YES: Professor of management Dinah M. Payne and professor
of accounting Cecily A. Raiborn argue that environmental responsibility and sustainable
development are essential parts of modern business ethics and that only through them can
both business and humans thrive.
from "Sustainable Development: The Ethics Support the Economics," Journal of Business Ethics Guly 2001)
NO: rofessor of economics Jacqueline R. Kasun argues that
sustainable development poses threats to human freedom, dignity, and material welfare.
from "Doomsday Every Day: Sustainable Economics, Sustainable Tyranny," The Independent'Review (Summer 1999)
Over the last 30 years many people have expressed concerns that humanity cannot continue to increase population, industrial development, and consumption indefinitely. The trends and their impacts on the environment are amply described in numerous books, including historian]. R. McNeill's Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (w. W. Norton, 2000).
Can we keep it up? is the basic question behind the issue of sustainability. In the 1960s and 1970s sustainable development was expressed as the "Spaceship Earth" metaphor, which said that since we have limited supplies of energy, resources, and room, we must conserve and recycle if we are to avoid crucial shortages. Sustainability entered the global debate in the early 1980s, when the United Nations' secretary general, Javier Perez de Cueller, asked Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister and minister of environment in Norway, to organize and chair a World Commission on Environment and Development 7() and to produce a "global agenda for change." The resulting report, Our Common Future (Oxford University Press, 1987), defines "sustainable development" as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." It acknowledges that limits on population size and resource use cannot be known precisely, that problems may arise gradually rather than suddenly and will be marked by rising costs, and that limits may be redefined by changes in technology. But the report also recognizes that limits exist and must be taken into account when governments, corporations, and individuals plan for the future.
The Brundtland report led to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This conference set sustainability firmly on the global agenda and made it an essential part of efforts to deal with global environmental issues and to promote equitable economic development. In brief, sustainability means such things as cutting forests no faster than they can grow back, using ground water no faster than it is recharged by precipitation, stressing renewable energy sources rather than exhaustible fossil fuels, and farming in such a way that soil fertility does not decline. In addition, economics must be revamped to take account of environmental costs as well as capital, labor, raw materials, and energy costs. Many add that the distribution of the earth's wealth must be made more equitable as well.
Given growth in population and demand for resources, sustainable development is a difficult proposition. Some think that it can be done, but others maintain that for sustainability to work, either population or resource demand must be reduced. Not surprisingly, many people consider sustainable development to be in conflict with business and industrial activities, private property rights, and such human freedoms as the freedoms to have many children, to accumulate wealth, and to use the environment as one wishes.
In the following selections, Dinah M. Payne and Cecily A. Raiborn argue that environmental responsibility and sustainable development are essential parts of modern business ethics. They maintain that the consequence of the activities of all members of society, including businesses, "is an environment that is either habitable or one that is not" and that all "have a responsibility towards the environment and each other." Jacqueline R. Kasun argues that traditional economics is a truer way to look at human activities in the world and that sustainable development will require sacrificing human freedom, dignity, and material welfare.
The field of business ethics is rampant with diverse issues and dilemmas. One critical ethical issue has, for many years, received significantly less attention than it merited: the responsibility of business organizations to their environments. Organizations world-wide have created and have faced resource depletion and pollution. However, there now seems to be a distinct and overt embracing of environmental social responsibility by many companies. This new-found interest may have been generated, in part, by gatherings such as the Rio de Janeiro (Earth) Summit and Kyoto Protocol. But, more importantly, these gatherings have spawned a plethora of groups focused on the issue of environmental social responsibility and, specifically, the issue of sustainable development. What is this concept and why should it concern businesses and their managers? Why should sustainable development be viewed as an ethical responsibility of businesses? To what extent should businesses attempt to engage in sustainable development activities? And what actions, beyond legal requirements, can be and are being taken by businesses to promote this concept with its resultant benefit to all business stakeholders?
Issue Definition and Identification
The term sustainable development was introduced in the 1970s, but actually became part of mainstream vocabulary during and after the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission). The Commission defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." On the surface, this definition seems to be fairly simplistic, but the issue's breadth and depth create complexities.
To more fully and meaningfully refine the concept, the Earth Council indicated that such development should be economically viable, socially just, and environmentally appropriate. An additional expansion suggested that sustainable development should mean that the basic needs of all are met and that all should have the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations for a better life. The definition postulated by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is that sustainable development is "the integration of economic development with environmental protection and social equity." Several complicated and sensitive issues are inherent in these definitions.
First, how can the "needs" of the present be differentiated from the "wants" of the present as well as how can the needs of the future be ascertained currently? Into this debate fall questions such as how can nonexistent future generations be protected and to what extent should today's civilization be sacrificed to protect future generations? Although the answers to these questions are arguably unanswerable, it is apparent that business have some responsibility to provide goods and services to the world. The free market helps "push" businesses to produce the goods and services currently desired for purchase (whether these goods are needed or simply wanted). Additionally, businesses partially establish future needs and wants of consumers through product development in response to current external pressures (desires communicated from consumers) as well as current internal abilities (research and scientific discoveries). In responding to these current pressures or abilities, many businesses utilize life-cycle analysis to assess potential future environmental impacts of product design, manufacturability, and recyclability.
Second, relative to what context or benchmark should "economically viable" be determined? This term could mean radically different things between businesses in developing and in developed nations, between start-up and longstanding businesses, or between business having significant environmental impacts and those having minimal environmental impacts. In each of these three scenarios, the cost of sustainable development would generally be more expensive (in relative cost to revenue proportions) to the former companies than to the latter. Thus, what might be deemed economically viable for a large retailer in England might mean financial ruin for a small mining company in Haiti.
There is a clear trend in the developing world towards better environmental policies that include the pursuit of economic development alternatives that minimize negative environmental impacts. Evidence also exists to indicate that "through technological change, substitution between resources, and higher prices for goods that pollute, environmental objectives and economic growth can be made more compatible." In regard to technological change, it is generally true that as technology advances, it becomes more efficient. Thus, because the industrialization process in developing countries often begins with the use of outdated technology, production may be environmentally expensive (the lower efficiency contributes to increased resource depletion and less emphasis on pollution control). As technology becomes more sophisticated, efficiency increases causing an increase in productive activity with fewer defects and spoilage, and thus a decline in the rate at which resource depletion occurs. Additionally, as the country advances, less environmental pollution may be tolerated. In the last stage of industrialization, organizations use advanced (more efficient and cleaner) technology, causing a net decline in resource depletion and pollution. Per capita income and social and governmental consciousness about the environment also rise; more" green" laws are written and enforced. Thus, an inverted V-shaped curve can be used to represent the changes in a society that starts at a point without environmental quality, rapidly advances, and then slows and turns around when that society has the time and/or money to spend to protect the environment.
Third, how and by what party should "socially just" development or "social equity" be determined? These factors would depend on who was obtaining the benefit from the development, what form that benefit took, what level of economic development existed in the area, whether resources consumed were replenishable, and what political and social issues were being faced or remedied.
Last, how and by what party is "environmentally appropriate" development to be judged? This judgment must reflect the answer to whether the environment should be protected for its own sake and/or for the sake of human inhabitants. Ecological ethicists argue that non-human inhabitants are intrinsically valuable and, thus, deserve respect and that humans have duties of preservation towards them. Alternatively, even if the intrinsic value of the environment and its non-human inhabitants is refuted, a livable environment is owed to all humans so that they may be permitted to fulfill their capacities as rational and free beings. Healy asserts that future sustainability will require a reorientation away from the human-centered (or anthropocentric) anthropological view towards more nature-centered (or ecocentric) view. Thus, determination of "environmentally appropriate" would commonly be more an issue of perspective than one of specific activity. Some individuals and businesses will take a broad perspective and assess the impact of an activity on the overall current and future physical environment (not just that part inhabited or used by humans). Other individuals and businesses will take a narrow perspective and assess the impact of the activity on the surrounding environment in the here-and-now.
Regardless of the definition or the diverse possible answers to definitional issues, it is clear that all publics (businesses, consumers, regulatory agencies, scientists, communities, and governments) are touched by the concept of sustainable development. All of these publics interact, directly or indirectly, and face the same outcome, which will not be locale-by-Iocale, industry-by-industry, or political party-by-political party based. The long-term consequence of the activities of all publics is an environment that is either habitable or one that is not. That being the case, each public separately and all publics collectively have a responsibility towards the environment and each other to better understand sustainable development and to strive to achieve meaningful progress towards its attainment. Thus, the ethical issue in sustainable development is the basic issue of life versus death; if business and all other publics do not begin practicing the tenets of sustainable development, life as it currently exists will be extinct.
Businesses and their managers should be concerned about sustainable development for many reasons. Economic pragmatists would base their arguments on the simple fact that, without sustainable development, neither businesses nor the societies in which they exist will have a long-run future. Others believe that engaging in sustainable development will be a megatrend that will enhance organizational reputations. Others believe that sustainable development can be used by businesses as a unique core competency to obtain a strategic competitive advantage. All three rationales are valid and serve to stress the need for responsible business to pursue sustainable development in the current competitive reality.
Sustainable Development as an Ethical Issue
A 1996 survey of American and Canadian corporate executives included the question, "Why does, or will, your company practice sustainable development?" On a to-point scale of level of importance, the responses of (1) promoting good relations and (2) creating shareholder value scored, respectively, 8.1 and 7.3. However, more importantly, the two most highly ranked responses were (1) to comply with legal regulations and (2) a moral commitment to environmental stewardship (8.8 and 8.5, respectively). Thus, there is evidence that business executives recognize that sustainable development can and should be viewed as part of the interwoven framework of business ethics. Ethicists would applaud such a view and could use the theories of utilitarianism, rights/duties, and the categorical imperative to provide the underlying support.
In making a utilitarian analysis of businesses' implementation of sustainable development concepts, the "greatest god or least harm for the greatest number" principle can be easily envisioned. The stakeholders involved are all the earth's inhabitants, both human and non-human. Sustainable development would create the greatest good or least harm by allowing those inhabitants (and potential offspring) to exist in a world where the air is breathable, the water is drinkable, the soil is fertile, and renewable resources thrive. It is difficult to use traditional monetary cost-benefit analysis to determine whether sustainable development is worthwhile. First, although many current and future costs could be estimated and discounted back to present values, it is probably impossible to even comprehend what types and amounts of costs might be necessary in the future. Second, the benefits of sustainable development are significantly more qualitative than monetarily quantitative; for example, how can the value of a living species be estimated? But, even without finances attached, the result would be undeniably conclusive: no matter how high the costs of sustainable development are, the benefits of current and continued existence by the earth's species must exceed that cost. Ethically, 'the benefits of life outweigh the costs to obtain it.
Analyzing sustainable development activities by business entities using the theory of right/duties addresses the issue of whether an inhabitable environment is a moral right. . .. Blackstone postulated that access to livable environment is a human right because such an environment is essential for humans to fulfill their capacities. Thus, everyone has the correlative moral obligation to respect that right. Rawls and Kant would support this concept because of the rationality of people being entitled to rights that do not infringe upon others' rights. A human's inhabitable environment includes other living creatures, flora, fauna, and resources (e.g., air, water, and minerals). These non-human elements of the planet are not responsible for, nor can they correct, the ecologically damaging discharges of pollution or disproportionate use of resources created by humans. Thus, businesses, as collections of human beings, have the duty to engage in sustainable development activities so as to mitigate their environmental impacts and help in providing, protecting, and preserving a livable environment.
In its determination of morality as objectively and universally binding, Kant's categorical imperative would support businesses' sustainable development actions. Proponents of Kantianism, however, would be quick to point out that sustainable development activities should be performed from duty, not simply from inclination or self-interest. In other words, businesses should not engage in sustainable development because such activities will reduce costs, increase revenues, or provide an advantageous reputation. Businesses should engage in sustainable development because, in the minds of all rational people, reclaiming and preserving the earth's environment as well as limiting pollution and resource depletion is the "right" thing to do. In the final analysis, sustainable development represents an action that would be right and valid" even if everyone were to violate it in actual conduct."
Sustainable development is, then, an important and ethical value to be upheld by businesses. But some aspects of sustainable development are more clearly pursued, or pursued to different degrees, by some publics than by others.
Level of Sustainable Development Efforts for Businesses
From the standpoint of businesses, it is important to ascertain which sustainable development issues can and cannot be addressed. Businesses cannot pass laws or treaties to protect the environment, enact land reforms, or control populations. Businesses cannot force consumers to recycle, reuse, or slow consumption. Businesses, in general, cannot produce the scientific knowledge that will end global warming, save the rain forests, or eliminate pollution. Businesses cannot stop societal development. And businesses cannot decide to pursue totally altruistic environmental goals without any concern for profitability or longevity. (To do so would be to guarantee organizational failure: owners would remove financial backing because they could not achieve a reasonable return on investment; employees would look elsewhere for jobs because they could not rely on continued employment; and suppliers would limit or revoke credit because they could not be assured of payment.)
Although businesses cannot do any of the things mentioned above unilaterally, there are many things that they can do. Businesses can influence passage of laws through lobbying and other efforts. They can influence consumer behavior (through product development and packaging, encouraging consumer recycling and reuse, and community awareness activities). Businesses can (through research agendas and new product discovery and development) help reduce or eliminate pollution causes. Businesses can also influence how societal development will occur and what the impact of that development will be through their location and technological investment choices. And businesses can undertake a strategy of pursuing sustainable development in conjunction with profitability and longevity to the benefit of all organizational stakeholders. Such a strategy would focus on both current and future eco-efficiencies.
Given the myriad of opportunities for engaging in environmentally "correct" or, at a higher level, sustainable development activities, how should a business determine its participation? One possible technique would be the use of the hierarchy of ethical behavior suggested by Raiborn and Payne. The hierarchy consists of four degrees of achievement: basic (reflects minimally acceptable behavior that complies with the letter, but not the spirit, of the law);
. currently attainable (reflects behavior deemed moral, but not laudable, by society);
. practical (reflects extreme diligence toward moral behavior; achievable but difficult); and
. theoretical (reflects the highest potential for good or the spirit of morality).
Basic Level of Behavior
A business operating at the basic level of behavior would merely comply with the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates. Such an organization would make no sustainable development efforts because the concept is not embedded into the law in any country in the world. This organization would remain within legally acceptable pollution levels, although it would possibly view those levels as hindrances to productive activities. Such organizations. . . would more than likely espouse (although quietly) the following beliefs: We recognize that the environment is not a "free and unlimited" good. However, environmental laws cost money that could be going to support the economic goal of increased shareholder value. We will operate within the law, but will not seek environmental improvements beyond the law. Thus, these companies' behaviors would be deemed legal, but not necessarily ethical.
Currently Attainable Level of Behavior
A business operating at the currently attainable level of behavior would acknowledge that some benefits do arise from engaging in environmentallyfriendly activities that are not legally mandated. These organizations, however, probably engage in such activities for the "wrong" reasons (according to the categorical imperative): cost reduction, revenue enhancement, or reputation improvement. In other words, the activities are likely to provide short-term monetary benefits greater than their costs These companies would more than likely espouse the following belief: We recognize that the environment is not a "free and unlimited" good. Environmental laws are necessary because business should be held responsible to remove the damaging effects they have had and to reduce or limit the future impacts they will have on the earth's ecosystems in their role as society's major tangible goods producers. We will operate within the law and will seek to find environmental improvements that reduce costs or improve productive activities so that short-term profits are enhanced and shareholder value is increased. These organizations may be viewed by society as environmentallyconscious companies that are operating for the greater good. . . but, in reality, the greater good is primarily that of the organization.
Practical Level of Behavior
A business operating at the practical level of behavior would also acknowledge that benefits arise from engaging in environmentally-friendly activities. These organizations, however, would strive to do the "right" thing relative to the environment because it is "right" rather than because of short-term profits or reputation. These businesses and their managers recognize the need for, and worth of, environmentally sound production and marketing practices. These organizations would attempt, in their varying activities, to engage in environmental innovations that might be expensive but that would provide the most beneficial future outcomes. In doing so, the businesses would hope that consumers would recognize the benefits of such innovative practices are worth purchasing at a higher cost than those of less environmentally sensitive competitors. There should be no question that these businesses are profit motivated: management has a fiduciary duty towards a number of groups (among which are shareholders, creditors, employees, and consumers) to maximize profits and, therefore, efficiency. "For both infrastructure and services, it has to be recognized that private sector participation will be achieved only on the basis of an acceptable expected revenue scheme."
. .. These companies would more than likely espouse the following belief: We recognize that the environment must be protected, not only through laws but also through our own proactive involvement. We will find and implement environmental improvements and innovations for our products and processes, knowing that consumers will recognize the long-run benefits of our actions and be willing to support those actions with their purchasing decisions. Through this strategy, we believe that we will provide high quality products that have the least detrimental environmental impact on our local and global community. Thus, these organizations view themselves as forerunners in the area of environmental protection, for the sake of all stakeholders. But these companies have not crossed the line from overt environmental concern to cutting edge, world-class leadership in sustainability.
Theoretical Level of Behavior
A business operating at the theoretical level of behavior would have incorporated the idea of sustainable development into its organizational strategy. There would be no "piecemeal projects aimed at controlling or preventing pollution. Focusing on sustainability requires putting business strategies to a new test. Taking the entire planet as the context in which they do business, companies must ask whether they are part of the solution to social and environmental problems or part of the problem." These organizations... would more than likely espouse the following belief: The new paradigm must view the environment as fundamental to the business', society's, and the earth's continued existence. It is to be protected and replenished through all human and machine investments that are necessary to secure our place and the place of others (both human and nonhuman) on this planet. In doing so, our organization will be cost efficient from waste reduction and resource productivity maximization. Our business will be respected by our stakeholders; our products and services will be desired and recognized as valueadded; and our eco-efficiency will enhance organizational profitability and promote organizational longevity. These organizations take the concept of "walking the talk" completely literally.
What Actions Can and Are Being Taken by Businesses?
One statistic starkly exhibits the crisis that looms: "By the year 2030, world population will double from 5.5 billion to 11 billion. . . . To provide basic amenities to all people, it is estimated that production of goods and energy will need to increase 5 to 35 times today's levels." Such changes will cause further environmental strain and perhaps irreparable damage. Can the earth assimilate the massive pollution and resource depletion inherent in such growth? Should economic growth be pitted against environmental and human health? Will implementation of sustainable development activities require a change in consumption habits and, if so, what habits of whom should be altered? Will technological innovation arise as the hoped-for panacea, such that consumption habits may remain unchanged? Can stakeholders accept, encourage, and reward through product/service purchases and organizational investment business actions toward sustainable development? Answers to these questions would obviously ameliorate the chance for efficacious solutions. Unfortunately, only simple answers can be provided for these complex questions at this time. Significant research needs to be performed to ascertain the answers that are the most ethical and the most eco-efficient. But one thing is clear: if businesses, as the manufacturers and providers of the world's products and services, do not begin individually and collectively to immediately work toward a solution, after some point there will be no solution to achieve.
Businesses should not be considered as irresponsible entities that must be forced into doing the ethical thing with regard to environmental protection or sustainable development. Businesses recognize the symbiotic relationship between the environment, consumers' demands, and the provision of goods and services to the world's communities. Businesses also recognize the synergistic relationship between them and the environment/society in which they operate. It would be irrational to suggest that business could exist without society and equally irrational to suggest that society could exist as well as, better, or at all in the absence of business. In other words, business and society need each other for practical reasons: businesses want to provide goods and services that society needs and/or wants....
Shrivastava has suggested that, as a beginning, businesses strive to attain various goals that are commensurate with the goals of sustainable development. He suggests that energy conservation techniques could be employed that would have a positive impact on pollution and resource depletion. Businesses could also engage in resource regeneration aimed specifically at the reduction of resource depletion. Additionally, he promotes environmental preservation, which strengthens and is strengthened by arguments that the environment itself is worthy of care and protection, aside from its human-associated values. To implement these three goals, businesses can improve processes, educate employees, provide consumer advice, perform research, be prepared for emergencies, and listen openly to concerns.
A final, but very important method by which businesses can strive toward sustainable development is to join with others to form organizations focused on this goal. Some of these organizations include the World Trade Organization's Committee on Trade and Environment, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the International Chamber of Commerce's Commission on Environment, and the United Nations Environment Program. As aptly stated in the International Chamber of Commerce Commitment to Sustainable Development.all sectors of society, including government, business, public interest groups and consumers, have a role to play in contributing to sustainable development, and they must work in partnership, bringing their values and experience to bear on the challenge. Sustainable development will only be achieved if each one plays its part. Each sector should focus on what it can do best, but, through partnerships, local, national or even global, we can build on the strengths of each group. . . . Business is best suited to contributing to sustainable development in the economic sphere-through the creation of wealth in an environmentally sound manner.
Businesses need to assert their commitment to sustainable development over and above environmental legalities. As indicated by Porter and van der Linde, "Regulators tend to set regulations in ways that deter innovation. Companies, in turn, oppose and delay regulations instead of innovating to address them. The whole process has spawned an industry of litigators and consultants that drains resources away from real solutions." .
Who, in business, should lead the way in the pursuit of sustainable development goals? The easiest answer is that global, multinationals based in highly developed countries should be the leaders; some of these entities have already begun the journey. Another answer is that those entities creating the biggest environmental problems should lead the way. The most appropriate answer, however, is that organizations whose stakeholders recognize the necessity of sustainable development as part and parcel of the company's need to act ethically should be the role models.
Businesses, acting alone, cannot create sustainability. If the internal and external stakeholders are not willing to adopt the concept of sustainability as a long term necessity, then should businesses view the idea as not worthy and expunge it from the organizational strategy? Absolutely not! As indicated within the paper, there is significant interaction between and among all value chain constituents. And, similar to the spread of high product and service quality as a priority among value chain members, as one member of the value chain demands a view of sustainable development, so will others. In some cases, there will be a trickle-down effect; in others, there will be a waterfall.
It is time that businesses realized that environmental responsibility and sustainable development are part and parcel of business ethics. Rules can be written and laws can be passed about pollution control or environmental degradation, but the framework to which these are bound is the minimum or basic level of acceptable behavior. Like a corporate code of ethics, an environmental policy will reflect the corporate culture from which it stems. The companies that move in a continuous path up the hierarchy of ethical behavior from merely complying with legalities to integrating sustainable development concepts into strategic initiatives and mission statements are companies whose managers understand, espouse, advocate, and uphold the fundamentals of business ethics. These are also the companies and managers that are well aware that ethical business is good business. These are the long term survivors.
Sustainable development" was the galvanizing theme of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Based on the work of the Brundtland Commission in 1987, the goal of sustainable development has been enthusiastically promoted by the World Bank, the U.N. Development Fund, the U.N. Environment Programme, and the United Nations agencies promoting "world governance." It inspires President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development. It has precipitated an avalanche of World Bank publications, such as the fourteen volumes of the Environmentally Sustainable Development Proceedings series of the 1990s, transforming untold acreages of forest into official paper. The phrase occurs frequently in the Chinese Communist press, usually in conjunction with news about the progress being made in the family planning program (Hong 1998). The two topics-sustainable development and "family planning"-are linked throughout the literature.
Economists have struggled, without much success, to reconcile the various definitions that have been offered for "sustainable development." Herman Daly, an economist who has been involved since the beginning, says not to worry -lots of good ideas can't be defined (1996,2). Daly, long associated with the World Bank, has written the seminal works in the field and is now joined by a host of authors producing textbooks for the college generation. Instruction in "sustainable economics" suffuses or replaces introductory economics courses at a number of institutions.
Whatever it is, sustainable development promises to transform life on this planet. The Rio conference produced agreements on everything from landuse planning (including "sustainable mountain development") and greenhouse gases to, or course, birth control. There were agreements on "human settlements," "sustainable agriculture," "biodiversity," and on and on in its "Agenda 21" and its Climate Convention and its Convention on Biological Diversity (Agenda 21 1992). Though Congress did not adopt the program, the Clinton administration proceeded as if it had, adopting new federal regulations and appointing a President's Council on Sustainable Development, made up of federal officials and prominent environmentalists, to pursue the agenda with vigor.
The Clinton Council on Sustainable Development has issued its own version of Agenda 21, declaring that we must "change consumption patterns," "restructure" education, "conduct a high-visibility public awareness campaign. . . to adopt sustainable practices," "create a network of conservation areas for each bioregion. .. based on public/private partnerships" (so much for private property), "realign social, economic and market forces... to embrace conservation," "use building codes [to secure] . . . environmental benefits," have "local. .. community planning. . . to develop a common vision," create" a council of. . . key stakeholders to... achieve sustainable management of forests," and "promote development of compact... neighborhoods" (good-bye, suburbs) (President's Council 1995).
Moreover, it decreed that "population must be stabilized at a level consistent with the capacity of the earth to support its inhabitants," whatever that capacity might be (President's Council 1995). The definitions may be elusive, but the program is uniform throughout the literature. It is to create massive, new bioregional conservation areas; control land use, consumption, and markets; re-educate the masses; and control population.
The Sierra Club announced at the U.N. Population Conference in Cairo in 1994 that "local activists" of the club in the United States were working "in a consensus-based. . . process to establish. . . thresholds for... population and consumption impact on the local ecoregion. . . . Addressing local carrying capacities will improve the quality of life for all and help develop sustainable communities" (Sierra Club 1994). The club didn't specify what action those local activists would take if it turns out that local populations exceed carrying capacity, but, as will be shown, other devotees of sustainability have done so.
Since the Rio conference, more than 130 countries have created new bureaucracies to implement Agenda 21 and its requirements for sustainable development, according to the Earth Council, whose head is Maurice Strong, director of the Rio conference and now assistant secretary general of the United Nations (Earth Council 1997). Many local and regional compacts for sustainable development exist in the United States, stretching from Florida through Missouri to Santa Cruz and Humboldt County, California. Henry Lamb of the Environmental Conservation Organization has described some of them, including the statewide plans for Florida and Missouri (1998).
Sustained by foundation money and federal grants, rarely mentioning Agenda 21, salaried environmental activists are convening unsuspecting local citizens to engage in the "visioning" process to plan for the sustainable community in their future. Vice President Gore's Clean Water Initiative and the administration's American Heritage Rivers Initiative are nurturing the process by encouraging local "watershed councils" to make comprehensive plans for their regions.
Herman Daly's Apocalyptic Vision
Probably not many of these souls have read the works of Herman Daly or Maurice Strong, the Rio documents, or the modern college textbooks in sustainable economics. If they had, they might be less eager to help. Daly, an economist,
first came to national attention during the 1970s when the Joint Economic Committee of Congress published his plan for reducing births by government licensing. As in China, the government would issue the licenses in the restricted numbers requisite for achieving its population targets, and persons attempting to give birth without licenses would be punished. Unlike the Chinese system, the licenses could be bought or sold, as in the modern schemes for emissions control (Daly 1976).
People of common sense hearing such schemes tend to find them fantastic and amusing. But the World Bank was so enchanted by Daly's notions that it gave him a job as a senior economist in the Environment Department. In 1990 he and a theologian co-author, John B. Cobb, Jr., published their comprehensive plan for the salvation of the world, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy towards Community, the Environment and a Sustainable Future. Disputing major teachings of economics, the authors called for university "reform" to reduce the influence of economics and increase attention to the "social and global crisis" (357-60). That reform, of course, is now going forward. Like other leaders of mass movements, they argued that logical reasoning is greatly overdone and called for "a conscious shift toward. . . relativisation" (359). Such a shift also is rapidly occurring. Daly's hostility toward economics is not unique; many aspiring world-changers have seen economics, with its emphasis on logical reasoning based on fact, as the enemy of their plans.
Daly and Cobb called for the conversion of "half or more" of the land area ofthe United States to unsettled wilderness inhabited by wild animals (255), the abolition of private land ownership (256-59), a giant forced reduction in trade and a change to self-sufficiency at not only the national level but at local levels also (229-35, 269-72), government controls to reduce output to "sustainable biophysical limits" (whatever those might be) (143), and the resettlement of a large portion of the population to rural areas (264, 311)-remember Cambodia and Pol Pot, who has been called "the ultimate deep ecologist."
Moreover, they wanted a prohibition of the movement of private wealth (221, 233)-so much for any escape from the sustainable paradise-the abolition of direct elections, except for local officials who would in turn elect higher officers of the government (177), and, of course, complete population control by means of birth licenses. The intent was to promote the "biospheric vision" in the spirit of "deep ecology," which sees the need for a "substantial decrease in the human population" to promote "the flourishing of nonhuman life" (377). They added that this necessary reduction in the "human niche," a phrase echoed in subsequent United Nations documents, might be achieved either by a fall in population or by a decline in resource consumption (378).
Daly and Cobb understood that these vast changes would require some readjustments in attitudes, to say the least, and saw hope in the "influence of ecological and feminist sensitivities" (377). Not only have those attitude adjustments materialized, but academic economics, identified by Daly as the enemy, has also been remarkably helpful, producing quantities of new books and courses on sustainable development and related topics. Generous grants from government, foundations, and international agencies have encouraged this outpouring.
The justification for these massive changes in human life on the planet lay in what Daly and Cobb called "the wild facts"-that is, the alleged extinction of species, the ozone hole, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and the imminent exhaustion of oil supplies. The last, of course, has disappeared from the current list of portending calamities; but never mind, we now have deforestation and the methane crisis. In any event, the bottom line was that we suffer from an excessively human-centured point of view, and people should be taught to adopt the "biospheric vision" (376) in recognition of our "community with other living things" in the spirit of "deep ecology."
Daly and Cobb provided no evidence of any of the catastrophes they listed and even acknowledged some uncertainty about the "precise physical effects" (416). Nevertheless, they insisted that the impending crises were "facts" that could not be denied. Scientific disputes over these matters have expanded since then, prompting the True Believers to develop new arguments.
Some of us may wonder whether the work we do makes any difference in the scheme of things. Daly and Cobb need have no such concerns. Their words, phrases, and arguments now appear throughout the United Nations documents on the sustainable society and the literature of sustainable economics. And Daly, now at the University of Maryland, has reiterated his vision in a 1996 book, Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Develop'ment. Together with Robert Costanza, Daly now directs the International Society for Ecological Economics, based in Solomons, Maryland.
Steven Hackett's Contribution
The nature of current college instruction in the field can be seen in a new textbook, Environmental and Natural Resources Economics: Theory, Policy, and the Sustainable Society (1998), by Steven C. Hackett, who teaches economics at Humboldt State University. As in Daly's case, Hackett's justifications for proposing fundamental social change are the imperiled biosphere and "the continued growth of human population," which causes "loss of biodiversity" and "deteriorating. . . wilderness areas" (12, 13), and many other ills.
On these points, there is serious debate, as the author admits. He insists nevertheless on "the potential for catastrophic change in the global climate. .. rising sea levels... inundation of... low-lying areas... desertification of... grain-producing areas. . . mass hunger. . . and. . . rapid loss of biodiversity" (12). These dire forecasts, of course, have been featured on television for a generation and will probably not unduly alarm modern students. Nor will these hardened young consumers of doomsday prophecies be surprised to learn that population growth threatens the "habitats of many of the world's species of animals and plants... the integrity of the world's remaining temperate zone wilderness areas, coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, and tropical rainforests" (12, 13).. ..
Is the Earth Overpopulated?
Overpopulation, according to Hackett, is a major cause of our doleful condition. Having softened the obviously elitist implications of the diagnosis by professing his concern for injustice, he can get on with the real message. The prolific people of the less developed countries are wreaking havoc on their "fragile environments," engaging in "deforestation. . . migration to . . . polluted urban areas... massive environmental degradation" (B), and so forth. Unmentioned are the government policies that create these disasters, such as the destructive taxation of farmers' productivity, the government monopolies that underpay and overcharge the people, the confiscation of traders' stocks and pack animals, the endless wars financed by foreign aid.
Hackett doesn't mention the large current declines in fertility and population growth rates throughout the world. United Nations figures show that seventy-nine countries with 40 percent of the world's population now have fertility rates too low to prevent ultimate population decline in those countries (U.N. Population Division 1996). But this evidence gives little comfort to Hackett, who quotes estimates showing that "2 to S hectares of productive land are needed to support... the average person... in an industrialized country [whereas] ... the world has only 1.S hectares per capita of ecologically productive land. . . and. . . only 0.3 hectare per capita are suitable for agricultural production" (263). In other words, not only does the less developed world have far too many rapidly multiplying people, but population in the industrialized countries is several times too large.
As he does throughout the book, Hackett hedges by saying that we don't really know our "carrying capacity," but the undergraduate reader is going to learn that, whatever that capacity may be, there are already far, far too many people on the earth. In a like vein, Paul Ehrlich, famous for his unblemished record of wrong forecasts, has said the world has "perhaps" five times as many people as it can tolerate (Ehrlich 1989).
Let us not imagine, therefore, that the advocates of the sustainable society are merely talking about cleaning up pollution and giving birth control pills to people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Although present State Department and U.N. efforts to restrain the increase of dark-skinned people are very strenuous indeed, they are seen as not nearly enough. Hackett quotes Devall on the desirability of "a substantial decrease of the human population" (20). And he describes the "coercive fertility-control" in China (234) and the proposals of Daly and Cobb and Kenneth Boulding for birth quotas. Spokesmen for the Clinton administration, such as Timothy Wirth, have specified that world population control must include the United States (Wirth 1996). Notice, too, that all of the sustainable society documents call for "population stabilization," without saying whether that is to occur at a population size larger or smaller than the present population.
We hope no guilt-ridden students rush to jump out of our overladen lifeboat before, first, asking why Hackett, Daly, Cobb, and Ehrlich have not done so already and, second, hearing some other information. Again according to Ehrlich and other, more reliable, sources, human beings actually occupy between 1 and 3 percent of the world's land area (Vitousek et al. 1986). The entire world population could be put into the state of Texas, leaving the rest of the world devoid of people. The population density of that giant city of Texas would be about 20,000 persons per square mile, which is somewhat higher than in San Francisco but lower than in Brooklyn (5.9 billion world population divided by 262,000 square miles of land in Texas implies 22,500 persons per square mile, or 1,200 square feet per person).
Farmers use less than half of the world's arable land (Revelle 1984). The world food supply has increased a great deal faster than population since 1950, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization 1996). . . .
Hackett has little hope that existing institutions can steer the earth away from the looming catastrophes. As for markets, they "reinforce self-interested behavior" (29). One searches Hackett's book in vain for any sign of understanding Adam Smith's "invisible hand" that leads men to serve one another and to economize in their use of resources as they pursue their own self-interest. There is no sign that Hackett has ever read the great economist John Maurice Clark, who called the market "our main safeguard against exploitation" because it performs "the simple miracle whereby each one increases his gains by increasing his services rather than by reducing them" (1948). He seems unaware of Walter Eucken's perception that markets break up the great concentrations of economic power (1950) or F. A. Hayek's (1948) and Ludwig von Mises's (1949) realization that markets provide otherwise unavailable information about the scarcity of the resources that are the focus of his concerns.
This is not to argue that markets will solve all economic problems. Wellknown and much-discussed problems of externalities, public goods, and common pool resources, sometimes arise, as Hackett notes. But the nonmarket economies of this century have provided vivid object lessons in the pitfalls of "communitarian" planning, and the work of James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and others has pointed up the perverse incentives that infest the public sector as it goes about trying to correct "market failure."
At times Hackett acknowledges that public ownership and management do not always produce ideal results, but for the most part he sees the market as the villain and concludes that our best hope lies in "cooperative rather than noncooperative decision making" (91). It is a conclusion he d,raws from game theory, and it leads to his hopes for "sustainable development" through smallgroup negotiations. On this issue, more later. . . .
Not surprisingly, Hackett finds private property highly suspect: "It is clear that systems centered around private property. . . can conflict with the common good" (26). After a brief discussion of John Locke and proposals for protecting natural resources by assigning private property rights to them, Hackett points students to a patron saint of the French Revolution: "From Rousseau's perspective... private property rights. .. alienate people from nature... [and] lead to inequality... and wars." He quotes the great man: "Competition and rivalry...opposition of interests. . . and always the hidden desire to profit at the expense of others. All these evils were the first effect of property" (25-26).
Such an indictment demands a response. Private owners did not hunt the buffalo almost to extinction. And it was not a private property system that sent millions to the gulag. When the Ethiopian government socialized the privately owned donkeys, most of them perished (Deressa 1985). I keep the off-road vehicles out of my private forest. And the biblical good shepherd was not the government or the assembly of "stakeholders" in the "sustainable community"; he was the owner of the sheep. Where does the common good lie in these decisions? And, most important, Who decides what the common good is? In fairness, also, Hackett might have mentioned the bloodbath that Rousseau's ideas encouraged. Like Devall, Daly, and other environmental utopians of our own time, Rousseau distrusted reason and argued for going "back to Nature." Ever the romantic, he sent his five children to a foundling home (Gauss 1972).
Economists have long noted that voluntary trade must make its participants better off or they wouldn't engage in it, whether they are children trading the contents of their trick-or-treat bags or Mexicans buying used bottles from California to turn them into gravel. Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and even Sir Dudley North before them, saw it as the solution to the uneven distribution of resources. Hackett, however, like Daly and Cobb, whom he quotes at length, lists many objections to trade. It "may... allow rich countries to import pollution-intensive, resource-intensive, and endangered-species products they do not wish to produce themselves and to export their toxics and trash" (225). It "tends to erode livable wages, the bargaining power of unions, and environmental and other standards of communities" (226). It "undermines sustainability" (227) and "has put great pressure on. . . endangered wildlife" (229).
Nevertheless, Hackett concludes that although there are "important questions" about how much and what kind of trade to allow, "it is neither practical nor desirable to eliminate trade completely" (230). What a relief. Clearly, however, what is left will be a far cry from free trade, just as all other human activity will be far from free in the "sustainable society."
Throughout the world, controllers and would-be controllers have seen, to use Smith's phrase, the human "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange" as a resource to be exploited or suppressed for the benefit of those in power. From mercantilist England, France, and Spain to the recent Soviet Union and modern Ethiopia, governments have sought to channel this propensity, always with the result of impoverishing their subjects. To illuminate the ill effects of trade controls was the main task of Smith's Wealth of Nations. That modern proponents of the "sustainable society" should be so eager to revive such controls should give us pause-doubly so because these people intend to reduce human consumption, and they understand very well that trade restrictions do impoverish people.
Like Daly, Hackett takes a dark view of what he calls "mainstream economics." Students who have studied economics, according to Hackett, are less altruistic than other students (28). Economics itself, he maintains, tends to reduce everything to a monetary cost-benefit comparison without recognizing "intrinsic" values. In his view, however, not all intrinsic values are equally worthy of recognition. Individual rights are especially suspect. By contrast, the "sustainability ethic holds the interdependent health and well-being of human communities and earth's ecology over time as the basis of value" (209), and is therefore clearly superior to the viewpoint of mainstream economics.
Economics and Ethics
Private property, the market, and economics itself, it would seem, are the bad fruit of a bad tree, the disordered ethical system of contemporary society. Hackett blames the shortcomings of economics on its "teleological ethics"-that is, the end justifies the means-attributing the idea to "religious philosophers" (21). This reference enables him to take a swipe at both religion and economics. Evidently, Hackett either never had catechism or was inattentive when Sister told him the end does not justify the means. His example is "utilitarianism," which he describes as the "normative base" for "much of the traditional economic perspective" (21). His straw man is Jeremy Bentham, a nineteenthcentury eccentric who had his body stuffed and put in a glass case after he died so it could be on view for University College, London, undergraduates for all time (Mack 1972).
Bentham's mechanical pleasure-pain calculus has amused students for generations, but other men-Smith, Jean Baptiste Say, Ricardo, Carl Menger, Alfred Marshall, and others-did the serious work of showing how the market reveals and reconciles the varied and conflicting desires of multitudes of individuals, channeling their self-interest to the service of others in their pursuit of individual gain.
These monumental themes receive barely a glance from Hackett, who remains intent on showing the failures of market calculations and the need for more sublime direction by persons imbued with the spirit of the sustainable community and tutored in sustainable economics. To illustrate, Hackett poses the "question of whether an action (for example, policy protecting old-growth forest) is to be judged on its intrinsic rightness or based on the measurable benefits and costs that might result" and "the proper balance between individual self-interest and the common good," again undefined (17-18).
There ensues a discussion of the "fundamentals of ethical systems," beginning with "deontological ethics," which judges an action by "its intrinsic rightness" (19). As an example, Hackett quotes at length from the "ecosophy," or "earth wisdom," of Bill Devall, George Sessions, and Arne Naess:
The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves. . . .
The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires such a decrease.
Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation. .. to... implement the necessary changes. (20, quoting Devall 1988)
Clearly, this call is not for minor adjustments in lifestyle. A "substantial decrease of the human population" is no small thing. Our "obligation. . . to. . . implement the necessary changes" is a profoundly serious matter. This proposal is not a nickel-and-dime deal. True, Hackett is only quoting Devall at this point, but his discussion makes it clear that Devall's insistence on "intrinsic rightness" is a far more beautiful thing than the crass monetary valuations of "utilitarian" economics.
To make the issue perfectly clear, Hackett offers an example. Suppose an endangered species is threatened by development. Guess what will happen in a "society that views the existence of a species as being of intrinsic value" (... la Bill Devall). Then guess what will happen if a monetary cost-benefit comparison determines the outcome. Obviously, all economists, except an enlightened few, should be taken out and shot.
Nowhere in Hackett's discussion of ethics does he refer to the JudeoChristian tradition of stewardship-the admonition to "keep" the earth (Gen. 2:15), the prescribed days of rest for men and beasts (Deut. 5:14), the prescribed years of rest for the land (Lev. 25:4), the love of nature with its "Leviathan" taking its sport in the sea and its "coneys" among the rocks (Ps. 104), its cedars of Lebanon (Ps. 92), its hills that "rejoice on every side" and its valleys that "laugh and sing" (Ps. 65), and the strict injunctions against the worship of nature and the human sacrifice that often accompanied it (Deut. 17:3, 20:2-6; 2 Kings 17; Job 31:26).
Modern economic reasoning does not destroy these values any more than modern atmospheric science destroys the beauty of a sunset. Certainly, the sin of greed has always beset the race, as has idolatry. Just as certainly, modern economics has its idolaters as well as its Midases, but such corruption is nothing new on earth. Economic reasoning enables us to compare alternatives. It enables us to see that a society following the romanticism of Devall or Daly would probably be no more attractive or healthful than the one we have. One of the greatest tragedies of our time is not that undergraduates study economics but that they study so little of the great civilizing themes of our heritage-our great literature, art, and music, our legacies from the ancient Greeks, our tradition of human rights and our history of the struggle for liberty-and that they know so little about Christianity or Judaism. Thus deprived, they are left vulnerable, not so much to "utilitarianism" as to environmental lunacy.
Worse yet, as John Grobey, professor of economics and a senior colleague of Hackett at Humboldt State University, has noted, the result must be to deprive young people of the traditional birthright of youth-hope for the future. Taught from their earliest years that their own burgeoning humanity is destroying the earth and all of nature, the youth of today face a more depressing prospect than perhaps any previous generation. No wonder the doubling of the suicide rate among children aged ten to fourteen since 1980 (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1997). No wonder the epidemic of school shootings. No wonder the recent case in Humboldt County in which a young man on trial for attempted murder gave as his defense "overpopulation, dwindling resources and the certain doom of the planet" (Parker 1998).
The changes in "basic economic, technological, and ideological structures" called for by Devall obviously threaten traditional views of individual rights to life, liberty, and property. The question that occurs to a mainstream economist at this point is, Just which individuals will be given the awesome responsibility of determining the "common good" and the best interests of the community and the ecology? And what will happen to human beings, stripped of individual rights, who get in the way of the grand march to the sustainable community? Hackett gives hints but no answers. He acknowledges the seminal work of Daly, but without mentioning Daly's call for massive resettlement of populations. The question remains: Is the centuries-long pilgrimage from Magna Carta through Areopagitica and the Bill of Rights to Selma to be renounced now in the name of the environment? Will this denouement be the Clinton legacy?
No Price Is Too Great
. . . Hackett makes it sound as if the sustainable society will be brought about by local meetings of "stakeholders" negotiating over local issues. But undergirding these cozy negotiations will be "regulations, taxes, subsidies, and direct finding of clean technology" (277). Of course, the Sierra Club will be there to help.
Here is the rub. To avert a highly problematic future disaster, much disputed by competent scientists, Hackett and his soul-mates in the United Nations and the Clinton Council on Sustainable Development would require human beings to submit to a gigantic present sacrifice of freedom, human dignity, and material welfare in a regime controlled by unelected officials of a global ecobureaucracy. Have we learned nothing from the utopian horrors devised for us during the past century?
People do love nature. The tremendous expansion of national parks and conservation areas during this century testifies to that love. The environmental movement itself is an expression of our determination not to let the industrial age destroy the oceanic Leviathan and the cedars of Lebanon. The real danger now, however, is not that we stand on the verge of destroying nature but that, stampeded by environmental terrors on every hand, we are plunging over the cliff into totalitarianism.
POSTSCRIPT Is Sustainable Development Compatible With Human Welfare?
I t is a truism that human impact on the environment depends on both human numbers and human activities. Those who contend that sustainability is not an issue often point out that all six-billion-plus living humans could be moved into a relatively small area such as Texas, leaving all the rest of the planet empty. However, it must be remembered that each human requires space on which to grow food and fiber and from which to extract energy and mineral resources. Also, the majority of the world's people do not share in the standard of living typical of the developed nations and are trying very hard to change that. If they succeed, the human impact on the environment will increase tremendously. Most projections say that demand for land, energy, and resources would then exceed supply. The world would be raped to meet the needs of the present generation, and nothing would be left for future generations. In "Windows on the Future: Global Scenarios and Sustainability," Environment (April 1998), Gilberto C. Gallopin and Paul Raskin assert that because the world is so interconnected today, there can be no separate solutions for the rich and the poor. They state, "There is no question that the contradiction between the modern world's imperative toward growth and the Earth's finite resources will ultimately be resolved in some way. The only question is how that will come about-whether through enlightened management, economic and environmental catastrophe, or some other means." See also Garrett Hardin's Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos (Oxford University Press, 1993).
Sustainable economics is addressed in Louis P. Pojman's Global Environmental Ethics (Mayfield, 2000). In it, Pojman reviews the difficulties posed by global inequities.
The first of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development's 27 principles says, "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature." Therefore, any solution to the sustainability problem should not infringe on human welfare. This makes any solution that involves limiting or reducing human population or blocking improvements in standards of living very difficult to sell. Yet solutions may be possible. In The Natural Wealth of
Nations: Harnessing the Market for the Environment (W. W. Norton, 1998), David Malin Roodman suggests that taxing polluting activities instead of profit or income would stimulate corporations and individuals to reduce such activities or to discover nonpolluting alternatives. In "Building a Sustainable Society," in State of the World 1999 (W. W. Norton, 1999), Roodman adds recommendations for citizen participation in decision making, education efforts, and global cooperation, without which we are heading for "a world order [that] almost no one wants." (He is referring to a future of environmental crises, not the "new world order" feared by many conservatives, in which national policies are dictated by international [UN] regulators-the "unelected officials of a global eco-bureaucracy" decried by Kasun.)
Julie L. Davidson, in "Sustainable Development: Business as Usual or a New Way of Living?" Environmental Ethics (Spring 2000), states that efforts to achieve sustainability cannot by themselves save the world but that such efforts may give us time to achieve new and more suitable values. Davidson would likely be heartened by the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, which was held in August 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Its aim was to strengthen partnerships between governments, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders and to eradicate poverty and make the distribution of the benefits of globalization more equal. See Gary Gardner, "The Challenge for Johannesburg: Creating a More Secure World," in State of the World 2002 (W. W. Norton, 2002) and the United Nations Environmental Programme's Global Environmental Outlook 3 (Earthscan, 2002), produced as a "global state of the environment report" in preparation for the Johannesburg summit.