WHAT IS “SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT”?
by Dr. James White
One the most omnipotent concepts which inevitably appears in every discussion of the future is sustainable development. Everyone talks about it but no one ever defines it. This may not be by accident but, in many cases, by design. It is a code word used by planners, environmentalists, academics and those who favour world government. And it may have insidious consequences for rural landowners.
Words have no inherent meaning separate from their social context and definitions vary significantly from person to person. Thus everyone has their own interpretation of the rather fuzzy concept of sustainable development. In most cases it’s assumed to mean continuing economic, social, political and human improvement depending on the speaker’s area of interest.
An article by Jacqueline R. Kasun, an economics professor at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California casts a whole new meaning on sustainable development. The author argues that the whole concept is the central theme of the 1987 Bruntland Report, the 1992 Earth Summit at Rio de Janerio and the policy initiatives of the World Bank, the United Nations Development Fund and other U.N. agencies promoting world governance.
The environmental extremists at the Battle in Seattle and at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City all strongly supported the sustainable development idea as do those who believe that global warming is a major man-created threat. What are these people really promoting? Various agencies use “sustainable development” to emphasize different aspects of a vision of the future which they claim will be a disaster if we don’t adopt their blueprint for restricting human activities. Unfortunately, they propose to create a world which few of us will want to experience.
On the record a world envisioned by more extreme proponents of sustainable development would: convert half or more of the earth’s land area to unsettled wilderness for the exclusive use of non-humans; eliminate private land ownership; reduce international trade; resettle a large part of the world’s population; enforce strict birth licensing. These and similarly radical recommendations are their proposed prerequisites for global utopia.
That utopia, they say, justifies government initiatives to anticipate and control unsubstantiated catastrophes such as extinction of plant and animal species, growth of the ozone hole, greenhouse effect, deforestation, shortage of food and loss of biodiversity. They predict that without concentrated international action untold calamities will surely occur.
The proponents of sustainable development have no confidence that existing institutions can steer the earth away from inevitable disaster. Markets are suspect because they re-inforce self-interested behaviour and do not adequately consider fairness, ethics and spirituality.
Private property is especially suspect because, according to Rousseau, patron saint of the French Revolution, “private property rights alienate people from nature and create inequality and war”
Such arguments ignore the fact that voluntary trade must benefit all participants or they don’t engage in it. Societies based on private property have consistently demonstrated their superiority to other systems. Few successful experiments in communal ownership have existed in history. The efforts of early Christians to live with all things in common had a short life even for those who were truly selfless. Invariably, a self-selected elite emerges who knows better than the masses and takes and maintains control by force, all the while proclaiming the intrinsic rightness of their position.
The next time you meet a proponent of sustainable development, especially those who live off government grants, ask him or her to define their favourite term. Also ask: are non-humans equal or superior to humans; what decision framework would allocate goods and services more efficiently than the market system, especially if trade is restricted; how will the world population benefit from sustainable development; do some people really have the right to tell others how many children to have; is it man’s right to prevent natural selection and, if so, how will some species be selected for preservation and others ignored; is biodiversity worth the risk of totalitarianism.