Chapter

Sustainable Development and the Crisis of Nature: On the Political Anatomy of an Oxymoron

Wolfgang Sachs

in Living with Nature

Published in print June 1999 | ISBN: 9780198295099
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599262 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/019829509X.003.0002
 Sustainable Development and the Crisis of Nature: On the Political Anatomy of an Oxymoron

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The current environmental crisis is a long‐delayed ‘boomerang effect’ of the North's exploitation of the South, which began with Christopher Columbus. Economic development has started to bump up against the limits imposed by resource constraints, and the stopgap concept of sustainable development raises the central issue of economic distributive justice by proposing that the development that made the North rich should now be arrested or controlled so that it can stay that way. Development is a finite concept that no longer meets the global social requirement. There are three ways of looking at sustainable development, which clarify the cultural values involved in responding to it. First, the contest perspective, which simply acknowledges that the North has won the development race. Second, the astronaut's perspective, which regards the globe as an object to be managed and envisages various possibilities of global cooperation to that effect; unfortunately, it presupposes a non‐existent cultural and legislative framework that constrains the rich for the benefit of the poor. Third, the home perspective, which envisages a self‐restraint on the part of the North in pushing a concept of development that protects ‘moral economies’ and searches for decentralized rather than accumulation‐centred forms of society.

Keywords: environmental culture; environmental politics; sustainable development

Chapter.  8416 words. 

Subjects: Environment

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