Challenges to environmental sustainability come from its two key drivers which are both ‘elephants in the room’ … population numbers and economic activity.
Any curbs on population growth are almost impossible to impose within liberal democracies, while ‘jobs and economic growth’ are nigh-impossible to trump as human political priorities. I cannot add to the endless debate on these issues except to say that if humanity is to survive into the indefinite future then it must be realized that ‘jobs and growth’, though paramount considerations, are achieved at an environmental cost that cannot be ignored. The political challenge is to achieve realistic targets in sustainability.
Economic activity depends on the services provided by nature. This is not stated in history books or government policy documents because the provision of these services has always been assumed. We will continue to need these natural resources to survive and thrive. Increasingly, research demonstrates nature’s incalculable importance to our health, wealth, food and security.
For the purposes of this web site and its focus on ‘sustainability analysis’ it is necessary to outline a position on economic matters which I have called ‘sustainability economics’ but which has also been called ‘ecological economics’ or ‘environmental economics’. This proposes broadening the traditional compass of economics to explicitly address key social and environmental concerns. It attempts to maximize human well-being by establishing a sustainable planet for humans, other species and future generations. With natural capital rapidly becoming the limiting factor in production three general objectives have been targeted which are, in order:
(a) Optimal Scale – environmentally sustainable economic growth – a ‘throughput’ that is within the assimilative and regenerative capacity of the biosphere. This requires quantitative analysis
(b) Just Distribution – a fair distribution of income and wealth at all levels and scales of global society
(c) Efficient Allocation of Resources based on full consideration of social, economic and environmental impacts