Sustainable Development


The notion that natural resources are not inexhaustible goes back hundreds of years to forestry management models seeking to balance the consumption of trees with their replacement. The goal of sustainable development is to responsibly use natural resources to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In recent decades, the boundaries of sustainable development have expanded beyond environmental protection—the focus of the “green” movement—to also include economic growth, social equality, and cultural protection.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was convened in Stockholm, the first major international meeting dealing with how human activity was affecting the environment; it highlighted the problems of pollution, destruction of natural resources, and damage to species. The 1992 Rio Earth Summit, attended by more than 100 countries in Rio de Janeiro, dealt with climate change by advocating limiting emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. In addition, they argued for maintaining biological diversity and using biological resources in a sustainable manner, such as by reducing deforestation.

International conferences have faced the challenge of balancing the desires of developed countries with the needs of those that are developing. The developed countries have become increasingly concerned about environmental issues and have sought to reduce the environmental impact of industry’s continued growth. Nevertheless, 80 percent of the world’s natural resources are being consumed by 20 percent of the world’s population. There is ever-increasing emphasis on investment in financially viable green technologies, energy efficiencies, and the use of environmentally friendly renewable resources, such as wind and solar energy power.

Developing nations aspire to reach the higher levels of economic growth that industrialized countries have achieved. Driven by economic constraints, they have resorted to resource extraction and using the least expensive methods to achieve such goals as industrialization—methods that impose a high environmental cost. The challenge is to harmonize prosperity with ecology, to maintain continued economic growth without undue environmental harm.

SEE ALSO: Population Growth and Food Supply (1798), Global Warming (1896), Factors Affecting Population Growth (1935), Green Revolution (1945), Energy Balance (1960), Depletion of the Ozone Layer (1987).

Renewable energy is derived from resources that are being continually replenished and include sunlight (solar energy), wind, rains, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.