Handbook of Sustainable Development Planning
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Handbook of Sustainable Development Planning

Studies in Modelling and Decision Support

Edited by M. A. Quaddus and M. A.B. Siddique

This authoritative Handbook comprehensively examines the current status and future directions of model-based systems in decision support and their application to sustainable development planning.
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Chapter 4: Sustainability: Can it be Achieved? Is Economics the Bottom Line?

Clem Tisdell


Clem Tisdell Introduction To many, it will seem obvious that economics must be the bottom line in determining whether sustainability will be achieved in practice. There can be little doubt that in our increasingly market-driven and globalizing world, the bulk of individuals and groups act to promote their own economic interest. Economic self-interest is an extremely strong motivator of human actions. When economic self-interest clashes with (social) sustainability goals, these latter goals are unlikely to be met, and some government intervention may be desirable to bring private self-interest into line with the socially perceived interest. Intervention could, for example, take the form of taxes or charges on pollution emissions, or prohibitions on environmental damage backed up by penalties for non-compliance such as might apply to illegal tree-clearing. But obvious formulation of problems is often deceptive. For example, the economic bottom line for business or an individual may be different to that for a society. Questions may also be raised about the extent to which individuals act in their own selfish economic interest, narrowly conceived, and the extent to which they are influenced by moral dimensions (Etzioni, 1988, 1991; Tisdell, 1997). The basis of human action is quite complex. However, before giving further attention to this matter, the meaning, desirability and possibility of achieving sustainability is considered and an opinion is given as to whether the goal of sustainability is a useful guide to human action and public policy. Then attention turns to the sense(s) in which economics...

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