Criticisms to sustainability

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  • Publicado : 13 de mayo de 2011
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Nowadays, the current economic, environmental and social problems the world faces are the result of inefficient human activities (Shah, Anup, 2011). Many positions exist around these problems and how they need to be handled. Environmentalists defend the idea of preserving natural resources and decreasing the level of contamination. Economists support the idea that development andeconomic growth are crucial for poor countries to achieve the basic standards of life (Mitcham, C. 1995). In order to shorten these differences, “sustainable development” emerged as the result of two main documents, “The World Conservation Strategy” and “Our Common future” issued in 1980 and 1987 (Mitcham, C, 1995), as a development that tries to meet our needs with the available resources withoutcompromising the needs of future generations (Our Common Future, 1987).

Throughout this essay, the concept of sustainable development will be discussed and the instances in which this term has been criticized. However, it will also bring up some examples to demonstrate that the adoption of sustainable development by governments, industries and individuals is giving positive results and despitethe non-compliance of some targets, progress has been observed. The essay aims to point out the connection between sustainability and well-being, and to what extent they are not synonymous. Finally, it will state some conclusions about the relevance and use in today’s world of this term.

Sustainable Development and its critics

According to the Report “Our common future” “Sustainabledevelopment is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Our Common Future, 1987). But to what extent is this development true and sustainable? In order to illustrate and explain the rejection of the term three main criticisms will be mentioned, but counterexamples will also be cited to highlight the term’s growingrelevance.

Firstly, some authors agree this word is an “ambivalent cliché”, “plastic word”, “something fashionable” (Mitchan, C. 1995) (Lélé, M. 1991) (Orton, D. 1990) because its broad significance can have several interpretations and connotations, depending on which field it is used in. It has also become famous and enjoyed “universal approbation”, (Mitchan, C. 1995)due to the importance given to the publication in 1987 of Our Common Future. However, this term can result in confusion since each academic discipline gives the interpretation it needs and ignores other factors that might complement the sustainable development. For example, economists just look at the cost-benefit activities and the resources optimization, just monetary profits; while ecologistspromote the preservation and management of the natural resources (Frazier, J. 1997), leaving behind social factors and people’s need to generate economic resources to survive. Similarly, this word does not have the same meaning for rich and poor people, if it is looked at from the perspective of purchasing power (Frazier, J. 1997). For the wealthy it means maintaining or maybe increasing theirlevels of consumption to maintain their life styles, for poor people it might represent the opportunity to enjoy the basics like water and food supply, adequate shelter, health and education services (Fraizer, J. 1997).

Secondly, the word sustainable development is regarded by some authors as the perfect excuse to continue growing and consuming in order to sustain current life styles (Mitchan,C.1995) or status quo (Fraizer,J. 1997) and the excuse for bureaucracies to reinforce their political power (Boehmer, S. 2002). This necessity of steady growth is reflected in one of the paragraphs from The Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. “...The international economy must speed up world growth while respecting environmental constraints.” (UN Report of the World...
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