Friday, February 25, 2011

Herman Daly on the rhetoric of "Sustainable Development"

I'm currently re-reading Herman Daly's "Beyond Growth" (1996) and found his thoughts on the rhetoric of "sustainable development" pretty refreshing:

Sustainable development is a term that everyone likes, but nobody is sure of what it means. (At least it sounds better than "unsustainable nondevelopment.") The term rose to the prominence of a mantra- or a shibboleth- following the 1987 publication of the UN sponsored Brundtland Commission report Our Common Future, which defined the term as development which meets the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of the future to meet its needs. While not vacuous by any means, this definition was sufficiently vague to allow for a broad consensus. Probably that was a good political strategy at the time- a consensus on a vague concept was better than disagreement over a sharply defined one. By 1995, however, this initial vagueness is no longer a basis for consensus, but a breeding ground for a situation where whoever can pin his or her definition to the term will automatically win a large political battle for influence over the future (page 1-2).

1 comment:

  1. Similar to the role LEED has played. Do you think the US Green Building Council will up the ante now that buy-in has been fairly successful?

    I fear the future of the term "Sustainable Development" may be out of reach for a long time due to its ever present vague nature.