We human beings are being led into a dead end—all too literally. We are living by an ideology of death and accordingly we are destroying our own humanity and killing the planet. Even the one great success of the program that has governed us, the attainment of material affluence, is now giving way to poverty. The United States is just now gaining a foretaste of the suffering that global economic policies, so enthusiastically embraced, have inflicted on hundreds of millions of others. If we continue on our present paths, future generations, if there are to be any, are condemned to misery. —Daly and Cobb, FOR THE COMMON GOOD
TOWARD SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: CONCEPTS, METHODS, AND POLICY
UNSUSTAINABILITY: A CONSENSUS
“In the 20 years (1972-92) between the U.N. Conference on the Environment in Stockholm and the one on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, a scientific consensus has gradually been established that the damage being inflicted by human activities on the natural environment render those activities unsustainable. It has become clear that the activities cannot be projected to continue into the future, either because they will have destroyed the environmental conditions necessary for that continuation, or because their environmental effects will cause massive, unacceptable damage to human health and disruption of human ways of life.
“This is not the place to review the evidence that has led to the scientific, consensus, but now perceived seriousness of the problem can be illustrated by a by a number of quotations from the conclusions of reputable bodies that have conducted such a review. Thus the Business Council for Sustainable Development stated bluntly in its report to UNCED: ‘We cannot continue in our present methods of using energy, managing forests, farming, protecting plant and animal species, managing urban growth and producing industrial goods’ (Schmidheiny 1995, 5). The Brundtland report, which initiated the process that led to UNCED, had formulated its perception of unsustainability in terms of a threat to survival: ‘There are thresholds which cannot be crossed without endangering the basic integrity of the system. Today we are close to many of these thresholds; we must be ever mindful of endangering the survival of life on earth’ (WCED 1987, 32-3).
“The World Resources Institute (WRI), in collaboration with both the Development and Environment programs of the U.N., concludes on the basis of one of the world’s most extensive environmental databases that ‘The world is not now headed toward a sustainable future, but rather toward a variety of potential human and environmental disasters’ (WRI 1992, 2). The World Bank, envisaging a 3.5 times increase in world economic output by 2030, acknowledged that ‘if environmental pollution and degradation were to rise in step with such a rise in output, the result would be appalling pollution and environmental pollution and damage.’ (World Bank 1992, 9). The Fifth Action Program of the of the European Community acknowledges that ‘many current forms of activity are not environmentally sustainable’ (CEC 1992a, 4), as indicated by ‘a slow but relentless deterioration of the environment of the Community, notwithstanding the measures taken over the last two decades’ (CEC 1992b, 3)
“In its annual State of the World reports, the Worldwatch Institute has documented current environmental damage, concluding in 1993: ‘The environmentally destructive activities of recent decades are now showing up in reduced productivity of croplands, forests, grasslands and fisheries; in the mounting cleanup costs of toxic waste sites; in rising health care costs for cancer, birth defects, allergies, emphysema, asthma and other respiratory diseases; and in the spread of hunger. ‘ These trends mean ‘If we fail to convert our self-destructing economy into one that is environmentally sustainable, future generations will be overwhelmed by environmental degradation and social disintegration’ (Brown et al. 1993, 4-5, 21)
“Little wonder, therefore, that in 1992 two of the world’s most prestigious scientific institutions saw fit to issue a joint statement of warning ‘Unrestrained resource consumption for energy production and other uses could lead to catastrophic outcomes for the global environment. Some of the environmental changes may produce irreversible damage to the earth’s capacity to sustain life. … The future of our planet is in the balance.’ (RS and NAS 1992, 2, 4)” [p. p. 26-27] [see also WORLD SCIENTISTS’ WARNING TO HUMANITY]
This book is edited by: Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh and Jan van der Straaten.
The text is from chapter # 2 which was written by: Paul Ekins, Department of Economics, Birkbeck College, The University of London, 7-15 Gresse Street , London, W1P 1PA U.K.
Refs: Brown, L. R. et al. 1993. State of the World 1993. London: Earthscan
CEC (Commission of the European Communities). 1992a. Towards Sustainability: a European Community Programme of Policy and Action in Relation to the Environment and Sustainable Development, Volume 1. Proposal for a resolution of the Council of the European Communities. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities.
1992b. Towards Sustainability: a European Community Programme of Policy and Action in Relation to the Environment and Sustainable Development, Volume 2. Executive Summary, Brussels: Commission of the European Communities.
RS and NAS (Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences). 1992. Population Growth, Resource Consumption and a Sustainable World. London; New York: RS; NAS
Schmidheiny, S. (with the Business Council for Sustainable Development). 1992 Changing Course: a Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development). 1987. Our Common Future. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
World Bank. 1992. World Development Report 1992-1993. Oxford Univ. Press.
WRI (World Resources Institute). 1992. World Resources, 1992-93. Oxford; New York; Oxford Univ. Press.