Sustainable development


What is sustainability? Why do we need to think about it? There are limits to growth.

-All-nighter example. Can only get so much done before productivity starts to decline.

-Limits: Macro picture. While some countries can substitute natural capital for other capital, or be so brilliant at some service that they can trade for stuff, the whole world can�t do that. (fallacy of composition)

Sources: renewable: land (soil), water (tables), forests; non-renewable: fossil fuels, materials;

Sinks: nuclear, hazardous chemicals, green-house gases.

Also social limits.

We are currently overshooting the limits and there will be a �correction��chosen or imposed.


The main problem with there being limits to growth is that we can�t eliminate the problem of poverty by just growing our way out of it.


This is why the environmental crisis and the crisis of poverty are twin crises. (See a nice overview by DFID here:


The deteriorating environment is bad for poor people.

����������� (From the World Bank�s Where is the Wealth of Nations: since a relatively greater proportion of poor people�s wealth is from natural capital, its deterioration affects them relatively more.)

Having lots of poor (& powerless) people is bad for the environment.

����������� (Rich people use more resources and cause more damage, but they might use less if people were not forced by their poverty to value short-term survival over long-term sustainability, and exploit natural resources and reduce other costs, such as labor. Also poor people have less influence on policy and are more vulnerable to effects of corruption, which can value the short-term gain of the few over longer-term wellbeing. )


Yet the �conventional wisdom� for a long time has been that you can do poverty reduction or environmental protection, but not both. Or that you can�t do environmental protection at all until you are rich.


What you really want, however, is to structure things in such a way that it is beneficial to poor people (and reduces their poverty) to husband their natural resources well. And also so rich people are not pushing for more inequality or more environmental destruction.


So how do you do this?


Macro level:

Change your worldview first. One way to do this is to extend planning horizon to longer-term. What is long-term? 5 years does not count as long-term. Need to think 20, 50, 100 years out.

improvement of signals

- stop counting natural resource consumption as income. It is reduction of capital. (Remember our class on expanding the notion of GDP.)

- Put a price on natural resources (soil, fuel, materials, water, and sinks). (Daly calls this taxing throughput.)

invest in natural capital

� Minimize the use of nonrenewable resources. (and invest proceeds from their use�Hartwick�s rule of maintaining constant capital)

� Prevent the erosion of renewable resources.

� Use all resources with maximum efficiency.

stop exponential growth

Determine an overall scale and set up a system of tradable permits.

�rules for sustainability would be put into place not to destroy freedoms, but to create freedoms or protect them.� For example, fisheries that set catch quotas limit freedom, but create a sustainable livelihood into the indefinite future and actually means fishermen can make more money by doing less work.



National level:

  1. Improve responsiveness of government
  2. Work across sectors (see things more holistically)
  3. Involve the private sector
  4. Reform accounting/prices

International level:

  1. Equitable trade with developing countries (get rid of rich-country agricultural/fishing subsidies)
  2. Support international agreements (help poor countries comply in ways that help poor)
  3. Recognize global values
  4. Strengthen commitment to poverty-environment issues


Micro level:

Do not put people and nature in opposition. People should be able to earn a living from natural resources. Need to have better rights and access, and support for sustainable management.

Don�t institute plans and policies without good process for democratic participation and buy-in, or they will be rejected (actively or passively: example, NYC congestion pricing).

Read Natural Capitalism. Ways to make money from sustainability.


A few more general guidelines for what sustainability would look like, and what steps we should take to get there, from the authors of Limits to Growth:

� Speed up response time. Look actively for signals that indicate when the environment or society is stressed. Decide in advance what to do if problems appear.