Global Sustainability: “We need to work hard to make it less bad”

Professor Jeremy B William started off our Sustainable Development and Competitive Advantage course by stating “Now [after years of abusing our planet], we need to work hard to make it less bad, there is no longer an option of making things comfortable”.

While this sounds rather alarmist, it reminded me of the conclusion reached in the 1962 ‘Limits to Growth‘ (LTG) sponsored by the Club of Rome in which they warned “If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

It was this paragraph in the LTG which had many skeptics dismissing this prominent piece of work as a ‘doomsday prophesy’ however many of the elements discussed in the work have since come true. LTG had three main points: first that population and industrial growth are inherently exponential; second that this growth will likely continue into the future and third that the sooner society made changes to address the areas of concern, the greater the likelihood of success.

Sadly this work was dismissed and now we are in the situation described by the professor. While we have made some steps forward in terms of developing more sustainable solutions it seems like ‘to little to late’. Have we doomed our planet, ourselves and all future generations or can we take this harsh warning on its merits and react rather than ignoring it yet again.


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Posted in climate sceptics, corporate sustainability, ecological footprint, economic development, food, industrial ecology, pollution, Uncategorized
6 comments on “Global Sustainability: “We need to work hard to make it less bad”
  1. kristinaireland1 says:

    Interesting concept, but is it fair to ask developing countries to limit their growth to control pollution when we have grown our economy without any regard for the environment? I think the developed world will need to take the lead in this regard. We have a responsibility to develop technology that will allow developing countries to grow while technologically leap frogging over our environmental mistakes.

  2. taylor0925 says:

    Absolutely, we need take actions. I agree with “kristinaireland1”, for developing countries, it needs a long time to make changes in practice.

    In China, doing business mostly only emphasis on profits, and government focus on increasing GDP in current stage and ignoring the cost of environment.

    However, recently, when weather condition (haze) become terrible in most Chinese cities, Chinese people start to complain. I think we should stop complaining, but think about how can we change and what can we do for sustainable development individually. Sustainability is responsibility of everyone.

  3. mireille5 says:

    Seems that this is the recurring theme…ignoring harsh realities. My question is how come and how can we change that? Still looking for answers…

  4. michaelsanterre says:

    I would challenge the views expressed so far in these comments. While these are all good points (and most likely correct), I would point out that conditions in the 60s are different than they are today. At the time, people were quick to dismiss these “doomsday” scenarios as things were going well in the developed world and the data on climate change was still in its infancy.

    Things are different today. We have concrete data, supported by almost the entire academic community and these developing nations are fully aware of it. Kristina asked if it is fair to expect the developing world to take measures when it comes to sustainable development when the developed world grew without regard for the harm it was causing. Absolutely. As previously stated, information we have today is far superior to what we knew back then. Furthermore, it paints a far bleaker picture than it did in the ’60s. On top of that, these developing powers are taking steps in the right direction as suggested by China’s 2012 Nation Report on Sustainable Development. They might be baby steps, but at the rate at which things are going, any movement in that direction can be viewed in a positive light.

  5. marcmikhael says:

    To Kristina’s and Michael’s comments,I personally think that it is unfair to limit the growth of a developing nation. I believe that in the long-term, economic growth in underdeveloped areas will also lead to increased sustainability. I know that this may sound counter-intuitive, but increased economic activity is highly correlated to higher education levels. Education is the key to overcoming our sustainability challenges, as it will increase awareness and understanding of the underlying problems. Wealthier and better educated graduates will contribute by embracing a culture of sustainability. They will also be undertaking critical research that will lead to new technologies and policies that will make our world truly sustainable. Professor Jeremy B William asked the question “which group is most likely to care about sustainability, the poor, the middle class, or the rich?” There were a few answers to this question, but it seemed that everyone agreed that the richer you are, the more likely you are to care about sustainability. Although I think that the middle class has the most to lose and least to gain from unsustainable development, I think we can all agree that a certain level of income needs to be achieved before sustainability becomes relevant. I don’t believe that economic growth is the enemy. Rather, it’s the manner is which we grow our economy. Developing countries may be more reliant on less sustainable growth, but this is usually for a limited period of time, as was the case in the Japan and South Korea.

  6. Nice post! It is 1972 though, not 62.

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