Weak versus Strong Sustainability

Weak versus Strong Sustainability

Exploring the Limits of Two Opposing Paradigms, Fourth Edition

Eric Neumayer

This fourth edition of an enduring and popular book has been fully updated and revised, exploring the two opposing paradigms of sustainability in an insightful and accessible way. Eric Neumayer contends that central to the debate on sustainable development is the question of whether natural capital can be substituted by other forms of capital. Proponents of weak sustainability maintain that such substitutability is possible, whilst followers of strong sustainability regard natural capital as non-substitutable.

Chapter 3: Resources, the Environment and Economic Growth: Is Natural Capital Substitutable?

Eric Neumayer

Subjects: development studies, development studies, environment, ecological economics, environmental geography, geography, human geography


This chapter discusses a question that might come to the reader’s mind after having been confronted with the two paradigms of sustainability: if they have so starkly differing assumptions about the substitutability of natural capital, how can we know which paradigm is ‘correct’? I will argue that both paradigms ultimately rest on non-falsifiable beliefs about the future. There can therefore be no clear answer on whether natural capital is substitutable or not. Section 3.1 puts the discussion into context in giving a brief history of resource and environmental concern. Section 3.2 looks at natural capital as an input into the production of consumption goods. It suggests that the resource optimism of WS can be expressed in four propositions and critically assesses each one of them.

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