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Sustainable development

Nachricht hinterlassen von Sarina Ritorto Tuesday, 20th September 2016

When people talk about 'sustainable development', do they usually just mean 'ongoing growth in a responsible way'? If so, why do some environmentalists propose a 'zero-growth' economy?

Nachricht hinterlassen von Andrew Bone Tuesday, 20th September 2016

I don't think the concept of 'zero growth' is very helpful. 'Zero-Growth', 'Steady-State Economy', 'Zero-Waste', 'Circular Economy', are just some of several ideas arising from the New Ecological Paradigm.

The answer to your question depends on what definition of 'development' is used. Are we talking economic or humanitarian, or both. Traditional conservation movements generally propose some sort of development which leads to a planetary custodianship of the natural world, to ensure its long-term survival alongside continued human society 'progress'.

The Brundtland Report (Our Common Future) of 1987, from the World Commision on Environment and Development (WCED), popularised the term 'sustainable development' and defined it with emphasis on the rights of future generations. If resources are the crux of the issue of development, then equity of access and distribution, inter-generational and intra-generational, would be central to the solution to the question of what form sustainable development would take. Conserving depletable resources now for future generations to enjoy would seem the natural conclusion.

However, there is a school of thought which proposes that resources may be used beyond a replenishable rate provided substitutes are available, or technology develops in time to ward off the crisis of a depleted essential resource. For example, it is being tacitly proposed that we continue to use oil at a very depletable rate and use the industrial power it provides to develop future technologies which make oil less critical, or even redundant.

There is also the issue of how growth is measured. Many factors in the current GDP calculation do not reflect true values, and exclude many social and environmental factors as intangibles, but which are in fact very costly liabilities. A free commonland forest may have zero account book value today if left standing, and show a positive value if cut down for timber, but the resulting erosion, loss of agricultural land and nutrients, and the effects of acidification and global warming will be real costs in the future, using up resources and income in an inefficient way to compensate.

Conservative forces represent the status quo, environmental movements demand adjustments, and the vitriolic politics we see reflect the essentially bipolar nature of these perspectives.

However, whether everyone agrees or not, the transition to a different sort of economy is inevitable, and has probably already started. It would be better if it were a controlled change, by which means any sacrifices may be better controlled and fairly distributed, to avoid geopolitical rifts of the type we are witnessing.

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