The Sustainable Use of Resources

(from “Sustainable Development: An Introductory Guide”)

by David Reid

Given unlimited resources, we would be able to meet the fundamental human needs of the present generation without having to consider whether our activities might deny similar opportunities to succeeding generations, whose fundamental human needs will, if Max-Neef is correct, be similar to our own. In a finite world, however, in which the human population is set to double and natural capital is depleted and degraded in increasing quantities, we cannot assume that resources exist in sufficient quantity to continue to meet fundamental needs.

It is therefore important to try to formulate principles for the sustainable use of natural resources, now and in the future, and in particular for the use of nonrenewable resources, for any consumption of these reduces the quantity available for future generations. Can we devise a set of principles for the sustainable use of resources that will lead to practical guidelines for sustainable development?1

The Biosphere

Any form of social or economical development is, like life itself, ultimately dependent on the biosphere, a complex “whole” which sustains a multitude of living species in a variety of media. It is held in balance by interwoven and often interdependent ecosystems whose stability is maintained by flows of energy (derived from the sun), the recycling of nutrients and the interactions of animate organisms and inanimate matter. These ecosystems are of different scales, larger systems being composed of smaller ones and ascending hierarchically to the biosphere itself.

This complex provides us with a “resources” or “goods”, which are commonly grouped in three categories:

•         Materials resources, the “primary products” which we mine extract or harvest;

•         Assimilative capacities, which allow us to dispose of wastes;

•         “Services”, which can be subdivided into “life-support” services such as the maintenance of the gaseous composition of the atmosphere, the regulation of the earth’s temperature and the maintenance of weather patterns (on which the stability and diversity of ecosystem depend); and amenity services, the satisfaction (such as aesthetic pleasure, recreation, communion with nature and the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity) which we gain from the diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna.

In practice it can be quite hard to separate these categories. For example, renewal resources contribute to systems that have the capacity to absorb and assimilate waste; the atmosphere has an assimilative capacity and also plays a major role in the maintenance of life-support services.

Natural Capital

The word “resources” is commonly used to refer to material resources. The full range of goods with which the biosphere supplies us–material resources, capacities and services–is frequently referred to collectively as “natural capital”. Despite its overtones of economic valuation, this seems a useful and appropriate term for several reasons. It suggests that these “goods” are analogous to a stock of wealth which can provide an income. Moreover, such an income can be maintained over time if capital is conserved. We can deplete such capital for short-term gain, but this reduces the level of future income. It may be very difficult to make good any depletion of capital and in extreme cases, of course, squandering capital leads to permanent impoverishment.2

Material Resources

Material resources are “products” of the natural world with an economic value for human kind. The Indians of the American plains valued every part of the buffalo as a resource. Present day perceptions of what constitutes a resource vary from place to place. The poorest people in Delhi scavenge so thoroughly that a waste incinerator supplied under foreign aid has nothing to burn. People in several African countries regard a species of flying ant as a food resource, although most people in the North are probably uncomfortable with the thought of eating insects. Our perception of resources also changes over time. Whalebone, which was considered an important resource in this country 100 years ago, no longer seems of any particular value. Derelict machinery indicates where the extraction of small local deposits of minerals were abandoned long before the resource was exhausted.

The identification of features of the natural world as resources reflects human priorities among the many options for satisfying needs (and indulging desires) as well as the range and sophistication of available technologies. Resources are social construct rather than entities in the natural world. Our assessment of the economic value of the resources we identify as important to us leads to statements about reserves, the known quantities of specific resource in this functional, utilitarian mode that we talk of people as a “reserve of labour”.3

These considerations lead many writers to the view that the most important resources are not natural but human, and that the most important of these are humankind’s ingenuity, resourcefulness and adaptability. It is these qualities–the creative potential in our fundamental needs, in Max-Neef’s term–that have made possible human settlements in environment as diverse and “inhospitable” as the Arctic fringe of northern American, the high dry plateaux of the Andes and Himalayas, and the equatorial rainforests. These qualities have also made possible the accumulation over generations of social and human-made capital, which has allowed us to develop technological expertise, financial institutions and educational systems. These in turn have led to the identification and exploitation of other resources in the natural world and have, in so doing or even by their cry existence, created a demand for an even greater range of resources. Technological advance and entrepreneurial expertise function as positive feedback, continually spurring on human inventiveness and stimulating the “discovery” and exploitation of more and more resources.

In discussing material resources it is customary to distinguish between renewable and nonrenewable ones. Renewable resources are mostly derived from living organism, such as animal and plants. They regenerate by natural processes and are not necessarily depleted when a “crop” is taken. They regenerate naturally more or less continuously, or can be manage in order to replace depletion of their stocks over relatively short time scales (in Britain up to say 200 or 300 years in the case of hardwoods). Their ability to renew themselves is of course dependent on the systems that supply moisture and nutrients, and that maintain the media of air and soil in which they grow. Air and water are also regarded as renewable resources. They too are dependent on the health of the ecosystem in which other renewable resources, particularly plant life, plays an important role.

Nonrenewable resources do not reproduce themselves in nature. They are mostly minerals, for example metals and fossil fuels. Soils are generally included, although they contain living organisms. Nonrenewable resources are replenished, if they regenerate at all, only over geological time, for example through the formation of soil and fossil fuels. Many minerals exist in vast quantities in the earth’s crust, but usually in very low concentrations: geological formations containing high concentrations of minerals are comparatively rare. There is a large quantitative difference between, say, a mineral resource–the total estimated amount of that mineral disperse throughout the earth’s crust–and the reserves of that mineral, namely the quantities known to exist (as a result of prospecting or exploration) and which it is technically possible to extract. There may be economical reasons why some reserves are not worth extracting, so we need another distinction between reserves and usable or recoverable reserves (see Figure 5.1). Changes in economic conditions may increase the quantity of usable reserves. The limits to the proportion of reserve that can be extracted are, however, set by the amount of energy required for their extraction and not by price. Reserves of nonrenewable resources may increase as further exploration is carried out. This can happen even during rapid industrial growth, which may stimulate exploration. Advances in technology, such as new deep-sea drilling techniques, can also mean that reserves in accessible places become recoverable. Advances in technology that reduce the amount of a resource used in a production process also lengthen the life of a reserve.

The distinction between renewable and nonrenewable resources only takes us so far, however. First, nonrenewable resources are depletable (or exhaustible), but so are flora and fauna, which are renewable. The other renewables–air and water–are non-depletable (or inexhaustible), and are accurately described as “self-renewing”, or better still, “continuing”. Second is less useful when we turn from material resources to look at assimilative capacities and services. Though these depend largely on the continuing rather than the renewable resources of the planet, they also partly rely on cycles (for example the oxygen, carbon and hydrological cycles) that are themselves dependent on depletable living organisms (such as trees and other flora). To complicate matters even further, though these cycles operate on an global scale, they may be dependent on small but significant inputs from nonrenewables (such as chemicals released from minerals in rocks and soils) and may contribute over aeons of geological time to the renewal of “nonrenewable” resources. This complexity means that it is necessary to look at resources very carefully when considering implications for sustainable development.

The principle underlying the sustainable use of renewable resource is clear. To ensure that succeeding generations have as much access to these as we have, we must utilize them at rates lower than, or at most equal to, the rates at which they regenerate. This principle applies equally to depletable renewables (flora and fauna) and to other renewables resources (fresh air and clean water) the quality of which can be maintained only if wastes are kept below critical rates of emission. Renewable resources can also be increased in certain circumstances, given appropriate management. For example, forest cover in Denmark has more than doubted over the last 100 years. As Michael Jacobs points out in The Green Economy (1991), we can think of renewable resources as being like a savings account; it is possible not only to live off the “interest” but also to increase the holding.

In calculating a sustainable rate of “harvest” we must, however, bear in mind that the renewability of these resources depends on the health of the ecosystem in which they regenerate. Neither forests not fish stocks renew themselves unaided. Continuing yields of timber will depend on the maintenance of vegetative cover and soil fertility, the survival of micro-organisms and the preservation of suitable species of fish depend on maintaining the integrity of marine ecosystems.

It is possible to exceed sustainable rates of use or extraction for relatively short periods over comparative small areas without complete short periods the chances of a return to sustainable production, provided human communities manage the recovery of an unsustainably depleted stock before it declines to a critical minimum below which or regeneration is impossible. While the recovery is taking place people must either make do with less or turn to some other natural manufactured resource. To fulfill the criterion of sustainable use, the rate of consumption of any alternative resource would also have to be lower than its recovery rate.

Therefore the recovery must restore the full diversity of the ecosystem. All too often, unfortunately, this does not happen, as in attempts at re-afforestation after the clear-felling of old-growth forest. Even when regeneration or replanting is successful in the sense that biomass production is resumed, sustainability is not met if biodiversity–the full range of species belonging to the forest ecosystem–is permanently reduced, or it the livelihoods of forest peoples are irreversibly impaired.

Full ecological restoration after a period of unsustainable extraction or depletion is only possible if the crucial system–the cycles supplying vital chemicals and rainfall, and ensuring temperature, humidity and atmosphere composition–are unimpaired. Since forest contribute to the maintenance of these systems by protecting soils, modifying climate and absorbing carbon dioxide, unchecked deforestation will eventually reach a point at which the reduction of living biomass means a disruption of these cycles, with local and possibly global impacts.

Our current dependence on fossil fuels and extract minerals is an immediate and obvious challenge to any attempt to formulate a principle for their sustainable use. Any consumption of nonrenewable natural resources, for example, soils, metals and fossil fuels, means a reduction of the future stock. However, it is equally clear that the industrialized world would come to a complete halt within a matter of days if a total ban on the further use of nonrenewable were suddenly imposed.

Many nonrenewable natural resources (for example mineral deposits) can be thought of as “inert” in that they do not contribute, except possibly over geological time, to flows through ecosystems and to the cycles of essential chemical elements. They therefore make little contribution to capacities and services and their value to humankind depends largely on the size of the demand for them. This in turn will be affected not only by our estimates of their importance in meeting human needs but also by such questions as the availability of substitutes, the perceptions of the ecological and human costs of extracting them (which include, for example, spoil tips on good land, tailings and effects on miner’s health). The scarcity of, say, a mineral may not be important of there is no demand for it. However, a strict application of the Brundtland definition would mean that we should take deliberate steps to conserve even a relatively small stock so that each generation has the chance to decide for itself that there is indeed no demand.

A number of attempts have been made to formulate principles for the sustainable use of nonrenewable resources for which there is a demand. These are based on two ideas: relative rather than absolute scarcity (a mineral may be in short supply, but this will not matter of there is little demand for it); and some form of management of demand as well as supply. One suggestion is that the rate of depletion of non renewables should be adjusted to ensure that known reserves do not fall below a certain minimum level of “stock” equivalent to consumption for a specified number of years at current rates. However, this could only be regarded as the basis of a policy for sustainable use if new recoverable reserves continue to be found. If they are not, the choice is between depleting the minimum reserve and a collapse of production systems dependent on the resource. Moreover, because discoveries of new reserves are not made at an even pace. The permitted rate of depletion would presumably fluctuate, depending on how near the minimum level consumption had brought known reserves. Furthermore, the idea of a minimum reserve raises problems. How large or small should this reserve be? Have we a right to specify for future generations an “adequate” minimum that would almost certainly be less than the amount we have consumed?

Another suggestion is that demand for a renewable resource should be managed so that the rate of depletion falls as the demand declines. Any policies based on such a principle would rest on three assumptions: first , that a substitute is readily available; second, that the transition can be made in time; and third, that the exhausted stock is not only regarded as non-essential by the present generation, but will also prove to be regarded as such by succeeding ones (if they have any knowledge of it). An amendment of this policy would better safeguard the interest of future generations, namely that the present generation be required to begin to manage demand early enough to ensure that declining demand and declining rates of depletion both reach zero before the stock is exhausted. This is one example of a precautionary approach which, as we shall see in Chapter 6, is an important element of a sustainable strategy.

However, unless substitutes are available, neither suggestion guarantees a long-term sustainable solution to the problems posed by the exhaustion of a nonrenewable resource on which we depend for life as we know it. A more satisfactory approach is based on two principles:

• minimizing our consumption of nonrenewable resources–the various ways in which this can be done are discussed in Chapter 6–and

• using at least some nonrenewable resources for developing “renewable” replacements.

The key element in any policy based on the second principle would be to use nonrenewable resources to build renewable energy-generating capacity, which would free us from our dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels. Renewable  energy would then be used to implement policies for reducing our consumption of other nonrenewable resources.4

The ideas of a minimum stock and reduction in demand being matched by reduction in depletion have a part to play in such a policy; they help to focus the debate on such matters as the speed with which renewable replacements can be made available and the rate at which demand should be reduced. This in turn would affect decisions about what proportion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources should be earmarked for creating the substitutes to replace them.

The limited reserves and the ecological impact (such as acidification and CO2 emissions) of the fossil fuels on which we currently depend mean that we should give a high priority to finding replacements. However, the importance of minimizing our consumption of other nonrenewable resource, such as aluminium or copper, may need more explanation. Why should their depletion be reduced to zero when there are large reserves of many nonrenewable resources? And what sense does it make for generation after generation to hand on constant stocks of resources that are never exploited?

There are several answers to the first questions. For a start, even if we can “afford” to deplete reserves, their extraction, consumption and eventual “fate” as one form of waste or another will have serious costs–which will be measured in terms of impacts on human welfare (for example the health of miners) and the degradation of both human-made capital and other forms of natural capital. Also, continued wasteful, inefficient or profligate use of nonrenewable minerals hastens the day when the energy problem becomes a major crisis and increases the urgency of the need to find renewable substitutes for fossil fuels. Such use also increases the human and environmental costs. The latter argument is reinforced by the fact that new reserves tend either to have lower grade ores or be in inaccessible places, thus requiring more energy to extract them.

However, the second question remains. What, it might be argued, is the point of handling on indefinitely into the future a stock of resources if they are never to be used? There are at least two answers. First, passing on such a legacy is the consequence of imposing rigorous limits on the scale of pollution and other impacts of the consumption of renewable resources: an undiminished legacy demonstrates that we have prevented an increase in the unsustainable costs of further depletion. The second is based on our inability to guarantee that such assets will never be used. Just as for this generation one of the most important contribution to the development of a more sustainable use of resources––the creation of a renewable energy-generating capacity–requires the consumption of more nonrenewables, so for future generations there may arise similar situations in which the availability of a nonrenewable resource may be crucial in helping avoid massive social, economic or technological breakdowns. Thus the principle of intergenerational equity requires us to manage our transitions to more sustainable systems without denying future generations the same ability to meet contingencies. This we may do if we fail to conserve natural assets that may prove valuable to future generations in their attempt to maintain the transition to sustainable development. The wider the range of nonrenewable resources we conserve, the fewer the constraints we impose on future generations.

For sustainability, the optimal rate of depletion of “resource” natural capital is not that of conventional economics (see for example Pearce and Turner, 1990), but is determined by three factors:

•         estimates of the amount of resources required to build replacements human-made capital;

•         the speed at which such replacement can be carried out; and

•         assessments of how much other natural capital we feel entitled to consume.

A sustainable policy on nonrenewables does not require a complete ban on their consumption, but involves wise, economical use so we leave as large stocks as possible for future generations. Most importantly, a proportion of nonrenewables should be set aside for producing replacements. The use of fossil fuels (a form of natural capital) to help manufacture renewable energy-generating capacity (replacement human-made capital) is considered a sustainable use of nonrenewable capital. If such a policy is followed, “no future society should find itself built around the use of a resource that is suddenly no longer available or affordable” (Meadows, 1992, p 209).


So far the discussion has focused on the material resources we mine, extract or harvest in some way. The earth’s assimilative capacities–the atmosphere, rivers, oceans and terrestrial ecosystems we use as “sinks” for wastes–are best thought of as renewable resources.5

They are valuable as resources not only because of their capacity to assimilate wastes, but also because they play a role in supporting depletable renewable resource (flora and fauna) and in contributing to the recycling of continuing resources such as fresh air and clean water. Rates of emission must therefore take into account the full ecological value of these capacities. Once the quality of the media on which we rely for the dispersal of wastes is impaired, the ecosystems they support may no longer produce yields that can be harvested usefully or even safely, and may even collapse. The Great Lakes fisheries are a salutary example. Toxic substance may prevent the full recovery of ecosystem for many years, or effectively in perpetuity, as in the contamination of soils and ground water by heavy metals, dioxins or radionuclides leaching from a nuclear waste repository.

Therefore, only wastes that can be broken down by natural processes should be discharged into ecosystems where they are dispersed and assimilated. The principle for sustainability is that the rate of discharge of wastes must not exceed the rate at which these flows can be assimilated without the ecosystem suffering negative impacts. The ability of air and water to disperse wastes over wide areas or through large volumes is an important factor in determining the rate at which systems can assimilate wastes and hence the rate at which quantities of wastes can be emitted. This is not, however, an argument for dispersing “non-biodegradable” or toxic substances at low concentrations over wide areas, although this has been a common practice. Emissions of radioactive material from the Sellafield nuclear complex in northwest England are just one example. Recent evidence of the effects of waste oestrogen compounds on male fertility in certain aquatic species in Florida and in the UK also indicates the possible dangers. The evidence of DDT in the milk of Inuit mothers and of the dispersal of radioactive material after Chernobyl illustrates both how widely wind and water may disperse substances and also how the value of dispersal becomes a liability once ecosystem are contained.

It follows that “stocks” of toxic wastes should not be stored in the environment of there is a risk of their accidental dispersal. As the production for sustainable use of resources must be that their production should cease as soon as possible, and certainly before so-called “safe”–often, more accurately remote–storage sites are used up. Technologies that depend on storage in the biosphere, or indeed in the geosphere (as in the case of proposed nuclear waste repositories), should be foregone.

Life-Support Services

Life-support services depend on global ecological systems, which maintain a dynamic balance of stocks and flows in the biosphere, global temperature, climatic zones and weather patterns. The processes on which these large systems depend are partly driven by resources that are unaffected by human activity, such as sunlight and gravity. However, though global in scale and impact, they do not exist as discrete super-systems at a meta-level, but work through ecosystems on smaller scales, including bioregional and local, and in so doing help maintain their stability and genetic diversity. Many of the systems we raid for resources and use as sinks for discharges and emissions (such as the oceans, forest and the atmosphere) thus playa part in maintaining systems such as those that underlie weather patterns and climatic zones, and therefore have a critical role in supporting life on earth.

These global ecosystem should be regarded as a special category of critical natural capital (Pearce et al, 1998). Their impairment or degradation could lead to catastrophe for the human race, and probably for many other forms of life on earth as well. They are a complex area about which we are still probably largely ignorant, for they almost certainly depend on still undetected cycles. For example, James Lovelock’s hypothesis (1979) about the role of dimethyl sulphide in the sulphur cycle suggest that the balance on which life-support systems depend is maintained though a complex web of intricate mechanisms which eave in and out of ecosystems. It is therefore a moot point how much natural can be regarded as non-critical and thus exempt from special conservation or the application of sustainability constraints, or absolute limits, to its depletion. Although peat and timber may be classed as renewable resources, blanket peat deposits and forest–whether tropical or boreal–almost certainly play major roles in maintaining weather patterns and the balance of gases in the atmosphere. Thus peat and forest cover are forms of critical natural capital. So too are individual trees: their removal in vast numbers, through continuing timber extraction, may eventually lead to the disturbance of larger systems and even possibly of the balance of stocks and flows on which life-support systems depend. On another level in forest ecosystems, inconspicuous organism, on the existence of which several other interrelated species depend, may also be a key component in maintaining critical natural capital.

For sustainability, then critical natural capital must be conserved in sufficient abundance. This will require not just simple quantitative measures (“how much of x or y do we have?), but qualitative assessments (“do we judge an ecosystem is in good enough ‘health’, given information available from quantitative indicators?”


Another approach to the question of the sustainable use of nonrenewable resources is via the notion of substitutability between natural resources and the good and services we create from them, in other words between natural and human-made capital. Mainstream economics assumes that human-made is near-perfect substitute for natural capital and that this substitutability is reversible: an economy that creates human-made capital, which fully compensates for the decline in natural capital, may be said to be using natural resources sustainably. David Pearce, professor of economics at University College, London, calls such substitution “broad sustainability” or constant wealth, as opposed to “narrow sustainability”, where the approach “is to focus on natural capital assets and suggest that they should not decline through time. Every generation should inherit a similar natural environment” (Pearce et al., 1989, p37). Pearce points out that his narrow sustainability “seems consistent with many of the Brundtland had in mind. He gives several reasons why narrow sustainability deserves consideration:

•         non-substitutability

•         uncertainty (substitutability may be possible on day, but we cannot assume this will definitely be the case),

•         irreversibility (once a resource or species is extinct it is gone forever), and

•         equity (the poor need all the natural capital they can get if they are to build sustainable livelihoods).

Herman Daly (1992a, p254) makes a similar distinction but uses different terms:

Maintaining total capital [natural and human-made capital] intact might be referred to as “weak sustainability”, in that it is based on generous assumptions about the substitutability of capital for natural resources in production. By contrast, “strong sustainability” would require maintaining both man-made and natural capital intact separately, on the assumption that they are really not substitutes but complements in most productive functions.

Just how generous is the assumption that human capital can be substituted for natural is illustrated by Daly’s analogy with house building: no number of extra chain saws will ensure completion of a house once the supply of timber has been used up. As Daly goes on to point out, if there were substitutability between the two types of natural capital, the one could be changed into the other and back again, but this is clearly not possible. He observes (Daly, 1991a, p32): “It is quite amazing that the substitutability dogma should be held with such tenacity in the face of such an easy reductio as absurdum.” Thus the fallacy of the substitutability assumption supports the principle that the stock of natural capital must be conserved and that absolute constraints may be necessary.

There is another reason why “strong” or “narrow” sustainability (“strong” seems to have better associations) is a more adequate guide for sustainable development–the dynamic relationship between the two types of capital. Human-made capital, which is created out of natural capital (and human ingenuity), may well, unless controlled, developed amazing capacities to consume natural capital, for example the latest machines used in clear felling or the most sophisticated echo-sounding equipment for detecting shoals of fish. Unless we make a deliberate effort to apply some form of artificial negative feedback, it is all too easy to fall in with the thinking that regards the serving of the “needs” of human-made capital that its continually improved extensions of itself as the function or raison d’ìtre of natural capital.

The basic principle governing the use of environmental goods (resources, capacities and services) should be that the stock of natural capital should not diminish. From this general principle we can derive more specific principles for each of the main categories of environmental goods (see box opposite).


Because the resources of ecosystems are finite, the key concept for their sustainable use it scale. The impacts of the economy, its consumption of natural capital, must not exceed the limits that must be observed if ecological sustainability is to be achieved. These limits will be determined by the rates of recovery–both the regenerative rate of renewable resources and the recovery rate of the assimilative capacities of sinks–in ecosystems of different scales up to and including the global. Together these limits can be thought of as an “ecological boundary” within which the economy must operate (see Figure 2.1, p34 where the line of the rectangle with the rounded corners marks the ecological boundary). Solar energy flows into the ecosystem, and low-grade heat must be restricted to a scale that allows them to re retained, and ideally, recycled or reabsorbed, within the boundary.

Local, National or Global Sustainability?

Up to this point we have tended to discuss sustainability on a global basis without making explicit references to sustainability at the local or national level. In a way this has not been necessary, because the principle apply at all levels.

Obviously sustainability must operate at the global level: the total global impacts of economic activity must not exhaust the resources or upset irretrievably the balance on which we depend. Sustainability must als o operate at the national level. A nation that consumes its own natural capital faster than it can regenerate it is obvious not acting sustainably. Nor is a nation that maintains its development or protects its own natural resources by drawing on the natural capital of other nations. It can do this, for example, by importing resources, by exporting toxic wastes, or by consuming more than its share of the life-support services that depend on global systems. Such a nation is said to be “importing sustainability” from others that are “exporting” theirs. This of course is what is happening on a large scale in many parts of the world. Two examples are the rates of extraction and sale of tropical hardwood (and the purchase of virtually all of it by Japan and the European Union), and the appropriation of more than their share of the world’s carbon sinks by the countries of the North, which, with approximately 20 per cent of global population, produce almost 60 per cent of global CO2 emissions (World Bank,1991, p204, TableA9). Thus, as Michael Jacobs (1991, p79) points out: “A national economy can only be described as “sustainable” if its activities not only do not reduce environmental capacities within its own borders, but do not cause their reduction elsewhere.” The same principle can also be applied at the local level within a nation. Arguments based on it are mostly likely to be advanced where an area with resources does not receive its full share of the benefits from their exploitation by other dominants areas.

It may be possible to achieve a state of global ecological sustainability in which global resources are conserved but inequitably distributed between nations. Such an arrangement could perpetuate current inequities, a matter of great concern to the South, as we shall see in Chapter 9. It might resolve some aspects of the global crisis, but would not be consistent with the sustainable development of Brundtland’s definition.

The formulation of principle for the sustainable use of resources falls far short of a blueprint for sustainable development. For instance, we still have to examine how we can devise and implement practical policies for a sustainable society based on these principles. Chapter 6 examines both the technical and social possibilities on which such policies will depend (Brundtland’s “social organization”), as well as other issues which affect the implementation of any proposal for meeting the needs of both this generation and its successors.


1. This chapter is much indebted to Michael Jacob’s treatment of these issues in The Green Economy.

2. For an account of one community afflicted by permanent impoverishment, see Clive Ponting’s chapter, “The Lessons of Eastern Island” (Ponting, 1991).

3. I am grateful to John Kirkby for suggestions in this section.

4. Salah El Derafy, an Egyptian economist working in the USA, has derived a formula for dividing income from a nonrenewable resource, North Sea oil, into ‘capital’ (to be used to fund replacement renewable generating capacity) and income. For a brief account, see Ekins and Max-Neef (1992, pp 413-416).

5. Landfill sites would seem to be an exception here. They are most appropriately thought of as an exhaustible stock of nonrenewable resource.