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The Future of Sustainable Development

Given the value placed upon unthrottled economic growth in industrial and nonindustrial societies afike, 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 pohtical 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 pohcy. 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 pohtical constituency, uniting mainstream and marginal groups and actors, can be mobilized to challenge the entrenched powers that will inevitably be threatened by changes in pohcy. 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 (Gorson). Such a redefinition of the goals of sustainable development will need to include (1) development conceived primarily as improvement in the quafity of human life; (2) sustainability conceived as the sustainabifity 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 livefihood; and (8) freedom for local cultures. Western and non-Westem, 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 multidisciphnary 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 fife for several decades (Engel and Engel). Gitizens 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 theU. N. Gommission 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 befieve to be more adequate understandings of human nature and destiny, calling instead for “authentic development,” “just, participatory ecodevelopment,” or sim-ply “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.


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


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Literatura: Encyclopedia of Bioethics - N to S - Vol 4