Ecologically Sustainable Development

[Part 5 of my introduction to ecological thinking, Ecology 101. The photo was taken in a caravan park on the NSW south coast.]


Around the time of the UN Rio Conference in 1992 the official four criteria for what was then called ‘Ecologically Sustainable Development’ (ESD) were defined as:

1. Maintaining ecological integrity
2. Intergenerational equity
3. Internalising ecological and social costs
4. The Precautionary Principle


If taken to their logical conclusions, each one of these four criteria or principles can be shown to be subversive of the industrial capitalist system itself. That is why they have not only not been taken to their logical conclusions but in fact quietly shelved by the powers that be.

Ad 1 Ecological Integrity, or
ecosystems should not have their systemic functioning degraded and disrupted to the point at which they are pushed beyond their carrying capacities and become less vital, resilient, beautiful , diverse and productive systems.

Both local and global carrying capacities, although often very flexible and hard to determine, have now been, and are continuing to be, overshot everywhere. To radically implement the principle of ecological integrity would lead to the cessation of most economic activity and thus bring about the collapse of the industrial capitalist system.

Ad 2 Intergenerational Equity, or
no generation has the right to leave the biosphere in a more ecologically degraded state than the state it inherited in from previous generations.

But the current corporate and political decision-makers and order-givers are doing precisely that. So to radically implement this principle of intergenerational equity would also lead to the collapse of this system.

Ad 3 Cost Internalisation, or
all negative ‘external’ social and ecological costs of production and consumption should be ‘internalised’, i.e. reflected in the price of goods or services produced and consumed.

If these real costs were to be added to the retail prices of most current products and services, nobody would be able to pay for them and the system would collapse. This system’s very existence is based on the power of its ruling elites to foist the real costs of the economy and the state on the powerless, workers, poor, future generations and natural systems.

Imagine, for example, if the real costs of coal- or nuclear power were to appear on electricity bills: the costs of workers’ health or lives, the cost of carbon pollution in terms of climate chaos, the costs of radioactive pollution of whole landscapes for decades or centuries after nuclear meltdowns, the costs of nuclear decommissioning or secure waste storage for tens of thousands of years etc etc.

To radically ‘internalise’ the real costs of industrial capitalism would necessarily entail a revolution against the powerful beneficiaries and ‘externalisers’ of these costs.

Ad 4 Precautionary Principle, or
no development or technology should go ahead that has the potential to irreversibly destroy ecosystemic and/or human health even if this cannot be as yet scientifically proven.

If this principle were to be applied, the system would again collapse. Fossil fuel mining and use, uranium mining and nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, genetic and geo-engineering, nanotechnology, synthetic biology would all have to be banned since they all have the potential to irreversibly destroy ecosystemic and/or human health.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on August 30, 2012.

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