The four pillars of sustainable practice are cultural vitality, environmental responsibility, social equity and economic prosperity; when combined, the intention is to provide for the needs, wants and aspirations of current populations without compromising the ability of future generations to at least benefit from a similar circumstance (Brundtland Report, 1987). A debate ensues over the legitimacy of such concepts as physics does not allow for such a circumstance: re. Newtons laws and the laws of thermodynamics; further, predicting what future generations may or may not want is very difficult, if not impossible. Sustainable concepts are more accurately defined by morality and ethics, guided by culture and ideology, however, such subjective character is highly variable and thus defining the concept is again very challenging.
Green agenda is saturated with sustainability concepts, however, when considering global circumstance, green agenda does not support the 4 pillars that define it. Consider current economic models: in order for the global community to be economically successful the requirement demands increasing resource extraction to support a growing consumer base, or vice versa. A number of contradictions are apparent: sustainability advocates have deemed exponential population growth as unsustainable, but the related economic circumstance is not addressed; ironically, sustainable concepts promote population control but no consideration is afforded to the detrimental economic effect and subsequent decrease in standards of living. Sustainable standards of living have not been defined, assuming this equates to lower standards of living, such concepts will not readily be accepted.
Enter equity: global perception of development is closely tied to economic circumstance and as the poor are lifted out of poverty they aspire to ’western’ material wealth and diet; the contradiction is that of perception – paths to a more equitable circumstance are founded in population growth and consumption, which by green standards are deemed unsustainable.
Enter environmental degradation: using carbon emissions as a proxy it is easy to equate economic prosperity and aspirations of equality, pillars of sustainability, to degradation – think anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Why then is economic prosperity at the fore of all development? It is because poverty is synonymous with degradation and affluence is closely related to increased environmental protection. Now consider sustainable concepts of renewable energy generation, with motivation to mitigate AGW: sustainable energy is expensive and unreliable and as such does not promote economic prosperity, it ensures economic stagnation resulting in inequality, poverty and further environmental degradation – far beyond the assumed impacts and questionable effects related to AGW.
Ironically, sustainable concepts with goals of environmental protection may actually result in further degradation. Protecting the environment will require investment in fossil fuels, not featured in sustainability concepts, which will drive equitable development and lift billions of people out of poverty, resulting in a healthy environment supported by advanced technologies and affluence, allowing for beneficial circumstance in climate change mitigation, or any other challenges that humanity may face. Progressive human development - increased health, education and command over resource - seems to be inadequately addressed by sustainability concepts; limiting carbon emissions, the whole point of sustainable practice, seems to undermine the 4 pillars that define it.
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