Saturday, January 21, 2017
"It is hard to be against sustainability. In fact, the less you know about it, the better it sounds. That is true of lots of ideas"
-Robert M Solow, Sustainability: An Economist's Perspective
As Solow points out in his lecture "Sustainability: An Economist's Perspective," the term 'sustainability' is subject to varying interpretations. Depending on which interpretation one chooses, sustainability could be congruent with a market economy, or it could rule out economic activity altogether.
Human economic activity alters the environment. We nurture some species of plants and animals, and we hamper others. We transform plants, animal products, and minerals into different forms. We use chemical reactions to change matter from one form to another. Some of those chemical reactions provide us with energy in useful forms.
Suppose we were to define sustainability as leaving the natural environment exactly as we found it. That definition is appropriate for a society of hunters and gatherers. If you want to hunt and gather sustainably, you cannot kill game or gather plants at a higher rate that they are naturally replenished. However, such a strict definition will not accommodate more advance economic activity characterized by specialization. Living by such a definition would in fact require that we revert to hunting and gathering.
-Arnold Kling, Specialization And Trade: A Re-Introduction To Economics