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

Exploring the Limits of Two Opposing Paradigms, Fourth Edition

Eric Neumayer


In the previous 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.

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