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

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. 2.1 DEFINITIONS, ASSUMPTIONS, METHODOLOGY In this book the analysis is confined to two starkly differing economic paradigms of SD, namely weak and strong sustainability.1 They are the most influential paradigms within debates and policy discussions about SD. Let us start with some definitions and assumptions. In some sense, SD is a vague concept - so much so that Pezzey (1992b) can present a whole gallery of differing defmitions. Nevertheless, a definition most proponents of an economic concept of SD would be likely to...

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