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Edited by Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh
Chapter 48: The Biophysical Basis of Environmental Sustainability
48 The biophysical basis of environmental sust ainability Robert Goodland* 1. Introduction This chapter seeks to define environmental sustainability (ES) partly by sharply distinguishing it from social sustainability and, to a lesser extent, from economic sustainability (see Table 48.1). While overlap exists among the three, economic sustainability and ES have especially strong linkages. If the term ‘development’ is introduced, discussion becomes more ambiguous. This chapter is not focused on sustainable development, here assumed to be development that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable, or ‘development without throughput growth beyond environmental carrying capacity and which is socially sustainable’. Environmentally sustainable development implies sustainable levels of both production (sources), and consumption (sinks), rather than oxymoronic sustained economic growth. The priority for development should be improvement in human well-being - the reduction of poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease and inequity. While these development goals are fundamentally important, they are quite different from the goals of environmental sustainability, the unimpaired maintenance of human life-support systems - the environmental sink and source capacities. Historians of future generations may well be interested in the social constructs we devised with respect to biophysical reality, but those generations will be confronted primarily with the reality and not with whatever contemporary social construct we made of it. It makes no difference for actual climate change due to greenhouse gas accumulation whether societies or governments ‘believe’ in it or not (Hueting and Reijnders, 1997); it is a biophysical reality. 2. A potted history of sustainability If one addresses only the last...
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