Emergence of Environmental Issues

The concept of sustainable development has drawn considerable attention over the past half-century, proving very controversial in discussions of definition, scope, and possible means of realization. Numerous authors have written on the topic, each expressing unique ideas of where sustainability might lead society, of whether it is beneficial overall, and of how different entities might achieve it. David Henderson expresses a critical view of the current trend towards enforcing sustainable development, adamantly refuting the idea that sustainability is even desirable in “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility”; on the other end of the spectrum, the UN “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development” asserts that humans have a wide range of intrinsic rights, of which the right to an unsullied environment is pivotal. The International Forum on Globalization, “A Better World Is Possible!, ” assumes the middle ground, conceding that a strict policy of sustainability will not necessarily solve all problems, but nevertheless promulgating it as a necessary, albeit incomplete, first step. Upon scrutinizing these various positions, this paper concludes that despite the ostensible lack of desirability to implement sustainable means of social and environmental development, the collective action of individuals, corporations, and governments will ultimately increase sustainability at both the local and international levels.

The phrase “sustainable development” is decidedly overused, thus necessitating a more specific and rigorous definition. In its simplest form, a process such as logging, driving, or hiring manual workers is deemed sustainable if it can be continued indefinitely without depleting the resources on which it relies. While measuring the rates of consumption and replenishment is difficult and often ambiguous in practical contexts, the peculiarities of measurement are mostly irrelevant in considering the macroscopic trend of establishing patterns of development. Although sustainable development can refer to a wide range of societal actions or processes, environmental and social decisions are those most often scrutinized.

The notion of environmental sustainability is essentially very simple, its core condition being that processes replenish all the resources they consume (or that the said resources are naturally replenished in the time required for the process to run). Ecological sustainability needs to be achieved through economic activity that enables us to “meet humans’ genuine needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs, and without diminishing the natural diversity of life on Earth” (Intl. Forum on Globalization 488). Logging offers a simple example, whereby sustainability is achieved if the number of trees cut is smaller than the number of trees replanted. Similarly, harnessing solar or wind energy is sustainable in that the process can occur indefinitely and without affecting the source. However, determining whether a pollution-causing process is sustainable presents a separate challenge, as the exact type and quantity of pollution must be considered. While processes are often favored for being “carbon-neutral, ” they are not implicitly sustainable, as other factors may not fully balance out. Despite these difficulties in precisely delineating the line between partial and total sustainability, the difference between the two is minimal and irrelevant to a large extent, given the large number of distinct processes that may help to counterbalance each other.

Social sustainability is slightly more ambiguous; however, one of its more common contexts is that of providing international aid in the form of manufactured goods (principally food, clothing, and occasional aid to reconstruct) to impoverished or disaster-stricken regions. Is this approach the most effective way to help alleviate the devastation? The model of alleviating immediate problems is not sustainable and may therefore not be the best way to provide effective aid. The better alternative would be to use the aid money to invest in infrastructure: that is, to create the means to enable local manufacture of necessary goods (or other goods tradable for the necessary goods).

Another issue in the social sustainability debate is that of employing workers, especially in developing countries, at minimal wages and in dismal working conditions. Such “sweatshops” have been discredited widely, and the moral argument is indeed a compelling one. The International Forum on Globalization maintains that sustainable societies must actively protect the rights and livelihoods of workers in both the formal and informal sectors, as well as those who are unemployed or underemployed (488). However, an analysis of the precise effects and influences created by such jobs must take account of the fact that they merely provide the opportunity to work and do not forcibly conscript workers. That is, although the conditions characterizing such jobs are not ideal, they are better than the next best available alternative—if they weren’t, nobody would accept these jobs. In any case, determining what policies would best serve the interests of those disadvantaged has caused passionate debate.

The danger of running an unsustainable process, then, appears obvious: eventually, the necessary resources are exhausted and the process must either readjust to consume different resources (or the same resources in different proportions) or perish. Altering a process in this way is inefficient and creates a counterproductive period of adjustment during which the products are either unavailable or artificially expensive. Choosing to gradually redesign a process in cycles of research, development, and testing seems to be a better approach, far more efficient and immensely less complicated than suddenly realizing the need to radically change or terminate it. The UN Declaration decrees that states must play a role in “cooperat[ing] to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding” in its 9th Principle (412). To lend a contemporary example, the demand for hybrid and other fuel-efficient cars rose in response to higher gas prices. Since unsustainable processes by definition cannot occur forever, such transitions to increasingly sustainable processes must eventually take place—the only question is when. Henderson argues that the timing should be left entirely to the market and warns of the dangers of “over-regulating the world economy” (206). At the same time, it may seem intuitively obvious that sooner is better: the earlier we decrease consumption of a resource (be it coal or clean air), the more of it will be left over for our future enjoyment, whereas the advantages of postponement are virtually inexistent.

Bahamas Environmental Issues

Las Vegas Environmental Issues

Nigeria Environmental Issues

Greenpeace Environmental Issues

Effects of Environmental Issues