Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 14: Human wellbeing and sustainability: interdependent and intertwined

J. Allister McGregor


This chapter will present the argument that the struggles for human wellbeing and sustainability are interdependent and intertwined. Humankind’s efforts to achieve ever greater levels of wellbeing over the last two centuries lie behind the current, unsustainable patterns of use of the planet and its resources. The industrial revolution in the mid 1800s signalled the start of an acceleration of global human energy use (Lefhon, Husar and Husar, 1999) and this subsequently has been accompanied by intensifying pressure on natural resources of all kinds and on global ecosystems more generally. Wellbeing and sustainability are problematically connected by the issue of societal development. On the one hand, as many international development declarations have emphasized, we strive for economic and societal development as a means of improving human wellbeing, but at the same time our models of development success are increasingly understood to be environmentally unsustainable. This problem is compounded by the fact that our remarkable development achievements to date have only enabled meagre wellbeing achievements for large numbers of people on the planet. The distribution of the wellbeing benefits of global development has been highly uneven. Harmful and debilitating poverty, which as will be argued below, can be understood to be an extreme and chronic form of wellbeing failure, continues to be part of our present global reality, even while the negative personal consequences of excess are becoming serious social and health policy problems for many developed and rapidly developing countries.

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