Sustainability – Missing Points in the Development Dialogue
Welcome to the WEA Conference “Sustainability – Missing Points in the Development Dialogue” 2012.
Sustainability has many dimensions and is a challenge for both economists and other social scientists. The idea behind this online conference is to raise issues from and about fundamental perspectives, to broaden the dialogue through an articulation of alternative or complementary perspectives, and to provide policy advice. The focus is not just on so-called “tipping points,” but also on “missing points” in the sustainability dialogue.
Sustainability of Agriculture: exploring the labour and livelihood dimensions »
Nandan Nawn - 2012 - pdf
Sustainability of agriculture or agricultural practices can only be defined with respect to specific contexts. In reference to well-being of the living labour in question, for this paper a practice is deemed to be sustainable when it can ensure adequate Calorie intake for the living labour. Alternately, sustainability of agriculture has been defined in terms of whether the farm household in question is able to yield an energy surplus, when its members and the animals in its possession are obtaining an adequate Calorie intake.
For evaluating 590 households engaged in 3432 plot season crop combinations in the State of West Bengal, India, four alternative and stricter scales of sustainability had been proposed, defined, and applied. Such an evaluation was carried with the method of energy balance analysis and against two paths of enquiry, with all the measurements in terms of energy units: first, the surplus during the cultivated period, against gross cropped area (GCA), gross output (O) (cultivated period), and second, the annual surplus, against GCA, and net area sown (NAS).
One of the several conclusions of this paper includes identification of threshold area under cultivation (both in terms of GCA and NAS), land/household size and land/earners, for ensuring sustainability of the practices.
Where neoclassical economics fails the environment »
Aart R. G. Heesterman - 2012 - pdf
This paper surveys the points where economics, as conventionally understood and taught, leads to conclusions which are less than helpful in relation to environmental policy decisions, with particular reference to the urgent problem of climate change. In particular, the fact that there is great danger that global warming could pass a ‘tipping point’ where it could run out of control in self-enhancing feedback. It is clearly difficult to integrate moral considerations in relation both to successor generations and populations already suffering from adverse weather events, associated with climate change, within any formal economic theory framework. However, the doctrine of discounting the value of the future, known as cost benefit analysis, is flawed in its own terms. The second point is the professions inability to face the urgency of the income distribution side of carbon pricing. In addition, the current reality is that a large scale investment program in renewable energy generation capacity, would actually support the stability of the market economy as a Keynesian prescription.
South American welfare: can we still keep so cheerful? »
Horacio A. Feinstein - 2012 - pdf
The consumerist and predatory style of development has been strongly accentuated this last decade in South America where we are leaving the weaker indigenous people of the continent “out-of-the-game”, deprived of their culture. We interfere with their ways to make a living, we deny them the right to have a fulfilling future as they are being forced out of their environment – an environment that protected them and provided them everything they needed for the simple non-monetary life they used to have. In exchange for this they now receive limited betterments, which amount to a minimum monthly allowance to buy some few electronic gadgets. Last but not least, because of this development style, the natural infrastructure that nourishes all human societies and gives us life is seriously threatened since the resilience of our ecosystems, robust in its appearance – is in a great danger.
From a long term perspective, paradoxically we worry about our countries during the prosperous current growth period due to the active policies of progressive governments, which is still a blessing in comparison to the previous crises. Nonetheless, the governments are not investing any considerable amounts on widening human, technical, infrastructure and networking capacities for a sustainable development, even at the sub-continental level. Negative social consequences occur as a result of hampering the social and cultural capital of those weaker people. Thus, we welcome sympathetic foreign observers who could come down to Argentina to get informed and then help us to discuss on these matters, not only with authorities, but also with friendly progressive academics who do not realize the long-term damage we are inflicting on the people and on nature. South America nourishes the developed world and we now need your feedback.
Search of Possibilities for Action »
Judith Dellheim -2012 - pdf
After an outline of the questions to be addressed there will be considerations on our own political-economy oriented approach to the transformation debate, on the purposeful search for possibilities of action and thus on what is transformational in everyday social life. The contribution presents ideas developed in the brochure Exit the Crisis. Socio-ecological Transformation. With this publication, the authors presented a socialist-accented contribution to the sustainability “from below” debate, which in no way relativises the enormous importance of government action, of official international organisations and treaties but recognises their limitations. The brochure’s, and this article’s, central concern is to qualify – via concrete proposals on the exchange of analyses of problems, solution concepts, experiences and other proposals – our own understanding, thinking and action, and at the same time to promote or initiate problem-solving-oriented communication and cooperation with socially critical scholars and those interested in the subject.
world we see shapes the world we make »
Joachim H. Spangenberg - 2012 - pdf
The pre-analytic vision, world views or ontologies we hold determine how we perceive the world, its problems and possible solutions. Comparing neoclassical environmental economics and ecological economics, two elements of their respective ontologies turn out to explain their diverging recommendations: the topology (is the environment a part of the economy or vice versa?) and if thermodynamics has been integrated into the world view. Thus it makes limited sense to discuss the differences as they are generic – what we need is a discussion which world view stands the reality test.
The Flawed Paradigms of Economics and Sustainable Development »
Richard Sanders - 2012 - pdf
The sustainable development paradigm has failed. Ecological overshoot is accelerating and breaching the intergenerational equity criterion which requires humanity to live within safe planetary ecological limits. The equity gap between rich and poor also continues to grow wider breaching the intra-generational equity criterion.
This paper argues that the failure of the sustainable development paradigm is due to it being subsumed into the economic paradigm – a paradigm so disconnected from reality that it simply cannot address the sustainability problem. This is grounded in a failure to understand the fundamental contradiction between ecological imperatives and economic imperatives.
An overview of the way the world works ecologically followed by a brief presentation of the human evolutionary journey provides the context for the discussion. Based on this, economics is generically defined as ‘the way an animal species organises itself to obtain the necessary low entropy from it environment for it wellbeing’.
This is followed by an evaluation of the sustainable development construct and how it is addressed through the lenses of environmental and ecological economics. This leads to the conclusion that the economic system as currently designed is simply unable to deal with the sustainability problem.
An analysis of the financial system and its role in the problem is then presented and leads to the conclusion it is the inevitable structural driver of ecological overshoot and increasing inequity. An examination of the origins of economic thought and the assumptions it is based on throws some light on why the economic system fails humanity.
The final section considers how humanity might allocate the absolutely scarce resources of the planet so as to maximise the welfare of humanity while ensuring the very long term sustainability of the human enterprise.
Economics, Institutions and Adaptation to Climate Change »
Christoph Oberlack and Bernhard Neumärker - 2012 - pdf
Adaptation to climate change has attracted increasing interest as a necessary complement to greenhouse gas mitigation. Economic approaches to climate adaptation are rarely articulated and discussed explicitly despite the many benefits of such a framework-level discourse. Addressing this gap the article investigates how climate adaptation is approached in economics and how institutional economics may contribute to the development of the field. First, the paper identifies and critically reviews four major strands of current climate adaptation economics: estimation of adaptation benefits and costs, strategies for adaptation, the role of markets and governments, and policy instruments for adaptation. While having their merits, serious methodical difficulties prevail. Moreover, the applied neoclassical framing seems too narrow to capture the plethora of governance challenges and normative criteria revealed in adaptation policy discourses and in the adaptation literature. The article’s second part outlines an institutional economics approach to climate adaptation that addresses caveats in the current state-of-the-art and offers additional concepts to study adaptation. It also presents promising research strategies from institutional approaches to the environment and derives future research directions for climate adaptation economics. In the last step the paper assesses the normative foundations of climate adaptation economics and their implications for positive adaptation research.
The Poverty of Environmental Economics: Towards a New Research Agenda »
Jon Mulberg -2012 - pdf
The world is in the middle of a massive global financial crisis. However, the main policy science – economics – has failed to predict or adequately explain the crisis. Nonetheless, no real questioning of the fundamentals of economics has occurred.
This paper uses the Foucauldian concepts of discourse, power and discipline to both examine this lack of reflection, and to move towards an alternative Green political economy. The paper outlines an archaeology of economics to reveal the hidden ruptures within economics, and to detail how attempts to reconcile these schisms have rendered economic concepts nonsensical. Consequently it is unable to adequately consider issues of environment or poverty.
The paper then sketches possible components of an alternative political economy based on the concept of allocation. The paper shows how understanding the legal basis of economic transactions can help a model of a political economy based on market control and other traditional Green notions of de-centralization, the eradication of wasteful production and sustainability, and provides suggestions for transformative action.
Reframing Sustainability »
Peter McManners - 2012 - pdf
Over the last quarter century, since the Brundtland Commission proposed their definition of ‘sustainable development’, the dialogue about sustainability has failed to reduce the threat that human activities pose to the global ecosystem. The time has come to question deep- rooted assumptions, including the role of economics. In this paper, priorities are re-examined and principles developed to be able to build a sustainable economy. It is argued that sustainable economics is subservient to society’s higher objectives and is about control and balance, rather than laissez-faire free markets. A conceptual model for sustainability is proposed that is closer to reality than the traditional model consisting of three pillars of society, the economy and the environment. This more integrated model has cornerstones of ‘culture’, ‘land’, ‘population’ and ‘energy’. Using this model allows economics to be repositioned in support of the needs of society and compliant with effective stewardship of the ecosystem.
Energy is the most challenging aspect of the transition to a sustainable economy, because the distortion to the economy arising from fossil-fuel dependency is considerable, and the consequences of fixing it are huge. Fossil fuel dependency is a seriously dangerous addiction; it is argued that the pain of curing it cannot be avoided and should be faced without further delay.
A renaissance in economics is possible but neoclassical economics has to be challenged to makes way for new economic models. Many blocks of economic policy will survive but need to be repositioned around the cornerstones of sustainability to provide the integrated model required to steer human affairs out of the current crisis and onto a safe track.
social change beyond the planet’s limits »
Mercedes Martínez-Iglesias and Ernest García - 2012 - pdf
The perception that we have already entered a necessarily transitional phase of overshoot, beyond the planet’s limits, has become a central subject, which is growing in quantity and impact, in the literature about the present environmental predicament of humanity. This view believes the collapse of industrial civilization to be possible in the near future and revisits, from this perspective, the fate of different societies in the past. The discussion about the scope and possible social effects of a “degrowth”, decline, or way-down is intense. Degrowth ideas have spread to the point of questioning the promises of sustainable development which, after the Rio summit in 1992, dominated the discourse on the possible response to environmental and social problems. The rationale for such a questioning is clear-cut: if population and the economy are truly beyond the limits, then current visions and theories of social change would be deeply perturbed; if the development era is approaching its end, then many sociological theories on current societies will share the same destiny, sustainable development doctrines between them. But visions of degrowth are also plural, with significant frictions drawing potential inner lines of division. The most important one separates those who associate degrowth to a total catastrophic collapse of civilization (the die-off, the rapid return to the Olduvai Gorge, to the prehistoric origin of the human species) from those who associate it with the continuity of wellbeing (defending the idea of a more or less prosperous way-down).
Which conceptual foundations for environmental policies? An institutional
and evolutionary framework of economic change »
Gerardo Marletto - 2012 - pdf
This paper draws on institutional and evolutionary economics and contributes to an approach to environmental policy which diverges from mainstream prescriptions. The 'socio-technical system' is the core concept: this is a complex made of co-evolving institutions, technologies, markets and actors that fulfils an overall societal need (such as housing, production, mobility, etc.). A systemic and dynamic analysis of those structural changes which are needed to create more sustainable socio-technical systems is provided; actors – and their ability to influence politics and policy – are explicitly taken into consideration. Unsustainable socio-technical systems feature a relevant resistance to change, because they are embedded in the very structure of our society and because of the conservative action of dominant stakeholders; this is why no environmental policy will be effective unless it aims at 'unlocking' our societies from their dominance. But also a constructive side of environmental policy is needed in order to establish new and more sustainable socio-technical systems; consistently, environmental policy is viewed as a combination of actions that can trigger, make viable and align those institutional, technological and economic changes which are needed to reach sustainability. Again, actors (for change) are at the heart of this vision of environmental policy: as subject, because the creation of new and sustainable sociotechnical systems is made possible by (coalitions of) actors for change; as object, because environmental policy – to be effective – must actively support the empowerment, legitimation and social networking of such coalitions. A ‘chicken and egg’ problem remains: who comes first? Actors for change advocating policies for sustainability or policies for sustainability supporting actors for change?
Material, social and theoretical aspects of Sustainable Development »
George Liodakis - 2012 - pdf
This paper explores some of the material, social and theoretical aspects of sustainable development. It starts from a critical scrutiny of some methodological and conceptual weaknesses or flaws of mainstream approaches. It also discusses the limitations of ecological reforms and of the efforts to create sustainability conditions under capitalism. Based on a Marxist perspective, it proceeds to identify and briefly analyze some crucial aspects or preconditions for a truly sustainable development, including externalities, the scale of production and growth limits, and the growing rift in the nature – society dialectical metabolism. Particular emphasis is placed on the material and social conditions as well as the historical perspectives, extending beyond capitalism, for
development in the maritime industry: a multi-case study of seaports
Vijay Hiranandani - 2012 - pdf
Seaports are historic and commercial infrastructures and significant nodes in the logistics and transport chains that form the backbone of national and regional economies. However, ports are also sites of environmental pollution originating from land-based activities, ship movements and ports‘ own activities that impact the ecology. It is, therefore, increasingly recognized that economic growth in ports must be balanced with environmental protection and social progress. This has led to enhanced appreciation of the need for sustainable development in ports. While much has been written about port environmental practices in European and American ports, there is limited synthesis of sustainable port practices from different parts of the world. Furthermore, in-depth case analysis and critical examination of the challenges of sustainable port development is limited.
Given this gap, this paper presents findings from a qualitative multi-case study research that aimed to analyse sustainable port policies and practices from a range of perspectives as well as to understand the dilemmas, challenges and opportunities faced in attaining SD in ports. This paper reports findings pertaining to the following research questions from a larger study:
- What specific sustainable practices do ports utilise to manage environmental aspects such as air pollution, water quality, ballast water, dredging and disposal of dredged materials, and hazardous substances?
- What are the driving and constraining forces in achieving sustainable development in ports?
Four port authorities were studied by reviewing documents and secondary data – the Port of Long Beach (USA), Port of Rotterdam Authority (The Netherlands), Sydney Ports Corporation (Australia), and Transnet Ltd. that owns and manages South African ports. Findings of the study demonstrate that the SD paradigm has gained momentum, albeit to differing degrees, in the functioning, organisation and the very ethos of case study ports. An important theme from all four case studies is that, while there is definite progress towards SD, practices deemed to be sustainable must be critically examined from the perspectives of different stakeholders including shippers, port-related businesses, and the local and global community. Reconciling differences between stakeholders; capitalising on economic opportunities, operational efficiencies and cost- savings offered by environmental-friendliness; public-private partnerships; and policies negotiated by involving all stakeholders were found to foster port sustainability. Furthermore, this study found that globalisation necessitates a more holistic and global analysis of port operations and environment practices in order to be truly sustainable.
Values in the Sustainability Debate: Limitations of Economic
Valuations and their Role in Decision-making »
Andrew L. Fanning - 2012 -pdf
This paper explores some of the more controversial conceptual issues surrounding ecosystem valuations in monetary terms along with their role in the greater decision-making process. I argue that there is an urgent need to be explicit about the underlying social goals being pursued by any given policy/action and that the degree in which a given policy makes trade- offs between achieving each goal should also be transparent. In the context of the sustainability debate, economic valuations of ecosystems can provide missing information necessary for achieving the goal of allocative efficiency, but they must be accompanied by a similar ‘conversion’ of how much economic activity ‘contributes’ to the goal of ecological sustainability.
the pursuit of economic growth compatible with the pursuit of
environmental sustainability? A discussion from the perspective of
carbon emissions »
George-Konstantinos Charonis - 2012 - pdf
Neoclassical economics argues that environmental sustainability and economic growth in GDP terms are compatible through increased technological innovation and efficiency; however, exploring past data and observations as well as projections of future carbon emissions the increasingly prominent discpline of ecological economics brings significant evidence to suggest continued growth, which remains the paramount economic policy of most if not all nations, undermines sustainability.
steady state economics and the circular economy: three distinct yet
increasingly converging alternative discourses to economic growth for
achieving environmental sustainability and social equity »
George-Konstantinos Charonis - 2012 - pdf
Criticisms of the neoclassical economic framework and perpetual growth in GDP terms are not a new phenomenon, although recent years have seen increasing interest in alternative and ecological discourses including degrowth, steady state and circular economics. Although these may initially appear as distinctly different discourses, they are highly compatible and comparable, sharing similar, often nearly identical principles and policy proposals. A more collaborative, joined-up approach aimed at integrating alternative discourses is required in order to build a coherent, credible, well-supported alternative, as there is more uniting than dividing these critical voices, particularly in the face of mainstream political and economic debates that are shaped by neoclassical economics.
is Better than More: Investigations into Qualitative Growth »
Michael Benedikt and Michael Oden - 2012 - pdf
This paper attempts to offer new insights into the concept of qualitative growth. We argue that quality is more than an outlying variable addressed by adding a term (or two) to the utility function and question whether quality is adequately addressed by specialized studies in product differentiation, point-of-sale information asymmetries, consumer preference, and technological innovation. Our core hypothesis is that a general increase in the quality of goods and services produced by a country is not only more sustainable than, but can in large measure substitute for, a general increase in the quantity of goods produced—which is a popular understanding of “economic growth”. In the work of Herman Daly and other ecological economists, qualitative growth, is defined only generally as an increase in the value of the economic goods and services produced by a given, and government controlled, amount of throughput. But we get little specific idea about what qualitative growth would actually look like, be like, or feel like—little insight about quality per se. We propose alternative ways to promote an economy-wide shift from quantitative to qualitative growth, but also to limn what “quality” consists in at a usefully abstract level. We suggest, finally, a strategy that looks to modest regulatory interventions together with early education in quality discrimination, improved information about quality in the marketplace, and more effective persuasion as to the economic—indeed quantitative economic—benefits of quality growth (“quantitative” inasmuch as ordinary wealth, profits, and wages would grow in a qualitative growth regime). To achieve a turn to qualitative growth with a lighter regulatory hand, we look to insights from the new behavioral economics that suggest that substantial changes in economic behavior can be effected by changes in the “architecture of choice” rather than by limiting or excluding choices.
Unsustainable Economic Growth and Development: The Influence of
Conspicuous Consumption »
James Angresano - 2012 - pdf
Most of the literature analyzing the sustainability of China’s economy tends to be directed at whether the country can maintain its unprecedented high rates of economic growth. Too little concern has been given to the sustainability of China’s ecosystem, and the effect of rising consumption on the rapid degradation of that ecosystem. This paper will focus on the factors propelling the dramatic shift in values over the past 30 years that heavily favor higher rates of conspicuous consumption and waste, using Thorstein Veblen’s classic analysis of this type of consumption. One negative effect of this consumption has been a dramatic decline of the supply and quality of water that has brought the sustainability of China’s economy and ecosystem into question.
We would like to thank all contributors for their papers that have provided a rich and varied intellectual landscape for our discussions, mapping “missing points” in the sustainability dialogue, and providing diverse directions worth considering and alternatives to the mainstream.
We are very pleased with the stimulating and inspiring discussion that has risen. We would like to thank all commentators who participated in the discussion Forum for their time and contribution to our dialogue.
On behalf of the organizers, we can add that we learned a lot about sustainable and unsustainable development, as well as about the logistical side of arranging such an event. This experience will help us organize future online conferences.
In the present situation, characterized by multifaceted and complex threats to humankind, we need open, pluralistic debate in line with normative ideals of democracy. This entails some disagreement, as was the case during the conference. However, we highly value such disagreement as it is a starting point to any transformation, and gives testimony to our ability to learn and cooperate across diversity.
Despite the fact that in a world of plural values and worldviews we can hardly expect any lasting, over-arching consensus, especially pertaining to urgent environmental, financial, and social crises, the power of sustainability dialogue lies in the degree to which all inherent tensions are made visible, as well as in challenging us to develop new modes of learning, cooperation, and action.
We invite all visitors to this website to read and gain an understanding of the issues and arguments presented. We hope that this online conference can serve as a useful resource to all who visit it.
Thank you all for your engagement in such a constructive dialogue.