Yannis A. Phillis
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch683
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Modern society is faced with a host of large scale problems that often appear to be intractable: extreme weather phenomena attributed to global warming, economic crises, toxic spills, deforestation, desertification, hunger, to name but a few. Projections of future human population, concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, number of species to become extinct, and so on, raise a fundamental question: is our society sustainable? Before answering one has to define sustainability one way or another.

In this article, various models and definitions of sustainability will be presented and lists of countries will be compiled according to sustainability performance.

The biological and physical environments provide the economy with:

  • 1.

    Resources, e.g., food, fibers, water, oxygen, fuels, materials, minerals, and drugs

  • 2.

    Services such as coastal protection, photosynthesis, soil formation and the cycles of H2O, C, CO2, N, O2

  • 3.

    Waste absorption.

The global ecosystem does not grow and, therefore, the present tendency of all economies to grow indefinitely cannot continue since the services on which they rely do not grow indefinitely either. Some economists contend that substituting one form of capital for another solves the problem of finiteness of the ecosystem. However, substitution has its limits too. For example, there are no substitutes for a stable climate or for extinct species and their services.

Economic activity is connected with witnessed dramatic environmental changes that have been exacerbated in the last decades. As a result, more and more people are interested in the concepts of sustainability.

Sustainable development does not necessarily mean growth, but improvement of the environment or society.

The Brundtland Report (UNEP, 1987) defines sustainable development (SD) as

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (Guijt & Moiseev, 2001) defines itas

Development that improves the quality of human life within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.

Sustainability ought to cover environmental and societal aspects if it is to view human activity globally. Time and space have to be carefully considered.

The time scale depends on the specific attributes of SD. Agricultural pests have time scales of a few years while climate change of hundreds of years. One ought to take into account the limited human ability to predict complex societal phenomena beyond a few years or, at most, decades.

Space for the assessment of SD could be a region, a country, or the whole globe. If the scale is too small, SD becomes blurred. A small region interacts with other larger regions and cannot be examined as an independent entity. It is common to consider countries or regions with population above 100,000 or areas above 5,000 km2.

Often sustainability is viewed as comprising two different levels, weak and strong.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ecological Footprint: The land needed to support a given population.

Sustainability Indicators: Inputs that define sustainability.

Sustainable Society Index: Sustainability model with 22 inputs.

Sustainability, Sustainable Development: Improvement of various human and natural systems without compromising the environment.

Environmental Sustainability Index: Yale sustainability model.

Pressure-State-Response: OECD categories of inputs.

SAFE: A model that assess sustainability using fuzzy logic.

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