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Concepts of Sustainability

Concepts of Sustainability
• The principal purpose is to show how
economists and ecologists think about
• The current human generation should take
account of the interests of future human
– what are the interests of future generations?
– How do we look after those interests?
Concepts of Sustainability
• The identification of current policy objectives
that look after future interests.
• Devising policy instruments to achieve those
• Identify interests as consumption levels, and
consider comparisons of different time paths for
consumption so as to discuss how the idea of
sustainability as stated above might be made
more precise
Concepts of Sustainability
• there is no universally agreed definition of the
concept of sustainability
• A variety of definitions, meanings and
– In one recent paper, Jack Pezzey wrote: ‘So I see little
point in expanding the collection of fifty sustainability
definitions which I made in 1989, to the five thousand
definitions that one could readily find today’ (Pezzey,
1997, p. 448).
– Pezzey (1997) distinguishes between ‘sustainable’
development, ‘sustained’ development and ‘survivable’
Concepts of Sustainability
Concepts of Sustainability
Consumption Path Over Time
Concepts of Sustainability
Economists on sustainability
• Two economics concept of sustainability:
– 1. A sustainable state is one in which utility/
consumption is non-declining through time.
– 2. A sustainable state is one in which resources are
managed so as to maintain production opportunities
for the future.
Ecologists on sustainability:
Sustainable yields
• Renewable resources are biotic populations – flora
and fauna – where the stock existing at a point in
time has the potential to grow by means of natural
– If in any period the harvest of the resource taken into
the economy is less than natural growth, stock size
– f the harvest is larger than natural growth, stock size
declines. If harvest is kept larger than natural growth
over successive periods, the stock size will continuously
fall and it may be harvested to extinction – renewable
resources are ‘exhaustible’.
Ecologists on sustainability:
Sustainable yields
• If the harvest is the same size as natural growth,
stock size is constant and if harvest is always the
same as natural growth, the resource can be
used indefinitely at a constant rate.
• Such a harvest rate is often referred to as a
‘sustainable yield’, as, in the absence of
exogenous shocks, it can be maintained, or
sustained, indefinitely
Sustainable harvests
• Ecological science looks at its subject matter within a
systems perspective.
• The whole system – the biosphere – consists of an
interlocking set of ecological subsystems or ecosystems.
• Systems analysts are concerned with organisational
characteristics and structure, and with systems dynamics
– processes of evolution and change
• Ecologists look at sustainability from the point of view of
an ecological system of which humans are just one part.
• Sustainability is assessed in terms of the extent to which
the prevailing structure and properties of the ecosystem
can be maintained
• Human interests are not regarded as paramount;
rather, they are identified with the continuing existence
and functioning of the biosphere in a form more or less
similar to that which exists at present. Thus:
– Sustainability is a relationship between human economic
systems and larger dynamic, but normally slower-
changing, ecological systems in which 1) human life can
continue indefinitely, 2) human individuals can flourish,
and 3) human cultures can develop; but in which effects of
human activities remain within bounds, so as not to
destroy the diversity, complexity, and function of the
ecological life support system
Indicators to assess changes in
ecosystem resilience
• Schaeffer et al. (1988) propose a set of
indicators, including:
– changes in the number of native species;
– changes in standing crop biomass;
– changes in mineral micronutrient stocks;
– changes in the mechanisms of and capacity for
damping oscillations
The steady-state economy
• Writing in the early 1970s, prior to the
emergence of the concepts of ‘sustainability’
and ‘sustainable development’, Herman Daly
argued for the idea of the ‘steady-state
• Daly’s arguments are based on the laws of
thermodynamics, and his steady-state
economy has much in common with
Boulding’s ‘Spaceship Earth’
The institutional conception
• The sixth concept of sustainability listed in Table
4.2 involved consensus building and institutional
• This sort of view of sustainability is found mainly
in the writings of political scientists and
sociologists, though, of course, economists and
ecologists do recognise that sustainability is a
problem with social, political and cultural
• This view focuses on processes, rather than
looking at outcomes or constraints as do the
economic and ecological approaches
Sustainability and policy
• Economic models and policy prescription
• Incentives
• Information
– Environmental accounting
• Irreversibility