Even though I said in a previous post I wasn’t going to convince people on topics like global warming and the necessity of biodiversity, I figured it could be interesting to give a brief overview on how the green movement came to be. What is the origin of terms like sustainability, global footprint, steady-state economics… and what are their main arguments?
In this 5 part-post I will give an overview, going from why something like a green movement came to be up until the role and bigger picture of economics in this story of sustainability. For those who do not want to read the entire 5 posts, here’s an index:
- Part 1: The Challenge
- Part 2: From sustainable development to sustainable transition
- Part 3: Paradigm shift
- Part 4: Empowerment
- Part 5a: Sustainable economics: introduction
- Part 5b: Sustainable economics: growth, steady-state or degrowth?
In the first post of this overview I would like to talk about the challenges the green movement tries to tackle. I briefly discussed this in this post before, now I’ll go in on it a little deeper.
No matter what definition you’re using, it always comes down on 2 major challenges: The limits of our planet and equality.
Over the years, several definitions have been given to the concept sustainability. The best known definition was defined in the Brundtland-commission in 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”. Personally, I like the definition John R. Ehrenfeld gave: “Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever.”. Although this definition is more vague then the Brundtland definition (and sounds terrible new-age), I believe strongly our aim should be more than simply sustaining. Whichever definition you’re using, you’ll always come across the two major challenges of sustainability, and their duality.
1. The limits of planet earth
Resources on out planet are limited. This is a concept that is gradually finding it’s way in our society, politics and business models, but it’s still far from accepted by everyone. The biggest problem with the limits of resources is that it can be linked directly to the limits of growth. These limits to growth are a direct threat for our current economic system.
A widespread concept concerning the limits of our planet is the global footprint which shows our impact on the planet. A more detailed overview of the limits of our planet was defined by J. Rockström and W. Steffen as the “planetary boundaries“.
Although we don’t yet have an economic model that is able to respond correctly on the limits of our planet, there’s another big problem: how will we divide our resources among different species and between us humans? Is a country entitled to resources merely because they were found on their land?
If everyone is entitled for the same amount of resources, how are we going to maintain our economic system?
Which brings us straight to challenge number 2: Equality. In this post I’m not going to take a stand on this point, I just want to point out you cannot talk about limited resources without thinking about how to divide them.
When talking about sustainability, there’s a consensus that ‘in the end’ we should be aiming for an equal distribution of resources. This however brings a new big question to mind: If everyone is entitled for the same amount of resources, how are we going to maintain our economic system?
There are 3 big patterns in the discussions following on that question:
- steady state
In part 5 of this post I’ll translate this challenge to the three main thinking patterns.
By analyzing the challenge, 2 big conclusions emerge:
- The issue of ecological limits radicalizes the challenge of equal distribution
- To accept the limits of the planet means to question our current way of living (production and consumption based on material growth and our related cultural expectations).
A sustainable society can be defined as a society that creates well being for every human, with preservation of ‘natural’ capital. For this, the green movement defines 3 main goals:
- the de-materialization of our economy
- fair distribution of welfare
- new vision on well-being
Next week part 2: From sustainable development to sustainable transition