What is sustainable?

image002The concept of sustainable development was given its most quoted definition by the United Nations report ‘Our Common Future’, published in 1987, which states that “humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. However, it can be seen a result of the ‘space race’ of the two preceding decades and data that created a new view, such as pictures NASA released taken from Apollo manned space mission to the Moon. Our Earth seemed smaller, isolated in space, more beautiful than had been imagined and more fragile.

This perspective, which has been enhanced by a growing stream of measurements taken from outside our atmosphere by satellites over fifty years plus to the present day, reveals a more dynamic planet; more a ball of ever moving energy than the ‘solid earth’ imagined in the past. Earth sciences and other areas of academic study, including economics, have benefitted from data unavailable to previous generations. Because we are seeing a bigger picture, effectively from the outside looking in, more people have become aware of how much human survival is reliant on the ecosystem of which we are a part. This has encouraged new questions and modern technology has made it possible to test theories, such as the extent of human influence on climate change. Therefore, to enable future generations to meet their own needs, we are now having to consider the measurable effect of our current actions on other life on this planet.

Since the late 1980s, I have attended meetings at national and local level about subjects iimage003ncluded within the concept of sustainable development. More recently, especially in Staffordshire and other nearby localities, I have been invited to make the case for sustainable development at events organized by a wide variety of groups and societies. As a result, I know there is a divide between those who have become aware of data that suggests that we need to consider adjusting our behavior and those who have not yet confronted this dilemma. The presentations and briefing papers that were produced in support of these activities were usually published on earlier versions of this web site (as well as on other sites and in other ways). However, now that this responsibility has largely been passed on to others, the ‘Sustain’ section of this web site has been created to provide information that might help people become more informed participants in the debate about how we should react to evidence about unsustainable human behavior. I hope that you find the papers, listed below, both interesting and useful and encourage you to make your own further investigations.

Paul Newman
May 2017

Healthy Economic Development
Personal Economics

The parable of the Treasure Chest
Grid Power
Economic Limits
Economic Measurement
Energy & Economics
Money & Sustainability
Accounting for sustainability
Can sustainability be measured?
Planning research
The Brian and Linda Eaton Economic Assessment Papers: Review Winter/Spring 2017