meet those criteria. Various approaches will be required, including:

  • protection of the integrity of aquatic ecosystems by anticipating, preventing, and attacking causes of environmental degradation;
  • effective water pollution and prevention policies and programs;
  • mandatory environmental assessment of proposed water projects; and
  • full-cost pricing, after ensuring that basic human needs are satisfied.

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Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development


The term sustainable development gained international recognition after the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) released its report Our Common Future in 1983. In this report, sustainable development was defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources had introduced the term earlier in its 1980 publication World Conservation Strategy, stating, "Development and conservation operate in the same global context, and the underlying problems that must be overcome if either is to be successful are identical." It thus recommended a strategy entitled, "Towards Sustainable Development."

Development refers to any systematic progress toward some improved or advanced condition. In the international development field, in which the term sustainable development is most often encountered, development refers to the establishment of the physical and social conditions that make economic progress possible. In the past this has at times involved the transformation of forests, wetlands, soil, and other resources in ways that ultimately undermined the capacity of the natural environment to produce conditions able to sustain future advances in the quality of people's lives. The concept of sustainable development thus suggests an alternative strategy in which economic progress and environmental protection go hand in hand.

The negative environmental impacts of some forms of economic development had been recognized long before the term sustainable development was popularized in the 1980s. The earliest settled communities subjected the harvesting of important food and raw materials to rules, customs, and eventually formal laws and regulations designed to protect renewable resources for the future. In his book Man and Nature published in 1867, George Perkins Marsh drew attention to the environmental changes he had witnessed in both the United States and the Mediterranean region. His alarm was echoed by early American conservationists Gifford Pinchot and John Muir at the beginning of the twentieth century and again by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring. Then in 1972 an environmentally aware group of industrialists known as the Club of Rome issued a report, The Limits to Growth, that warned of inadequate natural resource supplies and disruption to global ecosystems if population and economic growth were to continue on their current path. In 1971 the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) was established in Britain with a mandate to seek ways to achieve economic progress without destroying the environmental resource base.

In June 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) further refined the term by developing an agenda for nations to follow that would move the world toward sustainable development. Agenda 21, as it was called, was a three-hundred-page plan for achieving sustainable development in the twenty-first century. To assist in follow up and monitor the progress of Agenda 21, and to report on the implementation of related agreements, the United Nations created the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), to report to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSO).

Although the concept of sustainable development has received considerable attention in international diplomatic and policy circles, it does have its critics. Many claim sustainable development is an oxymoron. They argue that nothing, least of all economic development, is sustainable forever. For them, the concept of sustainable development is wishful thinking that distracts nations from the necessary transformations of the global economy. Others claim that a determined focus on sustainability is likely to lead to economic stagnation and continued underdevelopment.

The proponents of sustainable development believe that the current mode of economic development is fundamentally destructive and must be radically reformed, and although nothing is absolutely sustainable, the effort to hold development activities accountable for the environmental conditions they produce makes both long-term economic and ethical sense. They argue that this approach, when combined with efforts to reduce population growth rates, reduce consumption among the richest nations of the world, promote the substitution of renewable for nonrenewable natural resources, reduce waste from manufacturing processes, and improve efficiency in the use of materials, is the only approach that offers a positive future outlook for the welfare of the global community.

In the decade since Agenda 21 was accepted as a strategy for sustainable development, progress has been made. International agreements have been promulgated that will have a positive effect on sustainable development. These include, among others, the efforts of the United Nations in formulating a framework convention on climate change, a convention on biological diversity and a global compact that combines concerns for human rights, labor, and the environment. In addition, standards for business activity that consider environmental consequences have been agreed to by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 14000), and the international business community has created the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The World Bank has applied the concept of sustainable development with its reformed lending practices requiring recipients to demonstrate sound environmental criteria. Cities around the world are adopting sustainable criteria for land-use planning and zoning, and individuals are making personal consumption choices with sustainable development in mind. Though the problems of a sustainable future are far from solved, there is much about which to be optimistic.

see also Earth Summit.

Bibliography

Carson, Rachel. (1963). Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. (1980). World Conservation Strategy.

Marsh, George Perkins. (1867). Man and Nature. New York: Scribners.

Meadows, Donella H.; Meadows, Dennis L.; Randers, Jorgen; and Behrens, William W. III. (1972). The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.

Pinchot, Gifford. (1947). Breaking New Ground. New York: Hartcourt, Brace, and Co.

World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our Common Future. New York: Oxford University Press.


internet resource

U.S. Department of Energy Center for Excellence for Sustainable Development. Available from http://www.sustainable.doe.gov.

Jack Manno and Ross Whaley

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sustainable development

sustainable development Defined in Our Common Future, the Report of the 1987 World Commission on the Environment and Development (the ‘Brundtland Report’), as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Rather than predicting greater environmental decay and hardship in a world of ever-diminishing resources, the Report foresees ‘the possibility of a new era of economic growth, based on policies that sustain and expand the natural environmental resource base’.

Economic growth and modernization have historically been pursued aggressively by nation-states, as a means not only of satisfying basic material needs, but also of providing the resources necessary to improve quality of life more generally (for example with respect to access to health-care and education). However, most forms of economic growth make demands on the environment, both by using (sometimes finite) natural resources and by generating waste or pollution. This jeopardizes growth for future generations. The philosophy of sustainable development attempts to resolve this dilemma by insisting that decisions taken at every level throughout society should have due regard to their possible environmental consequence. In this way, the right kind of economic growth–based on biodiversity, the control of environmentally damaging activity, and replenishment of renewable resources such as forests–is generated, and this can protect or even enhance the natural environment. Present-day economic development is therefore rendered compatible with investment in environmental resources for the future.

Although it is understandably hard to find authorities who are prepared to argue against the idea of sustainable development (it is in fact widely applauded by almost all governments and their agencies), it is often difficult for governments (which tend to be accountable to electorates over short-term periods such as five years or so) to accept the political consequences of promoting sustainable development, for example by imposing tolls or fines for the use of cars in cities (on the principle that the ‘polluter should pay’). Moreover, the environment is shared and is largely a public good, so that to a considerable extent its protection requires collective action. In practice, therefore, this has proved hard to organize because of the usual free-rider problems.

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Sustainable Development

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

The term "sustainable development" was popularized in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development. It refers to a systematic approach to achieving human development in a way that sustains planetary resources, based on the recognition that human consumption is occurring at a rate that is beyond Earth's capacity to support it. Population growth and the developmental pressures spawned by an unequal distribution of wealth are two major driving forces that are altering the planet in ways that threaten the long-term health of humans and other species on the planet.

Human health is dependent on the healthy functioning of the earth's ecosystem. These systems would be overwhelmed if all of the earth's inhabitants were to match the consumption patterns of wealthier nations. Sustainable development requires alterations in the lifestyle of the wealthy to live within the carrying capacity of the environment. To achieve sustainability there is a need for holistic responses to global issues such as urbanization and energy overconsumption, and there is a need for better measures of ecological and social sustainability. While sustainable development is a prerequisite for the long-term health of humans, it will not be possible to achieve sustainability in much of the world unless the toll of major health scourges, such as malaria and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection, is significantly reduced.

Bernard D. Goldstein

(see also: Atmosphere; Brownfields; Carson, Rachel; Climate Change and Human Health; Ecosystems; Environmental Justice; Environmental Movement; Equity and Resource Allocation; International Health; Pollution; Urban Health; Urban Sprawl )

Bibliography

McMichael, A. J.; Smith, K. R.; and Corvalan, C. F. (2000). "The Sustainability Transition: A New Challenge." Bulletin of the World Health Organization 78(9):1067.

McMichael, A. J., and Powles, J. W. P. (1999). "Human Numbers, Environment, Sustainability, and Health." British Medical Journal 319:977980.

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme.

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sustainable development

sustainable development See sustainability.

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Sustainable Development

Sustainable development


Sustainable development is a term first introduced to the international community by Our Common Future , the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, which was chartered by the United Nations to examine the planet's critical social and environmental problems and to formulate realistic proposals to solve them in ways that ensure sustained human progress without depleting the resources of future generations . This Commissionwhich was originally chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland , Prime Minister of Norway, and was consequently often called the Brundtland Commissiondefined sustainable development as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The goal of sustainable development, according to the Commission, is to create a new era of economic growth as a way of eliminating poverty and extending to all people the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations for a better life.

Economic growth, in this view, is the only way to bring about a long-range transformation to more advanced and productive societies and to improve the lot of all people. As former President John F. Kennedy said: "A rising tide lifts all boats." But economic growth is not sufficient in itself to meet all essential needs. The Commission, which was actually named the Commission on Sustainable Development, or CSD, pointed out that we must make sure that the poor and powerless will get their fair share of the resources required to sustain that growth. The CSD stated that "an equitable distribution of benefits requires political systems that secure effective citizen participation in decision making and by greater democracy in international decision making."

The concept of "sustainable" growth of any sort is regarded as an oxymoron by some people because the availability of nonrenewable resources and the capacity of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities are clearly limited and must impose limits to growth at some point. Nevertheless, supporters of sustainable development maintain that both technology and social organization can be managed and improved to meet essential needs within those limits.

To clarify this concept, a discussion of what is development and what is meant by "sustainable" is necessary. Development is a process by which something grows, matures, improves, or becomes enhanced or more fruitful. Organisms develop as they progress from a juvenile form to an adult. The plot in a novel develops as it becomes more complex, clearer, or more interesting. Human systems develop as they become more technologically, economically, or socially advanced and productive. In human history, social development usually means an improved standard of living or a more gratifying way of life.

Something is sustainable if it is permanent, enduring, or can be maintained for the long-term. Sustainable development, then, means improvements in human well-being that can be extended or prolonged over many generations rather than just a few years. The hope of sustainable development is that if its benefits are truly enduring, they may be extended to all humans rather than just the members of a privileged group.

Some development projects have been viewed by some as environmental, economic, and social disasters. Large-scale hydropower projects--for instance in the James Bay region of Quebec or the Brazilian Amazon--were supposed to be beneficial but displaced indigenous people, destroyed wildlife , and poisoned local ecosystems with acids from decaying vegetation and heavy metals from flooded soils released through leaching . Similarly, introduction of "miracle" crop varieties in Asia and huge grazing projects in Africa financed by international lending agencies crowded out wildlife, diminished the diversity of traditional crops, and destroyed markets for small-scale farmers.

Other development projects, however, worked more closely with both nature and local social systems. Projects such as the Tagua Palm Nut project sponsored by Conservation International in South America encouraged native people to gather natural products from the forest on a sustainable basis and to turn them into valuable products (in this case "vegetable ivory" buttons) that could be sold for good prices on the world market. Another exemplary local development project was the "microloan" financing pioneered by the grameen or village banks of Bangladesh. These loans, generally less than $100, allowed poor people who usually would not have access to capital to buy farm tools, a spinning wheel, a three-wheeled pedicab, or some other means of supporting themselves. The banks were not concerned merely with finances, however; they also offer business management techniques, social organization, and education to ensure successful projects and loan repayment.

Still, critics of sustainable development argue that the term is self-contradictory because almost every form of development requires resource consumption. The limits and boundaries imposed by natural systems, they argue, must at some point make further growth unsustainable. Using everincreasing amounts of goods and services to make human life more comfortable, pleasant, or agreeable must inevitably interfere with the survival of other species and eventually of humans themselves in a world of fixed resources.

While it is probably true that traditional patterns of growth that require ever-increasing consumption of resources are unsustainable, development could be possible if it means: (a) finding more efficient and less environmentally stressful ways to provide goods and services; and (b) living with reduced levels of goods and services for those of us who are relatively rich so that more can be made available to the impoverished majority.

Some economists argue that the physical limits to growth are somewhat vague, not because the laws of physics are inaccurate, but because substituting one resource for another in producing goods and services allows a tremendous flexibility in the face of declining abundance of some resources. For example, the extremely rapid adoption of petroleum products as sources of energy and raw materials in the early twentieth century is a good case study of how quickly new discoveries and technical progress can change the resource picture.

From this perspective, the decline of known petroleum reserves and the effects of gases from the combustion of petroleum products on possible global warmingwhile serious problemsare also signals to humans to look for substitutes for these products, to explore for unknown reserves, and to develop more efficient and possibly altogether new ways of performing the tasks for which oil is now used. Teleconferencing, for instance, which allows people at widely distant places to consult without traveling to a common meeting site, is a good example of this principle. It is far more energy-efficient to transmit video and audio information than to move human bodies.

The issues of distributive justice or fairness between "developed" and "developing" societiesconcerned with who should bear the burden of sustaining future development and how resources will be shared in developmentraise many difficult questions. Similarly, the technical problems of finding new, efficient, non-destructive ways of providing goods and services require entirely new ways of doing things. The range of theoretical understanding, personal and group activity, and policy and politics encompassed by this project is so vast that it might be considered the first time humans have tried to grasp all their activities and the workings of nature in its entirety as one integrated, global system.

The first planet-wide meeting to address these global issues was the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which took place in 1972. It was followed by the United Nations Earth Summit held in June, 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The scope of sustainability issues taken up at the Earth Summit is in itself remarkable. Agenda 21, a 900-page report drafted in preparation for the conference, included proposals for allocation of international aid to alleviate poverty and improve environmental health . Other recommendations included providing sanitation and clean water to everyone, reducing indoor air pollution , meeting basic healthcare needs for all, reducing soil erosion and degradation, introducing sustainable farming techniques, providing more resources for family planning and education (especially for young women), removing economic distortions and imbalances that damage the environment, protecting habitat and biodiversity , and developing non-carbon energy alternatives.

In June 1997, a follow-up Earth Summit was held to adopt a comprehensive program to further implement Agenda 21. Those attending developed a multi-year program of work that addressed themes and economic sectors each year. Examples include global attention to freshwater management, oceans and seas, agriculture and forests, the atmosphere and energy. The CSD is made up of elected members from Member States of the United Nations, and its 2001 chair was Professor Bedrich Moldan of the Czech Republic.

See also Amazon basin; Greenhouse effect

[Eugene R. Wahl and E. Shrdlu ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Leonard, H. J., et al. Environment and the Poor: Development Strategies for a Common Agenda. New Brunswick: Transaction Books for the Overseas Development Council, 1989.

MacNeill, J., et al. Beyond Interdependence: The Meshing of the World's Economy and the Earth's Ecology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Ramphal, S. Our Country, The Planet. Covelo, CA: Island Press, 1992.

World Bank. World Development Report: Development and the Environment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

OTHER

"About Commission on Sustainable Development." United Nations Sustainable Development [cited July 9, 2002]. <http:www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csdgen.htm>.

ORGANIZATIONS

United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, United Nations Plaza, Room DC2-2220, New York, NY, USA 10017, 212-963-3170, Fax: 212-963-4260, Email: [email protected], <www.un.org/esa/sustdev/>

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Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development

Natural resources

Economics

Sustainable development and sustained growth

Sustainable development

Resources

Sustainable development is the management of renewable resources for the long-term good of the entire human and natural community; it is defined by the United Nations as Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Built into the concept of sustainable development is an awareness of the animal and plant life of the environment and of non-living components such as water and the atmosphere. The goal of sustainable development is to provide resources for the use of present populations without using up those resources so that future generations cannot survive or prosper. To achieve this, it is necessary to reduce environmental damage that challenges the survival of other species and natural ecosystems.

The concept of sustainable development recognizes that individual humans and their larger economic systems can only be sustained through the exploitation of natural resources. By definition, the stocks of non-renewable resources, such as metals, coal, and petroleum, can only be diminished by use. Consequently, truly sustainable economies cannot be based on the use of such non-renewable resources. Ultimately, sustainable economies must be supported by the use of renewable resources such as biological productivity and energy fluxes such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy.

However, even renewable resources may be subjected to overexploitation and other types of degradation. A forest can be renewed, but it can also be destroyed forever. Central to the notion of sustainable development is the requirement that renewable resources are utilized in ways that do not diminish their capacity for renewal, so that they will always be present to sustain future generations of humans.

To be truly sustainable, systems of resource use must not significantly degrade any aspects of environmental quality, including those not assigned value in the marketplace. Biodiversity is one example of a so-called non-valuated resource, as are many ecological services such as the cleansing of air, water, and land of pollutants by ecosystems, the provision of oxygen by vegetation, and the maintenance of agricultural soil capability. These are all important values, but their importance is rarely measured in terms of dollars.

A system of sustainable development must be capable of yielding a flow of resources for use by humans, but that flow must be maintainable over the long term. In addition, an ecologically sustainable economy must be capable of supporting viable populations of native species, viable areas of natural ecosystems, and acceptable levels of other environmental qualities that are not conventionally valued as resources for direct use by humans.

Natural resources

In economic terms, resources (or capital) are regarded as actual or potential wealth that can be applied toward the creation of additional wealth. There are three broad types of capital. First, manufactured capital is industrial infrastructure that can be applied to the production of goods and services. Examples include factories, mines, harvesting equipment, buildings, tools and machinery, computers, and information networks. Second is human capital, or the cultural means of production, encompassing a workforce with particular types of knowledge and skills. And third, natural capital refers to quantities of raw, natural resources that can be harvested, processed, used in manufacturing, and otherwise utilized to produce goods and services for an economy.

There are two types of natural resources: nonrenewable and renewable. Non-renewable resources are present in a finite quantity on Earth and are renewed by natural processes either slowly or not at all. Therefore, their stock diminishes as they are mined from the environment. Non-renewable resources can only be used in an non-sustainable manner. The lifetime of a non-renewable resource is determined by the size of its recoverable stocks in the environment, and the rate of mining. However, some non-renewable resources can be reused and recycled to some degree, which extends the effective lifetime of the resource. Common examples of non-renewable resources include metal ores, coal, and petroleum.

Potentially, renewable resources can be sustained and harvested indefinitely. However, sustainable use requires that the rate of harvesting does not exceed the rate of renewal of the resource. Most renewable resources are biological and include trees, hunted animals such as fish, waterfowl, and deer, and the products of agriculture. Flowing surface water is an example of a non-biological resource that can potentially be sustainably used for irrigation, to generate hydroelectricity, and as a means of transportation.

It is important to recognize that potentially renewable resources can easily be over-harvested, or exploited at a rate exceeding that of renewal, resulting in degradation of the resource. During over-harvesting, the resource is essentially being minedthat is, it is managed in the same way as a non-renewable resource. Regrettably, this is all too often the case, resulting in collapses of stocks of hunted fish, mammals, and birds; deforestation; declines of agricultural soil capability; and diminished river flows due to excessive withdrawals for use by humans.

Another important characteristic of renewable resources is that they can provide meaningful ecological services even when they are in their natural, unhar-vested state. For example, intact, natural forests provide biological productivity; cycling of nutrients and water; a sink for atmospheric carbon; control of erosion; cleansing of pollutants emitted into the environment by humans; habitat for diverse elements of biodiversity; aesthetics; and other important ecological services. Some of these services are of potential value in providing resources that humans require, an example being the biomass and productivity of trees and hunted animals. However, most of these are not recognized by the conventional marketplace, although they are certainly important to ecological integrity and environmental health.

The undeniable ecological reality is that humans have an absolute dependence on a continuous flow of natural resources to sustain their societies and economies. Over the longer term, this is particularly true of renewable resources because sustainable economies cannot be supported only by non-renewable resources. Therefore, the only way to achieve a condition of sustainable development is to build an economy that is supported by the wise harvesting and management of renewable resources.

Economics

a goal of economic systems is to maximize the utility of goods and services to society. Usually, these products are assigned value in units of currency. Some examples of valuated goods and services include the following: manufactured products, such as automobiles, computers, highways, and buildings; harvested natural resources, such as wood, hunted animals, and the products of agriculture; and the services provided by farmers, industrial workers, and others.

Conventional economics does not seriously consider non-valuated resources, or goods and services that are not assigned value in the marketplace. Examples of non-valuated ecological resources include the aesthetics of natural landscapes, services such as nutrient and water cycling, and rare species and natural ecosystems. Consequently, the merits of non-valuated ecological resources cannot be easily compared with those of valuated goods and services. This in turn means that degradations of non-valuated resources are not usually considered to be true costs by conventional economists, and they do not have a strong influence in cost-benefit calculations.

In conventional accounting, large profits can often be made by undertaking activities that cause substantial environmental damage, including the exhaustion of potentially renewable resources. This is an ecologically false accounting, but it has been rationalized by considering degradations of environmental quality to be externalities, or costs that are not directly paid by the individuals or companies that are causing the damage. However, the costs of resource and environmental degradation are very real, and they are borne by society at largewhich of course includes the individuals or institutions responsible for the degradation.

Ecological economics is a new, actively developing sub-discipline within economics. The principal distinction of ecological economics is that it attempts to find a non-anthropocentric system of valuation. This is different from conventional economics, in which valuations are based almost entirely in terms of the importance of good and services to humans, as determined in the marketplace.

Accountings in ecological economics include the important social and environmental costs that may be associated with the depletion of resources and the degradation of environmental quality. These costs are critical to achieving and measuring sustainable development, but they are not seriously considered during accountings in conventional economics.

Sustainable development and sustained growth

The notion of sustainable development refers to an economic system that is ultimately based on the wise utilization of renewable natural resources in a manner that does not threaten the availability of the resources for use by future generations of people. It is also important that damages to non-valuated resources be kept within acceptable limits.

Clearly, the existing human economy is grossly unsustainable in these respects. Modern economies are characterized by resolute economic growth, which is achieved by the vigorous mining of nonrenewable resources, potentially renewable resources, and environmental quality in general.

Since the mid-1980s, when the notion was first introduced, sustainable development has been enthusiastically advocated by many politicians, economists, businesspeople, and resource managers. However, many of these have confused sustainable development with sustained economic growth, which by definition is impossible because resources eventually become limiting. The first popularization of the phrase sustainable development was in the widely applauded report of the World Commission of Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Report after the chairperson of the commission, Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway. However, this report appears to confuse some of the fundamental differences between economic growth and sustainable development.

Although the Brundtland Report supports the need for sustainable development, it also calls for a large increase in the size of the global economy. The Brundtland Report suggests that a period of strong economic growth is needed, in concert with a redistribution of some of the existing wealth, if the living standards of people in poorer countries are to be improved. It is believed that once this has been accomplished, social and economic conditions will favor an end to population growth and the over-exploitation of natural resources, so an equilibrium condition of a non-growing economy can be achieved.

However, the sorts of economic growth rates recommended in the Brundtland Report are equivalent to an increase of per-capita, global income of 3% per year, sufficient to double per-capita income every 23 years. The economic growth must also compensate for growth of the human population, which amounts to about 2% per year. Therefore, the adjusted rate of economic growth would have to be about 5% per year (that is, 3%+ 2%), which would result in a doubling of the global economy every 14 years. Of course, in poorer countries with even higher rates of population growth, including most of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the rate of economic growth would have to compensate and be correspondingly larger. In total, the Brundtland Report suggested that an expansion of the global economy by a factor of five to 10 was needed to create conditions appropriate to achieve a condition of sustainable development.

The Brundtland Report not only recommends a great deal of economic growth; it also recommends the development of technologies that would allow a more efficient economic growth, which would consume fewer resources of material and energy per unit of growth achieved. Additionally, the report advocates a redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer people and countries, as well as greater efforts towards the elimination of population growth.

The Brundtland Report, like other champions of sustainable development, actually promotes economic growth as a cure for the present ills of human economies. However, there are profound doubts that a 5-to-10-times increase in the size of the human economy could be sustained by the environment and its ecosystems. Economic growth may, in fact, be more of a cause of the environmental crisis than a cure.

Resolution of the environmental crisis and achievement of sustainable economies may require the immediate, aggressive pursuit of more difficult and unpopular solutions than those recommended by the Brundtland Report. These would include much less use of resources by richer peoples of the world, immediate redistribution of some of the existing wealth to poorer peoples, vigorous population control, and an overall focus on preventing further deterioration of ecological integrity and environmental quality more generally.

Sustainable development

A truly sustainable economic system recognizes that the human economy must be limited within the carrying capacity of Earths remaining natural resources. In fact, many resource economists, environmental scientists, and ecologists believe that the human economy is already too large to be sustained by Earths resources and ecosystems. If these specialists are correct, then not only is further economic growth undesirable, it may have to be reversed.

Non-sustainable economic growth occurs through a crude maximization of the flow of resources through an economy. In large part, economic growth is achieved by mining resources and environmental quality.

In contrast, sustainable development is ultimately based on the efficient use of renewable resources, which are not degraded over time. Moreover, this use occurs under conditions in which environmental quality is also protected. A sustainable economic system would have the following characteristics:

First, renewable resources must be exploited at or below their capability for renewal. Present economies are greatly dependent on the use of non-renewable resources, but these are being rapidly diminished by use. As non-renewable resources become exhausted, renewable resources will become increasingly more important in the economic system. Ultimately, sustainable economic systems must be based on the wise use of renewable resources.

Second, non-renewable resources can also be utilized in a sustainable economy. However, the rates at which non-renewable resources are utilized must be balanced by the rate at which renewable substitutes are created, that is, by growth of a renewable resource. For example, fossil fuels can only be used in a truly sustainable economy if their utilization is compensated by net growth of a renewable energy substitutefor example, by an increase in forest biomass. To discourage the use of non-renewable resources and the unsustainable mining of potentially renewable resources, it might be possible to implement a system of natural-resource depletion taxes.

Third, there must be a markedly increased efficiency of the use and recycling of non-renewable resources, aimed at extending their useful lifetime in the economic system. Information systems and new technologies will be important in achieving this increased efficiency. There must also be well-designed systems of use and management of renewable resources to ensure that these are sustainably utilized over the longer term.

Fourth, it is critical that ecological resources that are not conventionally valuated also be sustained. The use and management of natural resources for human benefits will inevitably cause declines of some species and natural ecosystems, as well as other environmental damage. However, viable populations of native species, viable areas of natural ecosystems, and other aspects of environmental quality must be preserved in an ecologically sustainable economic system. Some of these ecological values cannot be accommodated on landscapes that are primarily managed for the harvesting and management of economic resources, and they will therefore have to be preserved in ecological reserves. These ecological values must be accommodated if an economic system is to be considered truly sustainable.

Sustainable economic systems represent a very different way of doing business, in comparison with the manner in which economies are now conducted. Sustainable development requires the implementation of a sustainable economy. To achieve this would be difficult on the short term, although the longer-term benefits to society and ecosystems would be enormous. The longer-term benefit would be achievement of an economic system that could sustain humans, other species, and natural ecosystems for a long time.

KEY TERMS

Anthropocentric Considering the implications of everything from the perspective of utility to humans, and to human welfare.

Natural resource Any naturally occurring commodity that can be used by people. Non-renewable resources are of a finite quantity, and they can only be mined. Renewable resources can potentially by exploited indefinitely, but only if they are not degraded by overexploitation, i.e., used at a rate that exceeds renewal.

Valuation The assignment of economic worth, for example, in dollars.

However, there would be short-term pain in implementing such a system, largely associated with substantially less use of natural resources, abandonment of the ambition of economic growth, and rapid stabilization of the human population.

As a result of these short-term inconveniences, truly sustainable development would not be initially popular among much of the public, politicians, government bureaucrats, and industry. This is because individual humans and their societies are self-interested, and they think on the shorter-term. However, for the sake of future generations of humans, and for that of other species and natural ecosystems, it remains absolutely necessary that sustainable economic systems be designed and implemented.

See also Population, human.

Resources

BOOKS

Day, Kristen A. Chinas Environment and the Challenge of Sustainable Development. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005.

Dunn, Seth. Hydrogen Futures: Toward a Sustainable Energy System. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 2001.

Rogers, Peter, et al. An Introduction to Sustainable Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Division of Continuing Education, 2006.

Sampson, Gary P. The WTO and Sustainable Development. New York: United Nations University Press, 2005.

Sheehan, Molly OMeara, and Jane A. Peterson. CityLimits: Putting the Brakes on Sprawl. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 2001.

OTHER

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations Division for Sustainable Development. August 10, 2006. <http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/index.html> (accessed November 21, 2006).

Bill Freedman

Judson Knight

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Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development

What It Means

Sustainable development is a term used by business leaders, environmentalists, human-rights groups, economists, and others in discussions about the future direction of the world economy. While economic growth in any nation brings jobs and improvements in quality of life, it also exacts a toll on the environment and natural resources. If the earth’s resources are being used up faster than nature can replenish them, or if economic activity permanently causes large-scale damage to the natural world, there may eventually be a time when the earth will no longer be able to support economic growth or even sustain human life. The explosive growth in the world’s population in recent times (from 1.65 billion in 1900 to 6.45 billion in 2000) makes the need to find ways of protecting the environment for future generations especially pressing.

The negative results of economic growth inevitably emerge when the desire for profit and wealth alone are allowed to determine the shape that development will take. Advocates of sustainable development call for a shifting of priorities. They want to promote economic growth in order to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life for all people, but they want to do so while protecting the environment and conserving natural resources for future generations.

Sustainable development as a concept is still being defined. It requires rethinking the entire course of civilization. It involves people in all fields of study, and it requires sacrifices on the part of consumers as well as businesses, individuals as well as societies. The guiding principle is that, in economic matters, we should take into account not simply our own needs or even simply the needs of all the world’s citizens, but also the needs of future generations.

When Did It Begin

The United Nations (UN), the international organization devoted to promoting global peace, economic well-being, cooperation, and stability, has taken a lead role, since the 1960s, in pressing the need for economic development that reduces the damage done to the environment. A combination of world conferences and UN commissions in the 1970s and 1980s eventually culminated in a 1987 report called Our Common Future, issued by the UN’s World Commission on the Environment and Development. The report asserted that environmental crises were inseparable from economic crises, and that such problems transcended local, regional, and national borders. Our Common Future introduced the concept of sustainable development, which it defined as economic growth that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

More Detailed Information

Traditionally, economic development has proceeded without regard for the environment. An American timber company in the early twentieth century had little incentive to approach forests as anything but a source of potential profits, especially since the supply of trees in the United States seemed so vast. As the U.S. population has grown, however, and the consumption of products made of wood has grown along with it, deforestation on a massive scale has become a concern. Similarly, the U.S. automotive and oil industries grew in response to a growing population that increasingly demanded cars and affordable fuel. These industries have traditionally promoted ever-greater consumption of their products, without regard for the environmental effects of driving. Not only does car exhaust degrade the air quality in densely populated areas, but it greatly contributes to global warming.

These are two of many examples of the environmental damage commonly caused by economic growth. Environmental degradation leads to numerous problems in the short term, such as the extinction of animal and plant species, health problems among humans, and conflict between people fighting over dwindling resources. These problems can seriously diminish the quality of life in a community. If environmental degradation is allowed to persist over the long term, moreover, eventually a location might become uninhabitable. If, for example, a community’s water supply becomes undrinkable, the soil becomes saturated with chemical or radioactive waste, and/or the air becomes so polluted as to regularly cause life-threatening sicknesses, that community will no longer support human life.

Global warming, meanwhile, presents a challenge to the long-term survival of humans everywhere. Rising temperatures caused by carbon emissions (the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal by automobiles, airplanes, power plants, and a wide variety of industrial machinery) may, according to scientists, eventually become so severe and create so many complications (rising sea levels, increased weather volatility, and droughts, for instance) that large portions of the earth could become uninhabitable.

If a region or nation becomes uninhabitable, there will be no economic activity there. Likewise, a global crisis caused by climate change would drastically affect the world economy. Obviously, then, economic development cannot be separated from environmental health.

Sustainable development advocates do not want to promote the health of the environment over all other factors. For example, a total eradication of industries that use fossil fuels would cripple the world economy so badly as to threaten human life in some places. Sustainable development calls, instead, for a reduction of fossil-fuel burning in an attempt to reduce the harm done by global warming, without inflicting great harm on existing populations. One way of doing this might be not only to implement new technologies but to help people change their consumption habits.

Recent Trends

Sustainable development became a very popular concept in the 1980s and 1990s, and many governments and organizations proclaimed their desire to promote economic growth that minimized environmental side effects. But in practice, bringing about changes in economic standards and a society’s behavior can be very complicated. If, for example, a timber company sets sustainable economic goals, in cooperation with the local community where it is located, how exactly will it decide on its priorities? It might be possible to cull trees from a given forest forever without decimating the forest, but not without forcing a particular species of bird into extinction. Does selective harvesting of timber represent sustainable development even if the bird species becomes extinct? Disagreements over the definition of sustainable development, which changes depending on the individual situation, often come into play when there is not an easy solution to correcting environmental damage.

In the United States in particular, there was also, in the early twenty-first century, considerable resistance to the general concept of sustainable development, especially among conservatives in the administration of President George W. Bush (2000–08). Bush, along with his advisers and supporters, commonly dismissed concerns about global warming and environmental degradation, openly favoring the interests of the coal, oil, and other industries over both the short- and long-term health of the natural world.

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Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development

Introduction

Sustainable development is the practice of managing growth and change in ways that meet the needs of the present without damaging future generations’ ability to develop further. Although sustainable development is usually thought of as an environmental effort, it also includes the social and economic aspects of development. The concept was established in a series of international policy meetings starting in the 1970s, with the term first being used in the early 1980s.

The United Nations has assumed an important role in promoting and facilitating sustainable development all over the world, including in developing nations. Through its Division for Sustainable Development, the United Nations provides technical expertise, facilitates communication, and evaluates development efforts. For sustainable development to be effective, it must be implemented in both large- and small-scale projects. In pursuit of this goal, governments, charities, international organizations, and private companies are working to provide development benefits to humanity in a sustainable manner.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

The idea of sustainable development has its roots in environmentalism, which arose in the second half of the nineteenth century in Great Britain and the United States as a response to the pollution of the Industrial Revolution. To power factories and blast furnaces, early industrialists relied almost exclusively on the burning of coal. This cheap, abundant fuel provided the energy needed to power the era’s economic expansion, but it soon became clear that widespread coal use had serious consequences. Without the modern technologies that trap pollutants, huge amounts of soot, toxic gases, and heavy metals were released into the air. Other industries were simply dumping their poisonous refuse into the rivers and oceans, with many trusting that the water would simply wash the waste away.

Furthermore, the methods used to acquire resources to fuel industrial development were becoming more destructive as the technology to exploit them improved in the first half of the twentieth century. Large areas were deforested by clear-cutting without thought to what would become of the land. Huge strip-mines removed whole mountains, creating cavernous pits that leached toxic water. More potent chemical pesticides injured birds and other wildlife, not just the crop pests they were meant to deter. Even chemical fertilizers had unintended consequences, with the excess nutrients causing harmful algae blooms. The damage caused to wildlife by habitat loss, chemical toxins, and unrestrained hunting led to the worrying collapse of the American bison population, and the 1914 extinction of the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America.

By the mid-twentieth century, U.S. public policy had long favored unrestrained economic development without heed to the environmental costs. In 1962, Rachel Carson brought environmental issues to the public consciousness with her groundbreaking book Silent Spring, which exposed the damage that the pesticide DDT was doing to bird species. In response to public concern, President John F. Kennedy ordered an investigation of the book’s claims, leading to a ban on DDT. Carson’s book is widely credited with spurring the creation of the environmental movement as it exists today.

The 1970s saw the first steps toward worldwide, coordinated efforts on environmental issues, as well as the first international summits on environment and human development. In 1972, representatives from 113 countries met in Sweden at the United Nations

WORDS TO KNOW

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: An energy source that is used as an alternative to fossil fuels. Solar, wind, and geothermal power are examples of alternative energies.

CLEAR-CUTTING: A forestry practice involving the harvesting of all trees of economic value at one time.

ECO-TOURISM: Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas that promotes conservation, has a low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.

MICROFINANCING: An economic development strategy in which small loans (microcredit) and other financial services are provided to very low-income individuals.

REFORESTATION: The replanting of a forest that had been cleared by fire or harvesting.

RENEWABLE RESOURCES: Resources that can be renewed or replaced fairly rapidly by natural or managed processes.

SUSTAINABILITY: Practices that preserve the balance between human needs and the environment, as well as between current and future human requirements.

Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The conference declared that humans have the ability to improve or destroy the environment, and that the health of the environment is a major factor in humans’ quality of life. It also recognized that environmental problems have different causes in developed and undeveloped countries. Although more developed countries usually create pollution because of industrial activities, underdeveloped countries’ pollution is most often caused by their very lack of development.

Although the phrase was not yet in use, the Stockholm conference laid down some of the fundamental principles of sustainable development. Its acknowledgement that continued human development is inevitable laid the foundation of practicality that characterizes the current movement. By calling on both developed and undeveloped nations to use better environmental practices, the conference stated that preserving the environment is the responsibility of all humanity. It appealed to individuals, local and national governments, and the international community to adopt policy and behaviors that protect the environment while allowing for sufficient human development.

The rise of the sustainable development and environmental movements coincided with a series of disasters and scandals that highlighted these issues in the public consciousness. In February 1972, a massive coal-waste dam failed in the area of Buffalo Creek, West Virginia. More that a hundred million gallons of black water rushed down the creek and into the towns below, killing 125 people, injuring over 1,000, and leaving almost 4,000 homeless. Around the same time, it was publicly revealed that widely used polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs) were carcinogens and caused developmental defects in children. The discovery of a hole in the ozone layer of the atmosphere over Antarctica, and it subsequent link to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigerants and aerosol propellants, led to concern about exposure to radiation and the possibility of further damage to the atmosphere. In 1978, outrage erupted in the media over the toxic contamination of the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara, New York, which had been built over a dumping site for poisonous waste. These incidents and others made it clear to many that human development had, to this point, progressed without heed to human and environmental costs. While some progress was made with the 1970 founding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), international concern continued to grow surrounding environmental and sustainability issues.

In 1980, the World Conservation Strategy coined the term sustainable development, expanding the ideas laid out in Stockholm and in subsequent conferences on environmental issues. It stated that the problems of environmental protection and meaningful development for underprivileged people are inseparable and must be addressed together. This new perspective, namely that development and conservation are not in opposition to one another, is the heart of sustainable development.

Issues and Impacts

From its roots in environmentalism, the concept of sustainable development has been applied to many other issues. The idea of sustainability is now common and of concern to individuals, development planners, political leaders, and humanitarian organizations. Today, sustainable development is generally viewed to have three main areas of focus, environmental sustainability, social sustainability (including political issues), and economic sustainability. The United Nations also applies sustainable practices more specifically to agriculture, renewable resources, water management, ecotourism, technology, disaster management, trade, waste management, international law, and infrastructure organization.

It is important to note that the three major areas of sustainable development are interdependent; environmentally destructive practices can harm individuals in society, misused social policy can destroy the environment or harm the economy, and poor economic planning can lead to loss of resources and social distress. Conversely, by preserving and improving the environment, humanity can hope to gain tangible economic and social benefits. In many ways, the dangerous mismanagement of sustainability factors facilitated many of the bloody African conflicts of the 1990s, some of which continue today. Decades of poverty and exploitation led to violence as mistrustful ethnic groups competed for natural resources, overpopulation created scarcity of food and jobs, and ineffective governments abused their populations, failed to control crime, and unleashed waves of refugees across unregulated borders.

Although many of these conflicts happened in the developing world, more developed nations were also contributing to instability with their unsustainable practices. A particularly tragic example of this occurred during Sierra Leone’s civil war of the 1990s. Multiple parties were seeking control of the country’s diamond resources, leading to social conflict and widespread violence. The willingness of western countries to purchase the diamonds, despite their dubious origins, stimulated the conflict. The current state of environmental degradation in Sierra Leone still leaves the population vulnerable to food and resource shortages along with the social conflicts that can follow.

Today’s sustainable development tries to address sustainability problems before they erupt into violence or disaster. In the western world, sustainability efforts are often viewed with skepticism for several reasons. One of the most persistent obstacles is the idea that sustainable development will reduce quality of life or decrease the profitability of industry or commerce. While this may sometimes be true in the short term, the argument loses some credibility when viewed against the massive costs associated with environmental contamination or the current mortgage credit crisis caused by unsustainable financial practices.

The development and use of new technology, however, is often the most widely accepted way of improving the environment while benefiting humanity. Currently, green and other alternative energy sources are a popular target for sustainable development at many levels. Individuals, corporations, charities, and governments in both the developed and undeveloped world are all thinking about how humanity’s energy needs can be met with more environmentally friendly technologies. Concern about global climate change is the greatest influence driving interest in non-fossil fuels. Although the threats seem abstract or distant to many people, the effects of increased global temperatures can already be observed and are affecting humans, animals, and the planet. By employing energy sources that emit less carbon, there is hope that climate change can be slowed or reversed. At the same time, better alternative energy technologies may someday make electricity available in areas with little infrastructure or to people who are unable to afford the current high prices of fossil fuels. This is a good example of the positive link between development and environmental protection.

Although new technologies are important to sustainable development, new ways of thinking are perhaps

even more critical to achieving sustainability. In the past, inflexible thinking has been a barrier to progress toward environmental benefits. A good example of this is the former use of CFCs in propellants and refrigerants. Although many industry groups protested that it would be impossible to reduce or eliminate their use, within a decade they were able to find new chemicals to take their place in most applications. There are many cases in which the development of better industrial processes was motivated by short-term economic benefits. What can be more difficult to see is the long-term, less conspicuous links between environmentally friendly practices and future success. The sustainability movement is currently struggling to convince both industry and its regulatory bodies of the need to broaden their thinking and embrace more sustainable methods.

Working toward this same goal, the field of industrial ecology seeks to improve industrial operations by the use of more efficient processes, less dangerous chemicals, and the production of longer-lasting materials. When developing new processes, industrial ecologists recognize that sustainable development is not simply being able to continue a process forever, but working in ways that avoid dangerous future consequences. Similarly, the field of green engineering seeks to design better ways to make chemicals, treat wastewater, and decrease the need for raw materials. Where industrial ecology seeks to optimize current processes, green engineering looks to the future with new, more ecologically sound techniques. A new area of interest is in engineering to restore damaged ecosystems. Where previously most efforts in environmental restoration were directed toward removing harmful toxins, environmental engineering seeks to rehabilitate streams, rivers, wetlands, or other fragile habitat to their original function. Environmental engineering can help to increase the effectiveness of traditional restoration projects such as reforestation and eradication of invasive species.

Economic volatility can also be viewed through the lens of sustainability. Although agreement has not been reached on this subject, there is widespread concern that the current deficit spending and large national debt accrued by the United States is not compatible with continuing prosperity. Other problems, not just limited to the United States, include reliance on decreasing supplies of fossil fuels, high consumption of disposable items, and increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. All of these problems, while primarily economic in nature, are also linked to environmental and social issues that could amplify any crises that occur. Proponents of sustainable economies seek a system in which the natural environment is viewed as more than a source of raw materials and a place to dispose of waste. So far, there has been a great deal of experimentation with new economic models, but not a lot of large-scale sustainable economic changes. These methods include carbon trading, micro-financing, product take-back programs, renewable energy credits, and car sharing schemes. While many of these programs can be encouraged by governments, many of them rely on changes in the behavior of individuals, which can be hard to create.

For environmental sustainability to flourish, it must integrate with the needs of a society that successfully provides for its members. Humans have a complex hierarchy of needs ranging from basics like food and shelter to security requirements like safety from crime and protection from exploitation, to psychological necessities like freedom of religion, expression, and the right to choose to have a voice in their own governance. A lack of any one of these necessities can result in hostility in the form of social protest, a resort to crime, or even armed conflict. If environmental sustainability effort weaken societies by destroying jobs or threatening traditional ways of life, this can also paradoxically threaten sustainable development.

Some social sustainability efforts have therefore focused on the preservation of traditional lifestyles, languages, foods, crafts, occupations, and other cultural capital that is in danger of being subsumed by larger populations. Indeed, the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment stated that a richness of culture was vital to human vitality. Other projects have sought to decrease the stress and harm associated with modern city life. The “slow food” and “slow city” movements want to improve health and the environment by decreasing the use of harmful technologies like private car use in cities and long-distance transportation of food. They also encourage social cohesiveness by encouraging people to eat with their families and friends, develop relationships with their neighbors, and contribute to their local economies.

National governments must embrace sustainability as core policy if it is to succeed in providing real human benefits. Though many non-governmental organizations, state and local governments, private companies, and enthusiastic individuals are applying sustainability principles at many levels in many parts of the world, national governments still possess the capital and decision-making power to affect the most change. Another important consideration is that even the best sustainability efforts can fail if weakened by larger unsustainable practices. However, that does not mean that all efforts are doomed. With the continuing support of the international community, increasing interest from business and industry, and expanding scholarship on sustainability issues at the university level, incremental gains can form the foundation of a more sustainable future.

Primary Source Connection

Wangari Muta Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, in recognition of her work with the Green Belt Movement, a group that organizes disadvantaged women in Africa to plant trees in order to preserve the environment and improve women’ quality of life.

In 2002, Maathai was elected to Kenya’s parliament, and was later appointed Kenya’s Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

In awarding the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize to Maathai, the foundation specifically commended Maathai “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” In a press release announcing the prize, the foundation asserted that Maathai had “taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.”

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maathai also helped to focus international attention on the concept of sustainable development and how a range of actions from local to international can foster such development.

WANGARI MAATHAI NOBEL LECTURE

Your Majesties

Your Royal Highnesses

Honourable Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

I stand before you and the world humbled by this recognition and uplifted by the honor of being the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate.

As the first African woman to receive this prize, I accept it on behalf of the people of Kenya and Africa, and indeed the world. I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership. I know the honor also gives a deep sense of pride to our men, both old and young. As a mother, I appreciate the inspiration this brings to the youth and urge them to use it to pursue their dreams.

Although this prize comes to me, it acknowledges the work of countless individuals and groups across the globe.… To all who feel represented by this prize I say use it to advance your mission and meet the high expectations the world will place on us.

This honor is also for my family, friends, partners and supporters throughout the world.… Because of this support, I am here today to accept this great honour

I am immensely privileged to join my fellow African Peace laureates, Presidents Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late Chief Albert Luthuli, the late Anwar el-Sadat and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

…I have always believed that solutions to most of our problems must come from us.

In this year’s prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has placed the critical issue of environment and its linkage to democracy and peace before the world. For their visionary action, I am profoundly grateful.…

… As I was growing up, I witnessed forests being cleared and replaced by commercial plantations, which destroyed local biodiversity and the capacity of the forests to conserve water.

In 1977, when we started the Green Belt Movement, I was partly responding to needs identified by rural women, namely lack of firewood, clean drinking water, balanced diets, shelter and income.

Throughout Africa, women are the primary caretakers, holding significant responsibility for tilling the land and feeding their families. As a result, they are often the first to become aware of environmental damage as resources become scarce and incapable of sustaining their families.

The women we worked with recounted that unlike in the past, they were unable to meet their basic needs.…

Tree planting became a natural choice to address some of the initial basic needs identified by women. Also, tree planting is simple, attainable and guarantees quick, successful results within a reasonable amount time.…

So, together, we have planted over 30 million trees that provide fuel, food, shelter, and income to support their children’s education and household needs. The activity also creates employment and improves soils and watersheds.… This work continues

Initially, the work was difficult because historically our people have been persuaded to believe that because they are poor, they lack not only capital, but also knowledge and skills to address their challenges. Instead they are conditioned to believe that solutions to their problems must come from “outside.”…

In order to assist communities to understand these linkages, we developed a citizen education program, during which people identify their problems, the causes and possible solutions. They then make connections between their own personal actions and the problems they witness in the environment and in society.

On the environment front, they are exposed to many human activities that are devastating to the environment and societies. These include widespread destruction of ecosystems, especially through deforestation, climatic instability, and contamination in the soils and waters that all contribute to excruciating poverty.

In the process, the participants discover that they must be part of the solutions. They come to recognize that they are the primary custodians and beneficiaries of the environment that sustains them.

Entire communities also come to understand that while it is necessary to hold their governments accountable, it is equally important that in their own relationships with each other, they exemplify the leadership values they wish to see in their own leaders, namely justice, integrity and trust.

Although initially the Green Belt Movement’s tree planting activities did not address issues of democracy and peace, it soon became clear that responsible governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space. Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya.…

In time, the tree also became a symbol for peace and conflict resolution, especially during ethnic conflicts in Kenya when the Green Belt Movement used peace trees to reconcile disputing communities.… Using trees as a symbol of peace is in keeping with a widespread African tradition. For example, the elders of the Kikuyu carried a staff from the thigi tree that, when placed between two disputing sides, caused them to stop fighting and seek reconciliation.…

Such practices are part of an extensive cultural heritage, which contributes both to the conservation of habitats and to cultures of peace. With the destruction of these cultures and the introduction of new values, local biodiversity is no longer valued or protected and as a result, it is quickly degraded and disappears. For this reason, The Green Belt Movement explores the concept of cultural biodiversity, especially with respect to indigenous seeds and medicinal plants.

It is 30 years since we started this work.… Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own—indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: there can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space. This shift is an idea whose time has come.

… Those of us who have been privileged to receive education, skills, and experiences and even power must be role models for the next generation of leadership.…

Culture plays a central role in the political, economic and social life of communities. Indeed, culture may be the missing link in the development of Africa.…

Africans, especially, should re-discover positive aspects of their culture. In accepting them, they would give themselves a sense of belonging, identity and self-confidence.

There is also need to galvanize civil society and grassroots movements to catalyze change. I call upon governments to recognize the role of these social movements in building a critical mass of responsible citizens, who help maintain checks and balances in society. On their part, civil society should embrace not only their rights but also their responsibilities.

Further, industry and global institutions must appreciate that ensuring economic justice, equity and ecological integrity are of greater value than profits at any cost. The extreme global inequities and prevailing consumption patterns continue at the expense of the environment and peaceful co-existence. The choice is ours.

I would like to call on young people to commit themselves to activities that contribute toward achieving their long-term dreams. They have the energy and creativity to shape a sustainable future. To the young people I say, you are a gift to your communities and indeed the world. You are our hope and our future.

The holistic approach to development, as exemplified by the Green Belt Movement, could be embraced and replicated in more parts of Africa and beyond. It is for this reason that I have established the Wangari Maathai Foundation to ensure the continuation and expansion of these activities. Although a lot has been achieved, much remains to be done.

As I conclude I reflect on my childhood experience when I would visit a stream next to our home to fetch water for my mother. I would drink water straight from the stream. Playing among the arrowroot leaves I tried in vain to pick up the strands of frogs’ eggs, believing they were beads. But every time I put my little fingers under them they would break. Later, I saw thousands of tadpoles: black, energetic and wriggling through the clear water against the background of the brown earth. This is the world I inherited from my parents.

Today, over 50 years later, the stream has dried up, women walk long distances for water, which is not always clean, and children will never know what they have lost. The challenge is to restore the home of the tadpoles and give back to our children a world of beauty and wonder.

Thank you very much.

Wangari Muta Maathai

MAATHAI, WANGARI MUTA. NOBEL LECTURE. DELIVERED BEFORE MEMBERS OF THE NOBEL FOUNDATION, DECEMBER 10, 2004, OSLO, NORWAY. AVAILABLE ONLINE AT &lt;HTTP://NOBELPRIZE.ORG/PEACE/LAUREATES/2004/MAATHAI-LECTURE-TEXT.HTML&gt; (ACCESSED MARCH 10, 2006).

See Also Corporate Green Movement; Forest Resources; Green Movement; Human Impacts; Natural Resource Management

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Brown, Oli. The Environment and Our Security: How Our Understanding of the Links Has Changed. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2005.

Gardner, Gary, and Thomas Prugh. State of the World 2008: Seeding the Sustainable Economy. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 2008.

Web Sites

Encyclopedia of Earth. “United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.” November 9, 2007. http://www.eoearth.org/article/United_Nations_Conference_on_the_Human_Environment_(UNCHE)_Stockholm_Sweden (accessed March 4, 2008)

National Science Foundation. “Environmental Sustainability.” February 14, 2008. http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=501027 (accessed March 4, 2008).

Sustainability Reporting Program. “A Brief History of Sustainable Development.” 2000. http://www.sustreport.org/background/history.html (accessed March 2, 2008).

United Nations. “Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.” http://www.unep.org/Documents.multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=978cArticleID=1503 (accessed March 4, 2008).

United Nations Department for Social and Economic Affairs. “United Nations Division for Sustainable Development.” February 2008. http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/index.html (accessed March 4, 2008).

West Virginia State Archives. “The Buffalo Creek Disaster.” http://www.wvculture.org/hiStory/buffcreek/bctitle.html (accessed March 4, 2008).

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Sustainable Development

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

•••

The idea of sustainable development dominates late-twentieth-century discussions of environment and development policy. It is a key term in international treaties, covenants, and programs and is being written into the constitutions of nation-states. An immense literature has gathered around it (Marien). Even those who reject the term must define their views in reference to it. In spite of this influence, serious empirical, conceptual, and normative problems must be addressed if the term is to serve as a comprehensive framework for efforts to sustain the biosphere and advance human fulfillment, economic security, and social justice throughout the world.

The Appeal of Sustainable Development

If the peoples of the world are to cooperate in solving their economic, social, and environmental problems, they must share a common understanding of the relationships among these problems and a common vision of a sustainable and just future. The economic expansion that began in the West several centuries ago has spread to embrace the world, transforming all societies in its wake and creating a global economic system and attendant monoculture with powerful human and environmental impacts. Given the dominance of this system, there needs to be a comprehensive policy framework to guide it—even if the framework adopted is critical of the system itself and seeks to redirect or even dismantle it.

Sustainable development is an appealing candidate for this office. "The key element of sustainable development is the recognition that economic and environmental goals are inextricably linked" (National Commission on the Environment, p. 2). This premise, bolstered by empirical claims that poverty and environmental degradation feed one another and that conservation need not constrain development nor development result in environmental degradation, has obvious political advantages. It allows persons with conflicting positions in the environment-development debate to search for common ground without appearing to compromise their positions. New coalitions of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned for justice, population, environment, and development issues have formed under the flag of sustainable development. Business leaders have come forward to propose new business-to-business and business-to-government partnerships in the name of sustainable development (International Chamber of Commerce; Schmidheiny). In addition, sustainable development has broad moral appeal among those motivated by concern for present as well as future generations, since it purports to be the name for a process and a future state in which everyone and the environment as a whole will benefit.

"Sustainable" qualifies the idea of development. After World War II it was widely assumed that economic development would lead to greater freedom, justice, and security for the world's peoples. When environmental issues first appeared on the international agenda at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, the debate was whether—and how—concerns for environment and equity could be reconciled with economic development. In succeeding years, as economic development strategies failed to close the gap between rich and poor, within or between nations, and studies showed growth in world population and consumption approaching Earth's biophysical limits, questions were raised about whether the theory of development could serve either human or environmental needs and whether it did not need to be modified to include ecological, political, social, cultural, and spiritual considerations.

By 1992, for most participants at the World Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held at Rio de Janeiro, these issues appeared settled. The principal agreement of the conference, Agenda 21, affirms that "integration of environment and development … will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can—in a global partnership for sustainable development" (United Nations, p. 15).

This entry analyzes why the concept of sustainable development occupies the center of thought on development and environment policy, how it is being defined, what criticisms are being raised about it, and what kind of work is needed if the concept truly is to meet the needs of the planet.

Sustainable development nicely expresses the progressive evolutionary worldview that emerged in the West in the late nineteenth century, with all the presumed objective support of the natural sciences, and the positive attitude toward social change often associated with it (Esteva). This progressivist ideology recognizes the problems posed by the interactions of population growth, resource use, and environmental degradation but is guardedly optimistic about the capacities of modern societies to solve those problems, given public understanding, technological and structural improvements in keeping with sound scientific research, and strong political leadership. As the Stockholm Declaration affirmed: "[T]he capability of man to improve the environment increases with each passing day" (Weston et al., p. 344).

The discourse of sustainable development thus occupies a middle-of-the-road position between those perspectives that take an uncritically optimistic attitude toward growth and technological change and those that predict the inevitability of global collapse. It also confirms the liberal insistence that the meaning of the goal of human development, fulfillment, or quality of life be stated in purely formal terms so that individuals and groups have the opportunity to define it for themselves (Kidd).

The Meaning of Sustainable Development

Mainstream thinking on sustainable development views it as a form of societal change that adds the objective or constraint of resource sustainability to the traditional development objective of meeting basic human needs (Lélé). "Main-stream thinking" refers to those ideological frameworks typical of international environmental agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); international development agencies, including the World Bank; research organizations such as the International Institute for Environment and Development; and NGOs such as the Washington-based Global Tomorrow Coalition.

The concept of resource sustainability originated in the late nineteenth century in the context of renewable resources such as forests or fisheries, where it informed such ideas asmaximum sustainable yield. When the language of sustainable development came into international usage with the publication by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), UNEP, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of the World Conservation Strategy in 1980, this original meaning was retained but broadened to include the maintenance of ecosystem carrying capacity and the management and conservation of all living resources as a necessary prerequisite to development. Thus a clear line of intellectual (and often institutional and professional) descent runs from Gifford Pinchot, the first director of the U.S. Forest Service, and other turn-of-the-century advocates of the resource conservation ethic in Europe and the United States, to contemporary mainstream thought on sustainable development. Pinchot's utilitarian notion that "conservation … stands for development … the use of natural resources … for the greatest number for the longest time" remains at the root of contemporary thinking on sustainable development (Pinchot, pp. 42–48).

It is possible to interpret sustainable development literally to mean sustaining indefinitely the process of economic growth, change, or development. But this viewpoint is not representative of the U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, prime minister of Norway, the group most responsible for marshaling the data, argument, and political influence necessary to put the term on the agenda of international debate. In the commission's view, although a new era of more efficient technological and economic growth is needed in order to break the link of poverty and environmental degradation, "ultimate limits [to usable resources] exist" and indefinite economic expansion is therefore impossible (World Commission on Environment and Development, pp. 8–9).

Nonetheless, like the goal of equity, the prerequisite of ecological sustainability is often either downplayed or presumed, as in the classic definition offered by the World Commission on Environment and Development: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (World Commission on Environment and Development, p. 43). Ecological sustainability is more likely to be mentioned in a list of requirements of sustainable development, such as those composed by the organizers of the Ottawa Conference on Conservation and Development in 1986 (Jacobs and Munro):

  • integration of conservation and development
  • satisfaction of basic human needs
  • achievement of equity and social justice
  • provision for social self-determination and cultural diversity
  • maintenance of ecological integrity

Issues of Sustainable Development

For many critics, sustainable development lacks clarity of definition, including criteria for and examples of successful achievement (Yanarella and Levine). As early as 1984, UNEP Executive Director Mostafa K. Tolba lamented that sustainable development had become "an article of faith, a shibboleth; often used, but little explained" (Lélé, p. 607). A recent survey of the literature on sustainable development found that "case studies are surprisingly few and often hard to come by" (Slocombe et al.). It is notable that the second version of the World Conservation Strategy, Caring for the Earth, acknowledges the ambiguity of the term, and places its emphasis on "building a sustainable society" (IUCN, UNEP, WWF, 1991).

For other critics, the concept of sustainable development is all too clear and fundamentally mistaken. Negative critiques of sustainable development cluster around its (1) empirical accuracy; (2) idea of justice; (3) idea of sustainability; (4) economic assumptions; (5) view of science; and (6) metaphorical and spiritual assumptions.

EMPIRICAL ACCURACY. The empirical basis of sustainable development thinking is criticized both for its analysis of the problems of poverty and environmental degradation and for its proposed solutions to them. Thijs de la Court and Richard B. Norgaard (1988a), among others, argue that mainstream thinking typically ignores the two major factors responsible for both of these problems—the shift of local economies to production of exports for the world market and the adoption by traditional societies of the values of Western urban and capitalist society. Thus global free trade, the solution often offered by sustainable development proponents as the way to greater integration of the local community into the world economic system, will only intensify the problems, lending support to massive, hierarchically managed, capital-intensive industrial projects—dams, plantations, factories, urban settlements—that destroy the diversity and integrity of human communities and environments alike (Sachs). Nor will most of the other policies typically promoted in the name of sustainable development be of much help: more scientific data, more efficient technology, improved managerial capabilities, and more effective environmental education. Much more fundamental and difficult actions are necessary, such as community control of the economy, land reform, changes in cultural values, and reductions in the consumption of industrial commodities and in birthrates (Lélé).

SOCIAL JUSTICE. Most pronouncements on sustainable development hold that social justice, especially in the form of equity between wealthy and poor nations, is essential to the process. Critics contend that these ideas are seldom explicated in any detail, however. The issue of population stabilization is generally avoided, conflicting claims of intragenerational versus intergenerational equity are not addressed, and fundamental civil and political rights are seldom mentioned. In keeping with traditional development theory, there is abstract emphasis on meeting basic human needs and, in recent years, participation of all stakeholders, but it is seldom clear what these needs are, which ones should have priority, what kind of participation is required, or how sustainable development will result in greater justice or environmental protection.

These questions have become especially acute in the sphere of gender. One of the primary challenges to mainstream thinking on sustainable development has come from the international women's movement through organizations such as INSTRAW (United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women) and ecofeminist theoretical perspectives, such as those of Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies (Braidotti et al.). Within the women's movement there is widespread recognition of the deepseated patriarchal assumptions in development discourse and the connections between the destruction of nature and the exploitation of women and other marginal groups in the development process. Mainstream sustainable development theory does little to change this. Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, retains a patriarchal orientation, evident in its failure to recognize the special role of "subdominants"—women, people of color, children, native and indigenous people—in each of its seven major themes (Warren). In order to address this problem, the Women's Environmental and Development Organization (WEDO) and other organizations have argued for the need for women to gain control over natural resources and the benefits that are derived from them and for recognition of women's special knowledge and skills in environmental care.

IDEA OF SUSTAINABILITY. Environmental ethicists and scientific ecologists are critical of the idea of sustainable development because of its reductionist approach to environmental values. Discussions of sustainable development typically assume that what needs to be sustained is human use, especially human agricultural use and industrial production. Yet instrumental value is only one of the many environmental values that need to be sustained in the complex interplay of human enjoyment, respect, use, and care of nature, and there is empirical evidence that single-minded pursuit of instrumental value through such policies, for example, as "maximum sustainable yield" seldom succeeds (Ludwig et al.). Agenda 21 is criticized for its exclusive concentration on the need to sustain the environment for human use. Chapter 15, for example, argues that the primary reason for preserving biodiversity is that it provides a potential source of genetic materials for biotechnological development (Sagoff). This emphasis reflects a strong anthropocentric value orientation, explicit in Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development: "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development" (United Nations, p. 9).

In an unprecedented policy decision in 1991, the Ecological Society of America challenged the widely held assumption that what ought to be sustained is human use of the biosphere. It set the goal of a "sustainable biosphere" as its priority for research in ecology in the closing decade of the twentieth century, thus implying that the biosphere has value in and for itself and that above all else this is the value that must be sustained (Risser et al.).

Failure to recognize that nature has value of its own (as well as for the sake of humans) has serious practical consequences. Not only does it inhibit acceptance of the idea of sustainable development by many environmental and religious groups whose traditions embrace a more generous understanding of nature's values, but it eliminates consideration of those meanings of sustainability having to do with the way life nourishes life—with sustenance. Certain methods of subsistence agriculture, for example, built up over many generations, especially by women, simultaneously nourish human communities and the soil, yet fail to receive public recognition and support (Shiva).

ECONOMIC ASSUMPTIONS. Criticisms of the economic analysis and prescriptions of sustainable development thinking have been suggested above and may be summarized under two primary headings. First, and most generally, are those criticisms that find in the idea of sustainable development only another example of the triumph of homo economicus in modern society. There is a prevalent assumption that sustainable development is equivalent to sustainable economic development. Thus economists at the International Institute for Environment and Development argue in circular fashion that their "sustainability paradigm," a version of the "conventional economic paradigm, illustrated by utilitarian benefit-cost analysis," if modified to allow for the concept of intergenerational equity, is preferable to the "bioethics paradigm" that recognizes intrinsic values in nature, because, among other things, the latter "inhibits [economic] development" (Turner and Pearce, p. 2).

The second sort of criticism concentrates on the failure of sustainable development thinking to challenge the assumption that economic growth can break the link between poverty and environmental degradation. Although the Brundtland commission recognized "ultimate limits," it nonetheless recommended a five-to tenfold increase in global economic productivity to reduce poverty and provide the resources for environmental protection (World Commission on Environment and Development). Ecological economists such as Herman Daly point out the biophysical impossibility of such growth and the need to arrest, or even reduce, the total "throughput" or flow of matter-energy, from natural sources, through the human economy, and back to nature's sinks. They believe that a strict distinction should be made between growth, defined as "quantitative expansion in the scale of the physical dimensions of the economic system," which cannot be sustained indefinitely, and development, defined as the "qualitative change of a physically nongrowing economic system in dynamic equilibrium with the environment," which can be so sustained (Daly and Cobb, p. 71). In their view, limited progress can be made in arresting economic growth by enforcing accepted maxims of sound economics, for example, increased resource efficiency and environmental accounting to show how income is actually a drawdown of natural capital or stock resources. Such measures alone, however, will be insufficient without redistribution of wealth and income between nations and classes, as well as population stabilization.

VIEW OF SCIENCE. Mainstream sustainable development thinking is dominated by the policy languages of science, economics, and law. Typical of such discourse is the view that science can provide a value-neutral definition of sustainability acceptable to persons with widely differing value perspectives (Brooks). But critics point to hidden norms in scientific methodology that support the status quo and are inconsistent with the personal and political transformations needed for justice and care of Earth. Moreover, only a very narrow range of considerations can be scientifically determined, thereby effectively eliminating challenges to established value judgments. In addition, the use of risk analysis focuses on involuntary costs that ecological changes may impose on society rather than on what should be the most important concern: the altering of ecosystems that risk-free business-as-usual will effectuate (Sagoff). Donald Ludwig, Ray Hilborn, and Carl Walters (1993) argue that the history of resource exploitation teaches the necessity of action before scientific consensus is achieved and that while science can help recognize problems, it cannot provide solutions. They caution that spending money on more scientific research is often a way to avoid addressing problems of population growth and excessive use of resources.

METAPHORICAL AND SPIRITUAL ASSUMPTIONS. Some critics consider the concept of development a dangerous mystification of history and do not believe adding the adjective sustainable appreciably alters the difficulty. Biologically speaking, development means progress from earlier to later, or from simpler to more complex, stages in the growth of an organism. In post-World War II development discourse, it was used as a metaphor for the transition of traditional societies into modern industrial societies (leading to distinctions between "underdeveloped," "developing," and "developed" societies). Used in this way, the metaphor implies a step forward in a linear progression, a natural, organic flowering, rather than a deliberate, culturally specific invention. It also implies that the most modern nations, such as the United States, are the most civilized and therefore models to imitate. Adding sustainable to development only confirms these biological connotations and hence strengthens its potential to obscure differences among cultures and the drawbacks of modernization.

But more than a misplaced analogy is at issue. Development is a powerful secular religion, in the words of Peter Berger, "the focus of redemptive hopes and expectations" (Berger, p. 17). Viewed in these terms, development means more than an improvement in material living standards. Development as religion means that human fulfillment is to be found in activities that improve material living conditions, for oneself and for others. Development as religion is a messianic mission to bring the fruits of material progress to the world, and it is questionable whether the idea of sustainable development substantially changes this. To depart from the religion of development would require defining the ends of development in terms of qualitative, as well as quantitative, goods—goods such as truth, beauty, freedom, friendship, humility, simplicity. Not only are such moral and spiritual goods the most worthy ends of human life; they may be the only way to empower persons to reduce their consumption, limit their procreation, and live sustainable lives (Goulet, 1990).

The Future of Sustainable Development

Given the value placed upon unthrottled economic growth in industrial and nonindustrial societies alike, acceptance of the goal of sustainable development, even in a weak sense, is a remarkable and positive step (Marien). Moreover, acceptance of the idea of sustainable development in international circles and by the government, business, and NGO leadership of many nations, north and south, means that there now exists an opportunity for dialogue and new social compacts between diverse political constituencies. It is possible to argue, therefore, that the idea of sustainable development offers a realistic way of effecting a potentially radical transformation in global environment and development policy. The question is whether (1) these diverse constituencies can be engaged in a process of mutual inquiry, criticism, and discussion that will lead, step by step, toward improvements in the empirical, conceptual, and normative adequacy of the idea and in meaningful attempts to embody it in practice; and (2) an international political constituency, uniting mainstream and marginal groups and actors, can be mobilized to challenge the entrenched powers that will inevitably be threatened by changes in policy. There is also the question of whether these things can happen quickly enough, before disillusionment sets in and a fragile consensus is shattered. There are several ways of advancing this kind of agenda over the next decade. Empirical understanding of sustainable development will improve with a more issue-driven and democratically structured scientific approach that recognizes the uncertainty of facts, conflicts in values, and the urgency of decisions. Such an approach needs to be transdisciplinary and practically focused on the dynamics responsible for poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation and on how these dynamics may be changed without economic growth through resource depletion. It requires analyses of factors such as human motivation and ownership patterns, neglected in most studies to date. Studies of alternative development policies in the Indian state of Kerala present good examples (Franke and Chasin).

Empirical adequacy also will improve through initiatives such as those now underway to design quantitative "indicators" of sustainability (Trzyna), especially those indexes that can challenge, and eventually replace, the Gross National Product (GNP) as the measure of economic and social wellbeing. For example, Daly and Cobb (1989) propose an Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare that measures not only levels of consumption but also income distribution, natural resource depletion, and environmental damage. Macroeconomic criteria and indicators of sustainability have been proposed in areas such as population stability, greenhouse gases, soil degradation, and preservation of natural ecosystems (Ayres). Specific moral and material incentives to meet these criteria are also being developed (Goulet, 1989).

The conceptual and normative adequacy of the idea of sustainable development will improve as it is expanded to include the full range of moral and public policy criteria necessary to sustain the biosphere and advance human fulfillment, economic security, and social justice throughout the world (Corson). Such a redefinition of the goals of sustainable development will need to include (1) development conceived primarily as improvement in the quality of human life; (2) sustainability conceived as the sustainability of Earth's biosphere, with protection and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity and sustainable use of renewable resources contributing to that end; (3) the transition to a steady-state global economy by reducing consumption among affluent classes while at the same time promoting economic growth in poor communities to meet basic human needs and provide the resources necessary for environmental protection; (4) redistribution of wealth and income between rich and poor nations; (5) population stabilization and eventual reduction to more optimal levels; (6) guarantees of basic human rights, including environmental rights, to all persons, with special attention to the empowerment of women and children; (7) new nondominating and nonreductionsitic ways of producing and transmitting knowledge of the environment and sustainable livelihood; and (8) freedom for local cultures, Western and non-Western, to pursue a variety of alternative visions and strategies of sustainable development.

The philosophy of sustainable development will also improve as discussion moves beyond the confines of economics and resource management into larger multidisciplinary and public arenas. Most mainstream thought on sustainable development has taken place without the benefit of philosophy, theology, the arts, or humanities and with only limited benefit from scientific ecology. Yet intellectual leaders in these fields, from diverse cultures and faiths throughout the world, have been trying to understand the meaning of just, participatory, and sustainable ways of life for several decades (Engel and Engel). Citizens also have substantial contributions to make to an enlarged understanding of sustainable development, as the peoples' alternative treaties signed at the NGO-led Global Forum at Rio de Janiero demonstrate (Rome et al.).

Nowhere is the challenge to mainstream sustainable development thinking more difficult—or more fateful—than in the area of comprehensive spiritual values and morals. In 1987 the U.N. Commission on Environment and Development concluded that "human survival and wellbeing could depend on success in elevating sustainable development to a global ethic" (World Commission on Environment and Development, p. 308). Faced with the prospect that the mainstream interpretation of sustainable development might well become a global ethic, critics argue for what they believe to be more adequate understandings of human nature and destiny, calling instead for "authentic development," "just, participatory ecodevelopment," or simply "good life." Sustainable development need not be anthropocentric or androcentric; it may be theocentric or coevolutionary (Norgaard, 1988b), a human activity that nourishes and perpetuates the historical fulfillment of the whole community of life on Earth.

j. ronald engel (1995)

bibliography revised

SEE ALSO: Endangered Species and Biodiversity; Environmental Ethics; Environmental Health; Environmental Policy and Law; Population Ethics; Population Policies; Technology

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Sustainable Development

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT


Sustainable development is the process of enhancing all people's well-being while maintaining the integrity of the Earth's ecological systems. The concept brings together two interdependent imperatives: on the one hand, the traditional goal of "development," that is, to provide satisfying lives for all people; and on the other, a concern for "ecological sustainability," to live within the ecological capacity of the planet.

The term sustainable development emerged in the 1980s as a result of a critique of traditional development projects. Conventional economic development efforts were recognized as often contributing to ecological degradation and social injustice, thereby undermining the ecological, social, and even economic capital of communities. The qualifier "sustainable" was intended to remedy this limited idea of development.

The most frequently cited definition of sustainable development is from the Brundtland Commission, established by the UN Secretary-General in 1993 to formulate a global agenda for change that would protect the environment and strengthen development. In their widely read report Our Common Future (1987), they proposed sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987, p.43). The Report helped establish sustainable development as a legitimate goal globally and at all levels of government. However, the inability to operationalize the Brundtland Commission's definition stimulated a wide array of interpretations. As originally proposed by David Pearce and his colleagues in 1989, two particularly relevant interpretations have been identified, called weak and strong sustainability.

Weak and Strong Sustainability

Weak sustainability is said to be achieved if the per capita monetary value of the combined physical, social, and natural assets is maintained. The underlying assumption is that declining overall asset value ("wealth") likely leads to a decline in future social well-being.

This conceptualization links sustainability to economic thinking. However, its practical application is limited by the difficulty of determining many of the relevant asset values. Monetary values can be assigned for assets traded in a market, such as timber or cereals; it is much more difficult to determine a proper value for social and natural assets. More importantly, even if values can be determined, they may not accurately signal that ecological limits are being breached, with serious consequences for human welfare. Also, measures of overall wealth say little about social justice or equitable access to resources and institutions. In spite of such limitations, monetary accounts extended in this fashion can provide valuable information about the future viability of a nation's economy. The "genuine savings" measure is among the most advanced of these measures.

Strong sustainability addresses the difficulty of monetizing assets and combining social and ecological assets by recognizing that some natural assets do not have substitutes. An example is the ozone layer, the loss of which would entail serious harm to human beings and nature. Strong sustainability requires that some critical amount of the nonsubstitutable natural capital be preserved, independent of any increases in value of other social or physical assets. This criterion is best captured by biophysical measures of the human enterprise.

Essentially, strong sustainability postulates the need for living within the planet's biological capacity or limits; it emphasizes the ecological bottom-line condition for sustainable development. This can serve as a specific, measurable criterion with direct relevance to ecological health as well as to equitable resource access, since limited ecological capacity links directly to questions of distributional justice. Strong sustainability, therefore, becomes the effort to secure quality of life for all, within the means of nature.

Science-based definitions largely agree with the strong view of sustainability. For example, a joint strategy document of the World Conservation Union, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Wide Fund for Nature defines sustainable development as "improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems" (Caring for the Earth 1991, p. 10). This is spelled out in more specific terms in the four system conditions for sustainability developed by The Natural Step. Through a consensus process among scientists this organization has developed core conditions for sustainability, which can guide planning decisions at all levels towards sustainability. In essence, these conditions maintain that sustainability requires providing satisfying lives for all without turning the Earth's resources into waste any faster than nature can reconstitute waste back into resources.

Limits, Overshoot, and Accounting

When humanity's demands in terms of resource consumption and waste generation exceed the capacity of nature's sources and sinks, human populations move into what is termed ecological overshoot. Ecological limits are not like a rigid wall that brings a speeding car to a halt. Rather, ecological limits are more like financial budgets–they can be transgressed easily. More timber can be harvested than regrows, more fish can be caught than are spawned, more CO2 can be emitted than nature can reabsorb, and topsoil can be eroded while crops grow.

Initially, most of these transgressions go unnoticed. The signs that humanity has exceeded the biological limits of the planet are separated from consumption decisions by space and time. This separation is compounded by the fact that, at the country level, governments do not keep track of the use of nature in relation to how much is available. As a result, they are unaware of the degree to which development is being achieved through the running down of natural capital rather than through use of nature's regenerative capacity.

A common misperception is that because there are no apparent shortages of raw materials, the concern over ecological limits has been overstated. This confusion comes from the illusion that ecological limits are elastic. This misperception is created by new technologies that enable more rapid resource extraction and easier access to remote locations. As a simple analogy, if a car is low on gas, the fact that it is still possible to accelerate does not disprove the gas gauge's indication of the decreasing total amount of gas remaining in the tank. Similarly, the ability to pump water out of an aquifer more quickly does not change its ultimate capacity or its recharge rate. For this reason, systematic resource accounting–documenting the cumulative effect of humanity's consumption of natural capital and generation of waste–is a core necessity for achieving ecological sustainability as well as secure access to resources for all. To detect overshoot in advance and avoid it, decision-makers must know whether human demands on nature exceed nature's rate of renewal.

Measuring the Biophysical Dimension

Overshoot is measured by determining how much nature or, more specifically, biological capacity is available and then comparing this supply with human demand. As a simple indicator of the "supply" of nature available, one can measure all of the Earth's biologically productive land and sea spaces: a total of 11.4 billion hectares. Divided by the human population (6.2 billion in 2002), this means that there is an average of 1.8 hectares of space available per person. Adding more people reduces the amount of space, or the supply of nature, available per person.

Humans coexist on Earth with over 10 million other species, most of which are excluded from the spaces occupied intensively for human purposes. This means some of the 1.8 hectares per person need to be set aside and left relatively untouched if a significant number of those other species will be present also in the future.

Conservation biologists suggest setting aside at least one quarter of the Earth's biologically productive space for biopreservation, and in some areas up to 75 percent. The Brundtland Commission proposed protecting 12 percent, which was politically courageous if perhaps ecologically insufficient. Still, this proposal would lower the available bio-productive space per person to just 1.6 hectares–a figure that will diminish as the size of the world's population grows.

This available capacity can be compared to how much biologically productive space people already appropriate to produce their resources and absorb their wastes. One measurement to capture this demand on nature is the "ecological footprint." Ecological footprint accounts are based on two assumptions: first, that it is possible to keep track of most of the resources people consume and the wastes they generate; second, that it is possible to translate many of these demands into a corresponding land or sea area needed to produce those resources. These areas can then be added up and expressed in "global hectares"–standardized hectares with global average productivity. Because they leave out those human impacts on nature that cannot be associated with ecological area, ecological footprints provide a conservative estimate of the human use of nature.

Calculations for 1999, based on Food and Agriculture Organization and other United Nations statistics and documented in the Living Planet Report 2002, show that the average ecological footprint for the United States population amounts to 9.6 global hectares per person, more than five times the average that is available per person worldwide. Over half of this footprint is attributed to fossil fuel use, calculated as the area needed to absorb the CO2 from fossil fuel burning or to replace the fossil fuel energy consumed with biomass energy.

In contrast, the footprint for the average resident of India is 0.8 global hectares, and for the average Italian, 3.8. Worldwide, the average footprint is2.3 global hectares per person, exceeding the total ecological supply of 1.8 global hectares per person by one quarter. One interpretation of this calculation is that it would take one year and three months to regenerate the resources that are used in one year by the human population.

See also: Carrying Capacity; Ecological Perspectives on Population; Land Use; Limits to Growth.

bibliography

Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Living Sustainable Living. 1991. Gland, Switzerland: The World Conservation Union, United Nations Environment Programme, and World Wide Fund for Nature.

Dasgupta, Partha, and Karl-Goran Mäler. 2000. "Net National Product, Wealth and Social Well-Being." Environment and Development Economics 5(1 & 2): 69–93.

Hamilton, Kirk. 2000. Genuine Savings as a Sustainability Indicator. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

——. 2002. Sustaining Per Capita Welfare with Growing Population: Theory and Measurement. Presented to the 2nd World Congress on Environmental and Resource Economics, Monterey CA, June 24–27, 2002.

Lélé, Sharachchandra M. 1991. "Sustainable Development: A Critical Review." World Development 19(6): 607–621.

Living Planet Report 2002. 2002. Gland, Switzerland: World-Wide Fund for Nature, Redefining Progress, and the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Meyer, Aubrey. 2001. Contraction and Convergence: The Global Solution to Climate Change. Schumacher Briefings No. 5 and Global Commons Institute. Totnes, Eng.: Green Books.

Pearce, David, Anil Markandya, and Edward Barbier. 1989. Blueprint for a Green Economy. London: Earthscan Publications.

Robért, Karl-Henrik, Herman Daly, Paul Hawken, and John Holmberg. 1997. "A Compass for Sustainable Development." International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 4: 79–92.

Wackernagel, Mathis, Niels B. Schulz, Diana Deumling, Alejandro Callejas Linares, Martin Jenkins, Valerie Kapos, Chad Monfreda, Jonathan Loh, Norman Myers, Richard Norgaard, and J'rgen Randers. "Tracking the Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy." Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 99 (14): 9266–9271.

World Commission on Environment and Development [Brundtland Commission]. 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

internet resources.

Food and Agriculture Organization. 2002. <http://apps.fao.org>.

Redefining Progress. 2002. <http://www.redefiningprogress.org>.

The Natural Step. 2002. <http://www.naturalstep.org>.

Mathis Wackernagel

Karl Steyaert

Kim Rodgers

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Sustainable Development

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is the management of renewable resources for the good of the entire human and natural community. Built into this concept is an awareness of the animal and plant life of the surrounding environment, as well as inorganic components such as water and the atmosphere. The goal of sustainable development is to provide resources for the use of present populations without compromising the availability of those resources for future generations, and without causing environmental damage that challenges the survival of other species and natural ecosystems.

The notion of sustainable development recognizes that individual humans and their larger economic systems can only be sustained through the exploitation of natural resources. By definition, the stocks of non-renewable resources, such as metals, coal , and petroleum , can only be diminished by use. Consequently, sustainable economies cannot be based on the use of non-renewable resources. Ultimately, sustainable economies must be supported by the use of renewable resources such as biological productivity, and solar, wind , geothermal, and biomass energy sources.

However, even renewable resources may be subjected to overexploitation and other types of environmental degradation. Central to the notion of sustainable development is the requirement that renewable resources are utilized in ways that do not diminish their capacity for renewal, so that they will always be present to sustain future generations of humans.

To be truly sustainable, systems of resource use must not significantly degrade any aspects of environmental quality, including those not assigned value in the marketplace. Biodiversity is one example of a so-called non-valuated resource, as are many ecological services such as the cleansing of air, water, and land of pollutants by ecosystems, the provision of oxygen by vegetation, and the maintenance of agricultural soil capability. These are all important values, but their importance is rarely measured in terms of dollars.

A system of sustainable development must be capable of yielding a flow of resources for use by humans, but that flow must be maintainable over the long term. In addition, an ecologically sustainable economy must be capable of supporting viable populations of native species, viable areas of natural ecosystems, and acceptable levels of other environmental qualities that are not conventionally valued as resources for direct use by humans.


Natural resources

In economic terms, resources (or capital) are regarded as actual or potential wealth that can be applied toward the creation of additional wealth. There are three broad types of capital. First, manufactured capital is industrial infrastructure that can be applied to the production of goods and services. Examples include factories, mines, harvesting equipment, buildings, tools and machinery, computers, and information networks. Second is human capital, or the cultural means of production, encompassing a workforce with particular types of knowledge and skills. And third, natural capital refers to quantities of raw, natural resources that can be harvested, processed, used in manufacturing, and otherwise utilized to produce goods and services for an economy.

There are two types of natural resources: non-renewable and renewable. Non-renewable resources are present in a finite quantity on Earth . Therefore, their stock diminishes as they are mined from the environment. Nonrenewable resources can only be used in an non-sustainable manner. The lifetime of a non-renewable resource is determined by the size of its recoverable stocks in the environment, and the rate of mining . However, some nonrenewable resources can be reused and recycled to some degree, which extends the effective lifetime of the resource. Common examples of non-renewable resources include metal ores, coal, and petroleum.

Potentially, renewable resources can be sustained and harvested indefinitely. However, sustainable use requires that the rate of harvesting does not exceed the rate of renewal of the resource. Most renewable resources are biological and include trees, hunted animals such as fish , waterfowl, and deer , and the products of agriculture. Flowing surface water is an example of a non-biological resource that can potentially be sustainably used for irrigation , to generate hydroelectricity, and as a means of transportation.

It is important to recognize that potentially renewable resources can easily be "over-harvested," or exploited at a rate exceeding that of renewal, resulting in degradation of the resource. During over-harvesting, the resource is essentially being "mined"—that is, it is managed in the same way as a non-renewable resource. Regrettably, this is all too often the case, resulting in collapses of stocks of hunted fish, mammals , and birds ; deforestation ; declines of agricultural soil capability; and diminished river flows due to excessive withdrawals for use by humans.

Another important characteristic of renewable resources is that they can provide meaningful ecological services even when they are in their natural, unharvested state. For example, intact, natural forests provide biological productivity; cycling of nutrients and water; a sink for atmospheric carbon ; control of erosion ; cleansing of pollutants emitted into the environment by humans; habitat for diverse elements of biodiversity; aesthetics; and other important ecological services. Some of these services are of potential value in providing resources that humans require, an example being the biomass and productivity of trees and hunted animals. However, most of these are not recognized by the conventional marketplace, although they are certainly important to ecological integrity and environmental health.

The undeniable ecological reality is that humans have an absolute dependence on a continuous flow of natural resources to sustain their societies and economies. Over the longer term, this is particularly true of renewable resources because sustainable economies cannot be supported only by non-renewable resources. Therefore, the only way to achieve a condition of sustainable development is to build an economy that is supported by the wise harvesting and management of renewable resources.


Economics

A goal of economic systems is to maximize the utility of goods and services to society. Usually, these products are assigned value in units of currency. Some examples of valuated goods and services include the following: manufactured products, such as automobiles, computers, highways, and buildings; harvested natural resources, such as wood , hunted animals, and the products of agriculture; and the services provided by farmers, industrial workers, and others.

Conventional economics does not seriously consider non-valuated resources, or goods and services that are not assigned value in the marketplace. Examples of nonvaluated ecological resources include the aesthetics of natural landscapes, services such as nutrient and water cycling, and rare species and natural ecosystems. Consequently, the merits of non-valuated ecological resources cannot be easily compared with those of valuated goods and services. This in turn means that degradations of non-valuated resources are not usually considered to be true "costs" by conventional economists, and they do not have a strong influence in cost-benefit calculations.

In conventional accounting, large profits can often be made by undertaking activities that cause substantial environmental damage, including the exhaustion of potentially renewable resources. Clearly, this is an ecologically false accounting, but it has been rationalized by considering degradations of environmental quality to be externalities, or costs that are not directly paid by the individuals or companies that are causing the damage. However, the costs of resource and environmental degradation are very real, and they are borne by society at large—which of course includes the individuals or institutions responsible for the degradation.

Ecological economics is a new, actively developing sub-discipline within economics. The principal distinction of ecological economics is that it attempts to find a nonanthropocentric system of valuation. This is different from conventional economics, in which valuations are based almost entirely in terms of the importance of good and services to humans, as determined in the marketplace.

Accountings in ecological economics include the important social and environmental costs that may be associated with the depletion of resources and the degradation of environmental quality. These costs are critical to achieving and measuring sustainable development, but they are not seriously considered during accountings in conventional economics.


Sustainable development and sustained growth

The notion of sustainable development refers to an economic system that is ultimately based on the wise utilization of renewable natural resources in a manner that does not threaten the availability of the resources for use by future generations of people. It is also important that damages to non-valuated resources be kept within acceptable limits.

Clearly, the existing human economy is grossly unsustainable in these respects. Modern economies are characterized by resolute economic growth, which is achieved by the vigorous mining of non-renewable resources, potentially renewable resources, and environmental quality in general.

Since the mid-1980s, when the notion was first introduced, "sustainable development" has been enthusiastically advocated by many politicians, economists, businesspeople, and resource managers. However, many of these have confused sustainable development with "sustained economic growth," which by definition is impossible because resources eventually become limiting. The first popularization of the phrase "sustainable development" was in the widely applauded report of the World Commission of Environment and Development, also known as the "Brundtland Report" after the chairperson of the commission, Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway. However, this report appears to confuse some of the fundamental differences between economic growth and sustainable development.

Although the Brundtland Report supports the need for sustainable development, it also calls for a large increase in the size of the global economy. The Brundtland Report suggests that a period of strong economic growth is needed, in concert with a redistribution of some of the existing wealth, if the living standards of people in poorer countries are to be improved. It is believed that once this has been accomplished, social and economic conditions will favor an end to population growth and the over-exploitation of natural resources, so an equilibrium condition of a non-growing economy can be achieved.

However, the sorts of economic growth rates recommended in the Brundtland Report are equivalent to an increase of per-capita, global income of 3% per year, sufficient to double per-capita income every 23 years. The economic growth must also compensate for growth of the human population, which amounts to about 2% per year. Therefore, the adjusted rate of economic growth would have to be about 5% per year (that is, 3% + 2%), which would result in a doubling of the global economy every 14 years. Of course, in poorer countries with even higher rates of population growth, including most of Africa , Asia , and Latin America, the rate of economic growth would have to compensate and be correspondingly larger. In total, the Brundtland Report suggested that an expansion of the global economy by a factor of five to 10 was needed to create conditions appropriate to achieve a condition of sustainable development.

The Brundtland Report not only recommends a great deal of economic growth; it also recommends the development of technologies that would allow a more efficient economic growth, which would consume fewer resources of material and energy per unit of growth achieved. Additionally, the report advocates a redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer people and countries, as well as greater efforts towards the elimination of population growth.

The Brundtland Report, like other champions of "sustainable development," actually promotes economic growth as a cure for the present ills of human economies. However, there are profound doubts that a five-to-10-times increase in the size of the human economy could be sustained by the environment and its ecosystems. Economic growth may, in fact, be more of a cause of the environmental crisis than a cure.

Resolution of the environmental crisis and achievement of sustainable economies may require the immediate, aggressive pursuit of more difficult and unpopular solutions than those recommended by the Brundtland Report. These would include much less use of resources by richer peoples of the world, immediate redistribution of some of the existing wealth to poorer peoples, vigorous population control, and an overall focus on preventing further deterioration of ecological integrity and environmental quality more generally.


Sustainable development

A truly sustainable economic system recognizes that the human economy must be limited within the carrying capacity of Earth's remaining natural resources. In fact, many resource economists, environmental scientists, and ecologists believe that the human economy is already too large to be sustained by Earth's resources and ecosystems. If these specialists are correct, then not only is further economic growth undesirable, it may have to be reversed.

Non-sustainable economic growth occurs through a crude maximization of the flow of resources through an economy. In large part, economic growth is achieved by mining resources and environmental quality.

In contrast, sustainable development is ultimately based on the efficient use of renewable resources, which are not degraded over time. Moreover, this use occurs under conditions in which environmental quality is also protected. A sustainable economic system would have the following characteristics:

First, renewable resources must be exploited at or below their capability for renewal. Present economies are greatly dependent on the use of non-renewable resources, but these are being rapidly diminished by use. As non-renewable resources become exhausted, renewable resources will become increasingly more important in the economic system. Ultimately, sustainable economic systems must be based on the wise use of renewable resources.

Second, non-renewable resources can also be utilized in a sustainable economy. However, the rates at which non-renewable resources are utilized must be balanced by the rate at which renewable substitutes are created, that is, by growth of a renewable resource. For example, fossil fuels can only be used in a truly sustainable economy if their utilization is compensated by net growth of a renewable energy substitute—for example, by an increase in forest biomass. To discourage the use of non-renewable resources and the unsustainable mining of potentially renewable resources, it might be possible to implement a system of natural-resource depletion taxes.

Third, there must be a markedly increased efficiency of the use and recycling of non-renewable resources, aimed at extending their useful lifetime in the economic system. Information systems and new technologies will be important in achieving this increased efficiency. There must also be well-designed systems of use and management of renewable resources to ensure that these are sustainably utilized over the longer term.

Fourth, it is critical that ecological resources that are not conventionally valuated also be sustained. The use and management of natural resources for human benefits will inevitably cause declines of some species and natural ecosystems, as well as other environmental damage. However, viable populations of native species, viable areas of natural ecosystems, and other aspects of environmental quality must be preserved in an ecologically sustainable economic system. Some of these ecological values cannot be accommodated on landscapes that are primarily managed for thee harvesting and management of economic resources, and they will therefore have to be preserved in ecological reserves. These ecological values must be accommodated if an economic system is to be considered truly sustainable.

Sustainable economic systems represent a very different way of doing business, in comparison with the manner in which economies are now conducted. Sustainable development requires the implementation of a sustainable economy. To achieve this would be difficult on the short term, although the longer-term benefits to society and ecosystems would be enormous. The longer-term benefit would be achievement of an economic system that could sustain humans, other species, and natural ecosystems for a long time. However, there would be short-term pain in implementing such a system, largely associated with substantially less use of natural resources, abandonment of the ambition of economic growth, and rapid stabilization of the human population.

As a result of these short-term inconveniences, truly sustainable development would not be initially popular among much of the public, politicians, government bureaucrats, and industry. This is because individual humans and their societies are self-interested, and they think on the shorter-term. However, for the sake of future generations of humans, and for that of other species and natural ecosystems, it remains absolutely necessary that sustainable economic systems be designed and implemented.

See also Population, human.

Resources

books

Bueler, W.M. An Agenda for Sustainability: Fairness in aWorld of Limits. Cross Cultural Publications, 1998.

Daly, H.E. Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Beacon Press, 1997

Dudley, William. Biodiversity. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002.

Dunn, Seth. Hydrogen Futures: Toward a Sustainable Energy System. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 2001.

French, Hilary F. Vanishing Borders: Protecting the Planet in the Age of Globalization. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

Rao, P.K. Sustainable Development: Economics and Policy. Blackwell Publishers, 1999.

Sheehan, Molly O'Meara, and Jane A. Peterson. City Limits:Putting the Brakes on Sprawl. Washington, DC: World-watch Institute, 2001.

Weinberg, Adam S., David N. Pellow, and Allan Schnaiberg. Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.


Bill Freedman
Judson Knight

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Anthropocentric

—Considering the implications of everything from the perspective of utility to humans, and to human welfare.

Natural resource

—Any naturally occurring commodity that can be used by people. Non-renewable resources are of a finite quantity, and they can only be mined. Renewable resources can potentially by exploited indefinitely, but only if they are not degraded by overexploitation, i.e., used at a rate that exceeds renewal.

Valuation

—The assignment of economic worth, for example, in dollars.

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