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 6: Measuring Strong Sustainability

Eric Neumayer

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


In this chapter, I will discuss several indicators put forward for measuring strong sustainability and explore the problems they encounter. Not all existing indicators of SS can be addressed. However, I will analyse the most important ones. Section 6.1 covers two popular physical indicators, namely ecological footprints and the concept of material flows. It is important to note that these physical indicators are more indicators in the spirit of SS rather than direct measures of SS. This is different with respect to hybrid indicators, looked at in section 6.2. These try to combine physical standards with monetary valuation and, in setting pre-defined environmental standards, they are more directly and explicitly measures of SS.

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