Warning and Disclaimer

So this is just a blog I'm using to upload a bunch of the essays and assessment tasks I wrote for my various uni degrees. Basically I put a lot of effort into some of these and it seems a waste for them to only be read once... so I figured upload them onto the web and see if anyone looks at them.

did ok at most of my essays, some better than others so copy the ideas at your own risk... Given the slow increase in my marks over the years clearly it took me a while to get started. You can probably work out when I wrote each assessment based on the length of the reference list (and there's probably a correlation with the marks I received for that assessment too)

I had a glance over the cover sheets and don't think there's anything stopping me uploading them as I don't think the uni claims ownership over them. You sign off saying that the work has never been submitted before, not that you won't do anything with it later.

That all being said, if you do find these useful for your own uni work... DON'T copy them (not because I care about you copying them) but because you WILL get done for plagarism yourself... Take some of the main points if you want, definitely steal my reference lists, but don't copy text from the essay because you will get done...

So yeah, read on if you're interested, follow up the references... but don't copy if you know what's good for you

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Conceptualisation of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is a concept that has been debated in the international community for over twenty years and it has become one of the small set of concepts that has almost worldwide support (Hattingh, 2002). Our Common Future, known commonly as the Brundtand report was published in 1987 (United Nations, 1987) and since then sustainable development has been an issue debated without much consensus. Within sustainable development literature the concept of sustainable development is described as the “supreme global political issue of this century” (Prugh & Assadourian, 2003) and despite a feeling of preaching to the converted it has received attention from many different national governments and international organisations, despite this however there is still little wide scale action or change taking place. An impression of inaction and uneven implementation is felt about sustainable development policies in high consumption societies (Sneddon, Howarth & Norgaard, 2006). Australia itself is seen as being far from achieving sustainability and facing immense challenges (Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2001). The reasons given for this include the wide range of sectors that can be covered within sustainable development. A proposed Australian sustainability charter is to cover at a minimum; the built environment, water, energy, transport, ecological footprint, economics, waste, social equity and health and community engagement and education (The Parliament of Australia, 2007). These sectors are the responsibilities of different levels of government within countries and the conflicting responsibilities between these levels of government is another reason often given for the lack of progress towards sustainable development (Smith, Blake & Davies, 2000, Nelson, Howden & Smith, 2008 and Buhrs & Aplin, 1999). Another reason for a lack of wide scale action is there are a variety of conflicting opinions on what exactly sustainable development is and what the aims of it should be, especially when combined with the difficulties environmentalists can have in even expressing why they feel the environment deserves protection. There is no single consensus on what the positive value of the environment is, nor is there a shared vision of the future in which people live in a more harmonious existence with the environment (Norton, 1991). In fact it appears that there has been an entire industry created centred around defining what sustainable development means to various groups (Kates, Parris & Leiserowitz 2005).

The most widely quoted definition of sustainable development is the definition that comes from the Brundtland report, and that is “Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987). The ambiguity of this definition means that differences in what sustainable development means exist between the developed and developing world, people holding anthropocentric views and people holding ecocentric views and advocates of a strong interpretation of sustainability and those in favour of a weak interpretation of sustainability. This has lead to a variety of different theories on what sustainable development is, what it is trying to achieve and how it can achieve those aims (Hopwood, Mellor & O’Brien, 2005). Some feel that due to the wide variety of definitions that sustainable development is at risk of becoming meaningless, overused or even corrupted (Hopwood, Mellor & O’Brien, 2005 and Prugh & Assadourian, 2003) but a more positive view is that trying to force a single definition is neither productive or desirable and that sustainable development should in fact be viewed as a discourse instead (Buhrs & Aplin, 1999 and Harding, 1998).

Johan Hattingh (2002) has proposed a series of values questions that the different interpretations of sustainable development are trying to answer. These are, what is so important that we should strive to maintain it forever? With a view to whom or what should we pursue the sustainability of this valuable something? How should we pursue sustainability? And finally how would we know that we have moved nearer to or further away from sustainable development?

When reflecting on these questions the first thing that must be understood is the variety of viewpoints that can be found within the broad headline of sustainable development. Often these views can be quite different, so these views should be examined further.

One of the fundamental differences in peoples theories of sustainable development are anthropocentric views and ecocentric views. Anthropocentric views are centred on the environment existing to serve people and that the value of it is for the services it can provide for us. Anthropocentric views are often very technocentric too, that is the majority of environmental problems are able to be fixed technologically enabling a business as usual approach by most people (Beder, 1996). This faith in science and technology can often result in very top down expert management approach to sustainable development which can be criticised for its non partipatory nature (Hattingh, 2002, Buhrs & Aplin, 1999 and Nelson, Howden & Stafford Smith, 2008). “Science provides us with the knowledge we need. Now we need the wisdom to direct our collective action” (Adams & Jeanrenaud, 2008) is a quote that shows the fundamental faith in science and technology that can be found throughout much sustainable development literature. From an anthropocentric viewpoint the value of the environment is utilitarian, in contrast to the intrinsic value that the environment has from an ecocentric point of view. The intrinsic value given to the environment from this ecocentric view is very difficult to quantify and will differ greatly between groups and individuals, and has been identified as one of the environmentalist’s main dilemmas (Norton, 1991).

With regards to sustainable development the contrast of weak vs strong sustainability is also important. Weak sustainability is characterised by the notion that sustainable development has been achieved if the overall stock of capital has been maintained over time (Hattingh, 2002). The criticism of this viewpoint is that all environmental capital that it is not economically valuable could be traded for enough built or economic capital. Literature produced by groups with a very pronounced weak view of sustainability like the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD (1996) can almost entirely ignore the natural environment in favour of building economic and social capital. A model of five different and interchangeable capital types; natural, human, social, manufactured and financial capital (Forum for the future, undated) shows how a weak view of sustainability can on the surface appear to be moving towards sustainable development but the weakness is that with enough rewards in the other areas of capital significant depletion can occur to the worlds stores of natural capital. A strong view of sustainability however requires that a store of natural capitals be maintained over time with a view towards intergenerational equity, feeling that the provision of economic, social and built capital alone will not make up for the loss of the natural capital for future generations. A weak view of sustainability cannot be used to challenge patterns of current production and consumption and that damage ecosystems but have high financial rewards (Hattingh, 2002) as it is linked quite closely to anthropocentric and technocentric views aimed at maintaining the status quo. While a stronger view of sustainability recognises the natural environment as having an intrinsic value could be used to challenge current patterns of production and consumption its very nature makes it a more controversial view as it challenges the status quo and would require some changes to decision making processes. A stronger view of sustainability would try and value the services the environment offers rather than just the products and anything that we cannot replace and cannot live without could been possibly seen as having infinite value (Hawken, Lovins & Lovins, undated). The environment was even shifted away from the centre stage at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg in 2002, relative to the position it occupied at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 in favour of issues such as poverty alleviation (Tilbury, 2003). This doesn’t mean the environment is the sole focus of sustainable development however as issues such as food security and economic inequality can very easily lead to conflict which is disastrous for sustainable development. “When half the world is starving and the other half’s on a diet I can tell why we’ve gone to hell and it’s time to start a riot” (The Disables, 2005).

A final conflict of what is required for and by sustainable development is between developing and developed countries. Sustainable development requires the countries of the world to be working together as a minority of countries moving towards sustainability with the majority continuing to develop and grow unsustainably if fundamentally unsustainable. This requires at least broad agreement in approach by the majority of countries, which in turn requires the agreement of both developed and developing countries and this has been an area of conflict in previous years. At the World summit in Johannesburg Thabo Mbeki even singled out the growing gap between developing and developed countries as a global apartheid (Tilbury, 2003). Inequalities have increased within and between societies which makes achieving social and environmental goals difficult (Sneddon, Howarth & Norgaard, 2005). The difference between developing and developed countries had been observed as a heavy “environmental” agenda by developed countries and a heavy “development” agenda in developing countries at the Rio Earth Summit (Fien & Tilbury, 1998). While the world is a better place to live now than ever before, the lives of some people are better and the lives of others are worse both absolutely and relatively. This means that human security and welfare has not necessarily improved over the years that sustainable development has been being discussed (Khosla, undated). Development cannot been seen just as the increase in Gross Domestic Produce but rather a reduction in insecurities of the people in the world (Sen, undated) both within countries and in particular between countries, like those between the developed and developing world. As early as the Brundtland report however it was recognised that there is no set of villains and victims in the debate of inequality relating to sustainable development (United Nations, 1987) it also identified that growth is more important in developing countries than developed ones as it is in these countries where the links between economic growth, poverty reduction and environmental protection are most closely linked. Economic growth is a necessity for sustainable development, particularly in developing countries as a zero growth model would trap developing countries and people living in poverty in those circumstances due to the unequal distribution of resources (Hattingh, 2002), thus a steady state zero growth economy occurring in particular in the developing world would not lead to sustainable development. This means that while the developed countries environmental protection agenda is important to achieve sustainable development, the growth agenda of developing countries is also valid as it is aimed at alleviating the inequalities felt by these countries, inequalities that if not addressed could lead at worst to conflict and at the very least an unsustainable existence.

These conflicts highlight the diversity of opinions as to what sustainable development is and should be and how to achieve it. There have been three pillars of sustainable development widely identified; the environment, the economy and equity as the goals and targets of a transition to sustainable development (Leiserowitz, Kates & Parris, 2004). In Australia it has been proposed that a sustainability charter be introduced with a definition of sustainability in an Australian context included (The Parliament of Australia, 2007). So 20 years after the Brundtland report first defined sustainable development the very definition of it within countries is still being discussed. One thing that is agreed upon within much of the sustainable development literature is that following the status quo will not achieve sustainability and that widespread institutional change is necessary for progress towards a more sustainable society and that significant political will is needed for this to occur (Adams & Jeanrenaud, 2008, Hawken, Lovins & Lovins, undated, Kates, 2005, Runnalls, 2008, Sneddon, Howarth & Norgaard, 2005, Hopwood, Mellor & O’Brien, 2005, Buhrs and Aplin, 1999). These authors may not always agree what institutional change is necessary but they all feel that at least some form of institutional change is required, if not a complete value change. The difficulty of bringing about this change is acknowledged by some authors and while transformation may not immediately be possible a degree of reform now (with an eye towards transformation later) is seen as better than nothing at all (Hopwood, Mellor & O’Brien, 2005). This is why Prugh and Assadourian (2003) feel sustainable development will be one of the supreme political issues of the century. The institutional change required alone would be a momentous political issue both requiring both strong political leadership and will at the international level within the United Nations and at the various government levels within individual countries.

When returning to the questions asked by Hattingh it is an ideological value judgement being made when we provide our answers. As such this will vary from person to person (Hattingh, 2002). Hattingh’s questions were; what is so important that we should strive to maintain it forever? With a view to whom or what should we pursue the sustainability of this valuable something? How should we pursue sustainability? And finally how would we know that we have moved nearer to or further away from sustainable development?

An obvious and relatively simplistic yet unsatisfactory answer would be life itself is what we should aim to maintain forever. Apocalyptic literature has provided many end scenarios for humans as a species, indeed 99.9% of all species that have existed on earth are currently extinct (Prothero, 2004) but it is felt that as a species humans are in no immediate danger of extinction even due to a cataclysmic event (Prugh & Assadourian, 2003). A more appropriate answer may be that we should attempt to pursue a satisfactory quality of life for all people. History offers many examples of human culture that were unequitable and unjust yet managed to survive for a long time (Prugh & Assadourian, 2003). A baseline future common to most future thinking groups generally is one of a both high and equitable quality of life for all people (Hicks, 1996). To achieve this quality of life not only does the environment need to be protected (to support the life itself) but equity is required to minimise any conflict and economic growth will be needed to help achieve this equity, especially for developing countries. For one of the most common generators of conflict is inequality and conflict can push back development in a country by generations (DAC, 1996).

If increasing the quality of life is the aim of sustainable development the view we are pursuing it for would be for the community of life in its entirety, but a particular focus is being maintained on human life. This focus on human life would require an intergenerational approach with a strong view of sustainability to help maintain not only economic and social capital but natural capital as well, due to our inability to predict the needs and desires of future generations.

A traditional top down centralised expert model of decision making for sustainable development has been identified as undesirable and less effective (Buhrs & Aplin, 1999, Nelson, Howden & Stafford Smith, 2008 and Smith, Blake & Davies, 2000). A bottom up consensus model also has problems, technical expertise cannot entirely be replaced by local knowledge and the process can be much more time consuming and regionally less effective due to different approaches taken by local groups and their successes and failures (Smith, Blake & Davies, 2000). Both top down and bottom up strategies have good and bad points so an ideal would be a combination of the two approaches, which would require removal of the obstacles to these processes occurring, particularly within a federal system of government like Australia’s (Buhrs & Aplin, 1999).

Finally the recognition of whether or not sustainability is being achieved cannot be made solely by financial indicators, as these give no indication of whether these gains to capital are being shared equitably. Indeed GDP has increased markedly over the last few decades but so has income inequality worldwide, GDP in the United States increased by 92% between 1970 and 2000 yet the GPI increased only 4% (Prugh & Assadourian, 2003). Regardless of the indicators chosen however they do not read themselves, nor do they register whether or not something is sustainable, the process of constructing and interpreting indicators requires collaborative judgement (Foster, 2001) and this requires input from all stakeholders in the decision making process. If indicators are to be taken from a list of things that are wished to be sustained and things wished to be developed an extraordinarily large list of indicators is developed reflecting both the malleability of sustainable development and the internal politics of the measurement efforts. A brief summary of indicators used for sustainable development with a variety of initiative shows a variation of between 6 and 255 different indicators for a single sustainable development initiative (Kates, Parris & Leiserowitz 2005). The Department of Economic and Social Affairs uses energy, industrial development, atmospheric pollution and climate change as the main indicators in its Trends in Sustainable Development document (United Nations, 2006) but these indicators do not cover all aspects of social and economic development and equity necessary to achieve sustainable development. It is clear that each initiative will require its own set of indicators developed by the stakeholders involved in the process.

Sustainable development is an extremely complicated concept, it is favoured by nearly everyone worldwide yet means different things to different people worldwide too. For a truly sustainable society to develop there needs to be institutional change at a variety of scales across the globe as following the status quo will not result in a sustainable society. The reason sustainable development is such an important political issue is due to the fact that for the institutional change to occur there needs to be a significant push from the worlds political leaders. While sustainable development cannot be everything to everyone as it currently seems to be proposed to be, largely due to the wide variety of interpretations if pursued correctly it definitely has the potential to help change the future of the world by not only protecting the biosphere but also alleviating the inequalities felt by people worldwide.


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