Weak versus Strong Sustainability
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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.
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Chapter 2: Sustainable Development: Conceptual, Ethical and Paradigmatic Issues

Exploring the Limits of Two Opposing Paradigms, Fourth Edition

Eric Neumayer


This chapter will lay the foundation for the main analysis in the subsequent chapters. Section 2.1 defines the major terms used, describes the main simplifying assumptions and the methodology that will be employed. Section 2.2 discusses a few ethical issues of SD. It provides some justification for choosing SD, discusses a time-inconsistency problem of SD and resolves two misunderstandings about SD. Those readers who are most interested in WS versus SS itself might want to skip this section and go straight to section 2.3, which introduces in more detail the two opposing paradigms. There it is explained what their major differences are with respect to the possibilities of substituting for natural capital. Section 2.4 provides a case study on climate change, which illustrates vividly the importance of the substitutability assumption. It is argued that the conflict between those who demand drastic emission reductions and those who demand only minor reductions should really be about the substitutability of natural capital rather than about the right rate of discount.

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