Sustainable development (SD) is another of those 'big ideas' that is apparently beyond question. Like Kyoto it’s been effectively sold and is now widely accepted. SD is ‘the answer’ to all issues of conservation, resource management and ... you name it. Every government and every corporation touts SD as part of its 'corporate social responsibility' agenda.
Although SD is widely accepted, few have any real idea what it is. And on close inspection the concept is so fuzzy as to have little meaning at all. But, as with most platitudes, it sounds virtuous, so it must be good.
Peter Foster, in an excellent column in today’s National Post highlights newly minted Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's attachment to the notion and exposes it for the nonsense that it is:
The problem is that sustainable development is an anti-concept -- designed semantically to be beyond question or even fundamental discussion. After all, who speaks for unsustainable development?
That definition sure has a familiar ring to it. And SD, naturally, suffers the same difficulty as Marx’s dictum. Mr. Foster explains:
Sounds reasonable. But only a moment's reflection demonstrates insurmountable problems. What are "needs?" Are they synonymous with "wants?" If not, who decides which is which? And what are "the needs of the present?" .....it would be impossible to calculate or express the needs of even one person, let alone compare the needs of two. .....One thing is for sure, not all present needs are being met, so why should we consider catering collectively to those of the future, assuming, of course, that we have any idea of what "future needs" might be, which we don't, and can't.
The implicit assumption of the Brundtland formulation is that we live in a manageable, tribal world where needs are clearly defined and "collective-action problems" (as left-wing intellectuals love to call them) can be hashed out around the campfire.And, finally, referring to Mr. Dion:
....anybody who embraces the glib nostrums of sustainable development is not merely at best a conventional thinker, he is not much of a thinker at all.
....the bland formulation provided by the socialist-packed UN Brundtland commission in 1987, that SD is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."