Sustainability

sustainability is where the environment, people and the economy meet

 

At Evolution Emptor we’re passionate about sustainability. It’s the answer to the age old argument of economy versus environment. It also takes account of impacts on people – what’s not to love!

The argument of deep green environmentalists goes something like this:

There is a balance in nature that is only disrupted by humans. The best thing we can do for the environment is leave it alone.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it doesn’t allow wilderness areas to be used by local people for work, instead making them playgrounds for the wealthy. It also makes us see some places as more natural than others, allowing us to care less about the urban environments in which most of us live.

Many scientists now believe there is no balance in nature and that Earth is in a state of constant flux. Nature is ever-changing, complex and unknowable. Of course, this does not give us reason to exploit nature beyond its capacity to adapt, as has been happening since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The argument of traditional economists goes something like this:

Market forces of supply and demand ensure that when a resource becomes scarce, it’s price goes up and users of that resource switch to another resource or innovate so they no longer need to use the expensive resource.

The problem with this way of thinking is that natural resources like timber, water and fish are not ‘priced’ at a level that reflects their value to society and are therefore at risk of over-exploitation in a market-based economy. In the developed world, companies pay per unit of pollution they emit, but again the price charged for this does not truly reflect the value of clean air and water to society.

The sustainable development solution

In 1987 the United Nations released the Our Common Future report in response to evidence of environmental damage as a result of development globally. The report coined the phrase sustainable development and defined it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

The concept of sustainable development has since been written into international conventions and regulations in many countries. A key role for government in ensuring development is sustainable is robust planning assessment processes, including environmental and social impact assessment of proposed developments.

Cheap labour and lax environmental regulations in developing countries have seen much of the developed world’s dirty production outsourced. China in particular has benefitted economically from this shift with more than 500 million people brought out of poverty since 1978. This has not been without huge problems of air pollution in rapidly expanding cities and soil pollution affecting farmland though.

Workers are vulnerable to exploitation in countries without workplace safety laws or minimum wages and with under-resourced enforcement agencies or corrupt officials. There are more slaves in the world now than at the time Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States and child labour is common in some industries, such as cotton production in Uzbekistan and mica mining in India. Indigenous communities are also vulnerable to land grabs, where large companies get government approval to create large sugar or palm oil plantations on traditional Indigenous land.

Many of the world’s best economists are now great advocates for sustainable development. They encourage governments around the world to provide regulatory certainty and incentives for the industries of the future – industries that do not pollute the environment with greenhouse gases or chemicals and do not exploit vulnerable people and communities.

 

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