Towards Sustainability: Emerging Systems for Informing by Jackie Venning, John Higgins

By Jackie Venning, John Higgins

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Extra resources for Towards Sustainability: Emerging Systems for Informing Sustainable Development

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When stated in the most general terms, sustainable development is a powerful, intuitively appealing concept. Few would argue with, for example, the Brundtland definition. But the more this concept is focused on particular sectors, groups, or activites, the more difficult it becomes to agree on a meaning. Not only is there debate about meanings, but the seemingly simple unitary concept of ‘sustainable development’ shatters into myriad concepts such as ‘sustainable agriculture’, ‘sustainable fisheries’, INTRODUCTION • 21 ‘sustainable steelmaking’ and ‘sustainable communities’.

In effect, it acknowledges that the quickest way to drive a species to extinction is to destroy its habitat, or as it is phrased in the case, its environment. Following on from this, the opening sentences of paragraph 6 have a resonance with both the earlier warnings of Rachel Carson and the later Brundtland definition: A point has been reached in history when we must shape our actions throughout the world with a more prudent care for their environmental consequences. Through ignorance or indifference we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and wellbeing depend.

The precautionary principle is caught between competing philosophies of life, one eco-centric and riskadverse, the other more utilitarian and risk-taking. While each of the principles has generated debate, the Precautionary Principle has generated whole conferences such as that conducted by the University of New South Wales in 1993. The Precautionary Principle offers decision makers a forceful, common-sense approach to environmental problems. It includes taking action in the face of uncertainty; shifting burdens of proof to those who create risks; analysis of alternatives to potentially harmful activities; and participatory decision-making methods.

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