“Sustainable development” and “sustainability” have become mantras of environmentalists, the UN, federal, state, and local governments, and even some corporations that strive to be politically correct. The City of Tucson has an Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development. Perusal of that site shows that City bureaucrats and administrators have swallowed carbon-dioxide flavored Kool-Aid and sing Kumbaya to each other.
Sustainable development (aka Agenda 21) has its origins in a United Nations program. Henry Lamb of Sovereignty International traces its history in an article in Canada Free Press:
Agenda 21 was developed over a period of time, traceable from the 1972 U.N. Conference on the Environment, which identified “environmental protection” as the world’s greatest problem, and gave the world the U.N. Environmental Programme, followed almost immediately by Nixon’s Executive Order that created the EPA.
Then came the 1976 U.N. Conference on Human Settlements, signed by the U.S., which proclaimed that “Public control of land use is…indispensable.” The next major step was the creation of the U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development in 1983, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland. The commission issued its final report in 1987, called Our Common Future. This document produced the concept and defined the term “Sustainable Development” to be: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
This rather ambiguous definition was spelled out in great detail in a 40-chapter, 300-page document titled Agenda 21, signed and adopted by 179 nations in 1992 at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.
A document from that 1976 UN conference states: “Land…cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice…”
From “Our Common Future” we find this definition: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
On the surface, that sounds all warm and fuzzy, perhaps even prudent. But below the surface we find impracticality and an assault on private property rights and liberty.
Sustainable development invariably involves giving some central authority control over the economy. The former Soviet Union is a good example of how badly that works.
The reason central planning doesn’t work is that we cannot know what the needs of future generations will be. The concept of sustainable development is actually one of arrogance. How is your crystal ball working?
For instance, a sustainable development planner in the 1890s would seek to control whale oil for heating, rock salt for food preservation, and draft horses for transportation and agriculture. Fifty years ago, who would have considered the role rare earth minerals play in our current electronic age? Under the illogic of sustainable development, no generation has the right to use or draw-down the natural resource base given that a future generation has a claim on those resources, and the generation after that has a claim and so on, i.e., no resource rights exist for any generation.
Under sustainable development we have developed unsustainable, uneconomic “green” energy that would not exist without being heavily subsidized by a government that thinks it knows better.
Just a few years ago myopic academics were worried about “peak oil”, the imagined end to a resource upon which our civilization depends. Then came shale oil and natural gas discoveries.
As a political philosophy, sustainable development will not accomplish “fairness” in seeing that everyone will get a fair piece of the pie, because under government control of resources, the pie will become much smaller.
On a resource conservation basis, sustainable development is a “glass-half-empty” philosophy. Only by maximizing knowledge, technology and wealth today, will we insure that the needs of tomorrow are met. Ultimately sustainable development is itself unsustainable and anathema to a free society.