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 4: Preserving Natural Capital in a World of Risk, Uncertainty and Ignorance

Eric Neumayer

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


In the last chapter it was shown that both paradigms are non-falsifiable. But the question still open is this: if society is faced with risk, uncertainty and ignorance about the consequences of running down natural capital, which forms, how much and at what cost should it preserve natural capital? This is the major topic of this chapter. The first aim of this chapter is to indicate which forms of natural capital are more likely to be non-substitutable than others and are therefore in need of preservation. Note the emphasis on 'likely': from the analysis in Chapter 3 it follows that the best we can hope for is to make a persuasive case for the importance of the preservation of natural capital. The major objective of this chapter lies somewhere else, however. It tries to explore the difficulties in finding the extent to which these forms of capital need to be preserved and how much cost should be incurred for preservation. Section 4.1 begins by highlighting distinctive features of some forms of natural capital. There are two aspects - basic life-support function and irreversibility of destruction - that distinguish some forms of natural capital from other forms of capital. Section 4.2 discusses in more depth what has hitherto been dealt with rather implicitly: that the real world is plagued by the absence of perfect information and certainty and characterised by risk, uncertainty and ignorance instead. Section 4.3 presents various approaches towards coping with risk, uncertainty and ignorance. The traditional neoclassical approach...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

Elgaronline requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals. Please login through your library system or with your personal username and password on the homepage.

Non-subscribers can freely search the site, view abstracts/ extracts and download selected front matter and introductory chapters for personal use.

Your library may not have purchased all subject areas. If you are authenticated and think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

Further information