Sustainable development was defined in the Bruntland Report in 1983 as
“development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs.” (Dresner, 31) This is a satisfactory
definition for most people, however, when it comes down to the policies of sustainable
development, the definition given proves dangerously vague. Interpretations that stem
from it can range from ‘do not touch any of the earth’s natural resources ever again’ to
‘use them up as quickly as possible.’
There are three main philosophies behind sustainability: weak, strong, and
environmental. Weak sustainability states that the total capital of the earth must not
decrease. That means that the natural capital (oil, coal, forests, etc.) can decrease as long as the sum of physical (produced means of production; technology) and human (people’s
physical ability to do work) capital increase at the same rate or higher. Thus, this
approach assumes that most, if not all, natural capital can be substituted by technology.
Strong sustainability differs from this in that it assumes that very little natural capital can be substituted. It deems human-made capital and natural capital separate entities, thus the natural capital must not decline. Economists have trouble with this idea because it seems like it is hindering the current generation in order for future generations to become vastly more wealthy assuming that the physical capital will increase with time. While they might furrow their brow at this theory, any self-respecting economist gets short of breath at the thought of environmental sustainability. This approach calls for natural resources to be left alone. It says the natural capital should be touched as little as possible, and that humans should minimize their ecological footprint. Thus, it is viable to say that sustainable development is a “contestable concept.” (Dresner, 66) Three different authors, Wilfred Beckerman, Simon Dresner, and Andres Edwards, each propose different opinions in their books about sustainability. Beckerman and Dresner are opposite extremes, while Edwards splits the middle between the two by keeping mostly to the laws and written principles and showing little opinion until the last chapter of his book.
Wilfred Beckerman does not get out enough. He is a technological optimist that
sees the earth merely as a tool to benefit the human existence. His whole book is
centered purely on the belief that humans today should use up as much of the resources as
they can in order to benefit our economy, which he claims will be stronger in the future
anyway. He says that if we stop mulling over whether to use resources or not now, we
will greatly increase the strength of our economy and as a result be able to become more
educated. With a greater knowledge of the way things work, we will be able to find
alternative sources of energy.
“Resources are either...