Economy Society And Sustainable Development Environmental Sciences Essay

Carter (2001) Sustainable development is an indefinite concept with a meaning that is complex and challenged. Dresner (2002:63) has argued that sustainability is like other essential political ideas, such as liberty and justice, which are ‘contestable concepts’. However, people may not agree on the exact meaning, does not mean that there is no meaning at all. European Commission (EC) (2009:7) Sustainable development is a fundamental and all-embracing objective that aims to; continuously improve the quality of life and well-being for present and future generations, by linking environmental, economic and social-political sustainability. Dunlap and Van Liere (1978) developed the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) scale that is widely used to calculate people’s changing world beliefs from a human dominant view (Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP) Technocentric) to an ecological one NEP (Ecocentric). Turner et al., 1996 have taken the technocentric, ecocentric viewpoints and have separated them into a broader division between technocentric and ecocentric approaches.

Contested concept

There are many concepts but the most widely used definition, taken from the World Commission on Environmental and Development (WCED 1987 chapter 2) “is that ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This definition sets out the two key concepts of “needs” and “limitations”. The concept of needs should give an ‘overriding priority’ to the needs of the world’s poor, both North and South. The concept of limitations is the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs. Mainstream sustainable development (Barrows, 1999) typically supports some economic growth (within limits), the appliance of science, technology, environmental knowledge and effective conservation to world development. While still maintaining basic human needs for all, maintaining ecological integrity and showing concern for intergenerational, intergroup and interspecies equity.

Policy context

Most analysts agree that sustainable development emerged from the environmental movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This movement was concerned about human activity having severe and negative impacts on the planet, and that pattern’s of growth and development would be unsustainable if they continued unchecked. As (John Stuart mill 1806 to 1873) said ‘economic growth could only be temporary in a world of scarce natural resources in which population constantly pressed for land and food reserves’.

To understand how sustainable development came into public policy and to the forefront, it is important to be aware of the political context in which it operated. In 1972 at Stockholm conference there had been a growing awareness of environmental problems associated with new global worries about climate change, ozone depletion and biodiversity loss. Sustainable development was given a broader meaning in Our Common Future which was published by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, 1987), and is commonly referred to as the Brundtland Report.

The direct result of the Brundtland Report was in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environmental and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro that is often called the Earth Summit. This meeting was to highlight global concerns about the environment and economic development and help find ways to stop the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and pollution of the planet. The UN General Assembly dedicated its 19th Special Session (UNGASS-19) in June 1997 to design a “Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21” (United Nations, 2012).

In 2002 Johannesburg a follow-up conference was, assembled to renew the global commitment of the Rio Declaration. This World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) agreed on the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) to proceed with the implementation of sustainable development. The UN General Assembly agreed to adopt a Resolution on 24th December 2009 to hold the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro 2012.

Measures of ecological beliefs

Dunlap and Van Liere (1978) developed the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) scale, which is one of the most accepted measures of ecological beliefs and attitudes for evaluating people’s environmental attitudes. This scale is a widely used to calculate people’s changing world views from a human dominant view i.e. Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP) to an ecological one i.e. NEP, where humans are part of nature. The DSP, positing is towards endless development, growth of the markets, acquiring personal wealth and these attitudes can contribute to environmental degradation. The DSP is then incompatible with the NEP because it highlights the destruction of ecosystems caused by progressive industrial production. The NEP has a very strong extrinsic value that is sceptical about human ability to understand the natural worlds sufficiently well to prevent doing serious damage to the environment if growth goes on.

Dominant social paradigm

The dominant social paradigm (DSP) is more prominent in Western industrial civilization. With the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and the emergence of liberal social theory came the origins of the technocentric which believed that man has power “over nature” (Daly and Cobb, 1994). A technocentric view that nature (Gladwin et al., 1995) is both infinite supplies of physical resources i.e. raw materials, energy, soil, air and water which is, used for the benefit of humanity. The more industrialised a country is or more a developing country try to mimic Western industrial cultures the more that country’s receiving environment declines “due to pollution and ecological degradation” (Roome, 1998). The DSP has weak sustainability elements and its relation to growth, consumption behaviours measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP); have strong intrinsic relation to human centred ethics and self-egotistical enhancements. Even though DSP is neoclassical, the economist Adam Smith 1723 to 1790 warned against monopolies and mercantilism. His theory was that markets are motivated towards the public good by an “invisible hand” which has made him a venerated figure among free market doctrinaires.

New environmental paradigm

(Milbrath, 1996 cited by Douthwaite, 2000) The New Paradigm (NEP), on the other hand, says that growth must never continue past the point at which it begins to endanger long-term sustainability. NEP individuals are more environmentally concerned and have “ecocentric perspectives” which tend to acknowledge the presence of environmental limits, strong in sustainability with nature centred ethics that believe it is rarely if ever justifiable to damage ecosystems in the pursuit of self-enhancement (Hunter and Rinner, 2004). In addition, NEP looks at post consumerism and the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) that has a strong ecocentric economic value. Nature in the NEP is viewed upon as having limited resource that is delicately balanced and subject to detrimental human intrusion. Thomas Robert Malthus “said that man, sooner or later, universally, will run up against himself; that the population of mankind will eventually outstrip man’s ability to supply himself with the necessities of life”. Devastation can happen at low population levels but it is reasonable to say that up to a “point population increase becomes a socio-economic problem only if food production technology fails to keep up” (Barrows, 1999).

Technocentric and ecocentric philosophy

(Turner et al., 1996 cited by D’Alisa 2007) divided sustainability, into technocentric and ecocentric. This viewpoint allows a broader division between technocentric approach and ecocentric approach (Figure 1). After sub, categorising the technocentric approach, ethics and level of sustainability there became abundance technocentric and technocentric accommodating.

The definition of abundance technocentric, technocentric-accommodating philosophies, ethics and values is they rely on the advanced growth of technologies to help develop substitutes for the shortage of natural resource and pollution problems. Ecocentric was sub, categorised into communitarian ecocentric and radical ecocentric. Both of these ecocentric philosophies try to find an acceptable equilibrium between human social systems and the ecosystem.

Figure Turner, Pearce and Bateman, 1996 cited in D’Alisa 2007 shows a broader division between technocentric approach and ecocentric approach.

Personal philosophy

Personal ethics and values

I personally believe I am an accommodating-technocentric. An “accommodating-technocentric” believes it is necessary to consider and also place a monetary value on the environment (D’Alisa, 2007). An accommodating-technocentric approach recognizes that we must protect the environment, which is important to support all life and future economic growth. Eco-efficiency is the key word for this 21st century, which is possible through the support of “green technologies” (D’Alisa, 2007). While growing up with my grandparents they taught me how to hunt animals, fish and grow food on the limited land we owned. Little did I know this was the beginning of what is termed permaculture.

I have worked in engineering, electrical multinational companies in Ireland and abroad for 23 years, which have used Best Available Techniques (BAT). The companies I have worked for have used innovative technology to help other companies reduce their emissions to the environment but also to use resources more efficiently. After losing my job I returned to education and presently studying Environmental and Natural Resource Management which provides a comprehensive knowledge of the science and management of the environment through modules like Sustainable development, sustainable energy, environmental issues like climate change, air and water pollution and the conservation of nature through planning. Accommodating technocentric exhibit extrinsic ethical logic “caring for others” whose “motives are intergenerational and intergenerational equity (i.e. contemporary poor and future people); instrumental value in nature” (Turner et al., 1993).

Personal definition of sustainable development

Sustainable development (figure 2 as cited by Huckle, 2006)) shows a connection between economic, social and environmental pillars in this modern technological society. Because sustainable development model contains a personal meaning to every individual there are many definitions of the concept. Tolba (1987) “Sustainability is when you leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life or the environment, make amends if you do”. Accommodating technocentric (Turner et al., 1993) are “weak” in sustainability. However, I may not be an extreme technocentric or ecocentric I personally believe that by being mid way I can recognise, make conscious logical decisions between economic, social and environmental issues. As a father of two young children, I want them to grow up in a clean environment where they have access to clean water and air. As humans we are unique because we have the ability, potential and opportunities to respond to threats “natural or anthropogenic- perhaps to avoid or mitigate them” i.e. through technology (Barrows, 1999).


Figure the conventional view of sustainable development is about balancing economic growth, social and environmental goals.

Personal philosophy of sustainable development

While studying for a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Environmental and Natural Resource Management I have become aware of limits to growth, finite resources and pollution of our environment. Through education, I have gained knowledge and techniques to understand that government policies and social structures have put pressure on our environment. Education has made me more aware that this current DSP is un-sustainable and needs to scale back to become sustainable. While tools such as sustainability indicators and the ecological footprint by (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996) has encouraged me to take appropriate decisions to change my behaviour on certain issues like retrofitting my home through insulation and completely moving away from a finite resource i.e. oil, to a more sustainable logwood gasification heating system. As an accommodating-technocentric, I have to agree with the principle of (Daly, 1990),

Limit the scale (or economic throughput) within the Earth’s current capacity.

Ensure that technological advancement increases efficiency rather than increasing output.

Renewable sources should, not be harvested at rates that exceed regeneration rates (sustained yield). Waste emissions should not exceed the absorbing capacity of the receiving environment.

Non-renewable resources must, never be exploited faster than the rate of creation of renewable substitutes.


If sustainable development continues to represent “all (often mutually exclusive) things to all people, then it cannot possibly carry the intellectual weight required of it at this crucial turning point in human history” (Porritt, 2006). Sustainable development should not be an indefinite concept but pushed to the forefront, of all nations to educate the youth of today, as they will be the adults of tomorrow and show them that the current neoclassical, DSP is un-sustainable. Accommodating technocentric believes in conservation, managing of natural resources and they believe in the “green economy, green markets guided by economic instruments (Els) (e.g. Pollution charges etc.) (Turner et al., 1993).

As an accommodating technocentric, it is possible to manage natural resources through advancement in green technology. If economic growth could be, modify through “(adjusted Green accounting to measure GNP)” (Turner et al., 1993). Green GNP calculates the loss of biodiversity and the effects of climate change in monetary terms. By using modern efficient technology and managing renewable resources, it will be possible to consume and generate profit while allowing it to generate back (sustained yields). Yes there is finite resources such as oil and coal but it possible to develop new technologies to substitute these i.e. Cynar PLC located in Portlaoise, Co Laois, Ireland, turns End of Life Plastic into Diesel (ELPD). Due to science and technology, they have turned a previous environmental landfill waste issue into a valuable asset.

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