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 7: Conclusions

Eric Neumayer

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


The objective of this book was to explore the limits of the two opposing paradigms WS and SS. The analysis was based on the economic methodology since both paradigms are essentially economic. In Chapter 2 development was defined as sustainable if it does not decrease the capacity to provide nondeclining per capita utility for infinity. The meaning of this definition was explained and different forms of capital were introduced as the items that together form the capacity to provide utility. In Section 2.1 many simplifying assumptions were introduced to make the analysis in this book possible and the insights that arise from the course of examination have to be seen in the light of these assumptions. In other words, the conclusions I arrive at will not necessarily hold if other assumptions or a broader perspective are taken. To give some examples: it was clearly stated that the analysis is confmed to economic paradigms of sustainability; the defmition of SD is anthropocentric and rules out the deep ecology view that non-human entities have value independent of human valuation; fmally, for a large part of the book intra-generational as opposed to inter-generational equity issues were ignored. Section 2.2 discussed some ethical issues of SD. As the book takes it for granted that the current generation is committed to SD, some justification was provided that makes this commitment plausible as an ethical choice. For similar reasons two misunderstandings about what SD requires were corrected. In Section 2.3 the paradigms of WS and SS...

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