Weak and strong sustainability
Instructions: Using these concepts to explain the difference between arguments that there are limits to growth and arguments that growth and sustainability are compatible.
Weak and strong sustainability .
The debate concerning sustainable development revolves around whether to adopt a weak or strong conception of sustainability. Strong sustainability maintains that sustainability ought to be limited as a result of the critical elements provided by natural capital for the well-being and existence of human beings (Jørgensen, et al., 2015, p. 157). On the other hand, the weak conception postulates the natural capital’s full substitutability (Jørgensen, et al., 2015, p. 157). This paper provides an overview of the two conceptions with regards to growth and sustainability.
The assumption upheld by weak sustainability is that manufactured capital and natural capital are both essentially substitutable (Neumayer, 2013, p. 51). It also upholds that no difference exists between the forms of well-being that these types of capital generate. In this case, the total value of the sum of the stock of capital is the only thing of importance, which ought to be ideally increased or maintained for future generations. In this view, less regard is given to the usage of capital as no projective plans are established to handle future deficits. Case in point, it is considered an aspect of less importance whether the present day generation emits large amounts of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or vastly uses nonrenewable resources as long as they build enough roads, ports, and machineries in compensation. This position pays more attention to compensating environmental degradation through monetary maximization. In addition, the weak conception assumes that technological progress continually creates technical solutions to the issues that arise from the high production of goods and services (Heinrichs, et al., 2016, p. 19).
On the other hand, proponents of strong sustainability maintain that one cannot merely view natural capital as resources. Instead, natural capital forms a sophisticated system of evolving abiotic and biotic elements, which interact in a manner that determines the capacity of the ecosystem to provide the society of human beings with direct or indirect services and functions (Brand, 2009, p. 607). As such, supporters of strong sustainability argue that natural capital is non-substitutable.
The issue of sustainability of the natural capital can be argued using various dimensions, all of which suggest the uncertainty of the future and hence the need to make decisions cautiously. To start with, it is clear that a qualitative difference exists between natural capital and manufactured capital. The destruction of manufactured capital is mostly reversible and it is reproducible, whereas natural capital’s consumption is irreversible (Jørgensen, et al., 2015, p. 158). Case in point, the destruction of infrastructure, or material goods is not irreversible while the extinction of a certain species of animals is irreversible. In addition, there is a general lack of knowledge concerning how natural systems function, hence one cannot establish the impact of destroying natural capital on the well-being of humans (Brand, 2009, p. 606). By accepting the uncertainties and irreversibility surrounding natural capital, individuals ought to embrace a precautionary approach with regards to the use of this type of capital. Moreover, considering the fact that natural capital is required for the production of manufactured capital, then the latter cannot be considered a substitute for natural capital’s biophysical structures.
It is clear that the concept of strong sustainability outweighs weak sustainability when considering growth and sustainability of the economy. The former establishes that exploitation of natural capital should be carried out with deep consideration of the sustainability of the resources. It provides a clearly view of the dependence of the manufactured capital on the natural capital, suggesting that the latter can never substitute the latter. To ensure long-term sustainability, it is importance to consider adoption of the strong conception of sustainability.
Brand, F., 2009. Critical natural capital revisited: Ecological resilience and sustainable development. Ecological Economics, Volume 68, p. 605–612.
Heinrichs, H., Martens, P., Michelsen, G. & Wiek, A. eds., 2016. Sustainability Science: An Introduction. Dordrecht: Springer.
Jørgensen, S. E. et al., 2015. Flourishing Within Limits to Growth: Following Nature’s Way. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Neumayer, E., 2013. Weak Versus Strong Sustainability: Exploring the Limits of Two Opposing Paradigms. 4th ed. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.