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Peter Newman (3rd lft)--World Leader in Sustainability


Sustainability and the Green Economy

On the other side of the story the economists who see growth at any costs as being the solution, need a good dose of population biology. If population growth is encouraged to enable more business as usual then impacts will accelerate. If population growth is seen as the basis for building more car dependent suburbs, then IPAT will apply. There are physical limits and natural systems do matter. The denial of limits due to economic fundamentalism has had a long history and the need for Ehrlich and others to take them on has been an essential part of environmental reform. People and wildlife do get poisoned when unfettered release of chemicals happens as shown by Rachel Carson (1952). Land degradation and misuse of natural resources has led to the collapse of cities and civilisations for millennia (Diamond, 2005). Peak oil and climate change are real and require different cities and regions to be shaped through economic, social and political change (Newman, Beatley and Boyer, 2009).


Recognition that the old system of economic growth was broken was a major contribution from scientists like Paul Ehrlich. They did not need to divert the attention of policy makers to population reduction as the solution; they could have focused on the need for more fundamental change to the nature of economic growth. Rather than a kind of fundamentalism about economic purity the need to integrate understanding of economics began to be a common plea. Many scientists did take this direction and developed a major movement in global politics from the 1970’s and 1980’s asserting the need for a more ecological economics (eg the International Association for Ecological Economics and such influential books as Daly and Farley, 2004).


The need for economics to more deeply understand ecology is obvious and below I will try to show how this applies to cities. However, when this movement began to say that ecological limits meant third world development must be curtailed, that the planet was too overcrowded already, then alarm bells in the world governance systems began to ring.  The third world were not impressed when told that a billion people, who went to bed hungry at night, had no chance to break out of their poverty. The biological model was running hard up against the economic development model and a resolution had to be found. The UN thus set up the World Commission on Environment and Development to find a resolution.


What emerged was the concept of sustainable development or sustainability, where economics and environmentalism had to begin to synergise rather than antagonise especially in ensuring long term outcomes (WCSD, 1987; Newman, 2006). That has since grown into what is now called the green economy or green growth by the OECD (2011). Sustainability advocates soon recognised that the agenda was not just to reconcile biological issues and economic issues but that social issues had to be included in this mix. Thus the triple bottom line and the integration of economic, environmental and social outcomes became a major global agenda, reaching down into every level of government, every business and every community (Newman and Jennings, 2008; Newman, 2006). This resolution and integration is an on-going challenge and requires us to have different models of education and different models of thinking about our problems and solutions – especially in our cities.


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