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 5: Measuring Weak Sustainability

Exploring the Limits of Two Opposing Paradigms, Fourth Edition

Eric Neumayer


In this chapter, I shall discuss whether weak sustainability can be measured in practice. Section 5.1.1 derives genuine savings (GS), a theoretically correct measure of WS, from a dynamic optimisation or optimal growth model. The model is for a closed economy and the following section discusses the necessary amendments for an open economy context. A number of problems in measuring WS in practice are put forward. The most comprehensive data set on GS is then presented. Section 5.2 discusses the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), also known under the name Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), as an alternative indicator of WS. I show that the results generated by the ISEW and GPI methodology depend on problematic assumptions and methodological errors. In sensitivity analyses it is shown that the dismal results of ISEW studies about decreasing ‘sustainable economic welfare’ in developed countries in the WS sense fail to uphold if more reasonable assumptions are taken and the methodological errors are corrected. Section 5.3 concludes.

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