sustainable development

sustainable development
Defined in Our Common Future, the Report of the 1987 World Commission on the Environment and Development (the ‘Brundtland Report’), as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Rather than predicting greater environmental decay and hardship in a world of ever-diminishing resources, the Report foresees ‘the possibility of a new era of economic growth, based on policies that sustain and expand the natural environmental resource base’.
Economic growth and modernization have historically been pursued aggressively by nation-states, as a means not only of satisfying basic material needs, but also of providing the resources necessary to improve quality of life more generally (for example with respect to access to health-care and education). However, most forms of economic growth make demands on the environment , both by using (sometimes finite) natural resources and by generating waste or pollution. This jeopardizes growth for future generations. The philosophy of sustainable development attempts to resolve this dilemma by insisting that decisions taken at every level throughout society should have due regard to their possible environmental consequence. In this way, the right kind of economic growth-based on biodiversity, the control of environmentally damaging activity, and replenishment of renewable resources such as forests-is generated, and this can protect or even enhance the natural environment. Present-day economic development is therefore rendered compatible with investment in environmental resources for the future.
Although it is understandably hard to find authorities who are prepared to argue against the idea of sustainable development (it is in fact widely applauded by almost all governments and their agencies), it is often difficult for governments (which tend to be accountable to electorates over short-term periods such as five years or so) to accept the political consequences of promoting sustainable development, for example by imposing tolls or fines for the use of cars in cities (on the principle that the ‘polluter should pay’). Moreover, the environment is shared and is largely a public good , so that to a considerable extent its protection requires collective action . In practice, therefore, this has proved hard to organize because of the usual free-rider problems.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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