Weak versus Strong Sustainability

Weak versus Strong Sustainability

Exploring the Limits of Two Opposing Paradigms, Third Edition

Eric Neumayer

This insightful book explores the limits of the two opposing paradigms of sustainability in an accessible way. It examines the availability of natural resources for the production of consumption goods and services, and the environmental consequences of economic growth. The critical forms of natural capital in need of preservation given risk, uncertainty and ignorance about the future are also examined. The author provides a critical discussion of measures of sustainability. As indicators of weak sustainability, he analyses Genuine Savings and the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, also known as the Genuine Progress Indicator. Indicators of strong sustainability covered include ecological footprints, material flows, sustainability gaps and other measures, which combine the setting of environmental standards with monetary valuation.

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

Eric Neumayer

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


This chapter discusses a natural question that comes 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 substitttable 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. It looks at: • • • • Substitution of a resource with other resources. The role of prices in overcoming resource constraints. Substitution of natural resources with man-made capital. The role of technical progress- in overcoming resource cmstraints. Then, Section 3.3 turns to environmental degradation. Section 3.3.1 looks at the substitutability of natural capital as a direct provider of utility and examines whether future generations can be compensated for long-term environmental degradation with increased consumption opportunities. Section 3.3.2 analyses the environmental consequences of economic growth. It presents the theoretical case for environmental optimism, which holds that economic growth is good for the environment, at least in the long run, and the theoretical case for environmental pessimism, which holds that economic growth is bad for the environment Since theory is...

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