Environment Homework

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Title: Environment and Sustainability

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Introduction. 2

Complex and Contradictory Nature of the Concept of Sustainability. 2

Emerging ‘Green’ and ‘Neoliberal’ Agendas and their Frameworks for Thinking about Sustainability. 5

The New Body of Work on the Concept of ‘Dynamic Sustainability’ 7

Conclusion. 8

References. 10



The debate on environment and sustainability has attracted a lot of attention in recent times. This renewed interest in the need to address environmental issues as a precondition for sustainable development may be traced back to the environmentalism of the 1970s and early 1980s. Since then, many milestones have been achieved in regards to the creation of global awareness on the need to conserve the environment. For instance, many international treaties have been signed, whereby member states have been called upon to play a greater role in the interrelated areas of environment, sustainability, and development.

A major challenge in this whole debate is that the concept of sustainability is complex and contradictory. This situation has been contributed to in part by the fact that any kind of progress in relation to environmental issues must be firmly embedded on the formal political agenda at the international level. Because of political considerations, sovereign states are sometimes unwilling to take actions that may be of utmost benefit in regards to sustainable development. This paper sets out to achieve three objectives. The first one is to analyse the complex and contradictory nature of the concept of sustainability. The second objective is to explore the emerging ‘green’ and ‘neoliberal’ agendas as well as their frameworks for thinking about sustainable development. The third objective is to examine the body of work that has started emerging around the new concept of ‘dynamic sustainability’.

Complex and Contradictory Nature of the Concept of Sustainability

The manner in which the debate on sustainability has been framed since the 1980s is overly complex and contradictory. The element of complexity is evident in the fact that most policies seeking to address the challenges of sustainable utilization of environmental resources have tended to fail. The sustainability debate is a complex one because environmental conditions are changing all the time; land, water, and other components of the ecosystem continue to interact with new patterns of climate change.

Contradictions have become a common phenomenon in the context of discourse on how to address environmental problems in a dynamic world. In a world where scientific and technological developments continue to emerge at a faster pace than ever before, it has become increasingly difficult for challenges of environment and sustainability to be framed in the right manner. This is a contradiction because one would expect technological advances to usher in a new era of progress in terms of the way issues relating to sustainability are addresses. This phenomenon continues to unfold simply because the solutions that are being sought may not always bring about the desired benefits. On the contrary, they often seem to contradict the ground-level state of affairs as perceived by local communities.

Adams (2008) points out that in the mainstream view of environment and sustainability, the dominant thinking is that humankind should start making efforts to ‘green’ the development has already taken place. This thinking has dominated many crucial documents that highlight the need for sustainable development, such as the World Conservation Strategy, Agenda 21, and the Brundtland Report (Adams, 2008). These documents contain the recommendations of businesses, governments, and environmentalist groups on how to achieve economic growth and poverty reduction in a manner that does not degrade the environment.

Many complexities arise because such a mainstream view fails to highlight important issue of power and how it influences people and their interaction with the environment. Today, governments, businesses, and aid donors wield a lot of power, which, if properly used, can have a positive impact on sustainability. According to Adams (2008) a major mistake that these powerful entities make is to employ ‘green’ development solely for the achievement of sustainable development. Green development should not be just be about enhancing efficiency with existing bureaucracies for the sake of sustainable development; it should also be about increasing the capacity of communities to control their lives and by extension their own environments. At the same time, interactions between humans and animals within the environment continue to change all the time. Similarly, dynamism in existing food production systems has created a situation where policies adopted in the past to address environmental challenges may not be applicable under the present circumstances.

The existing body of knowledge on environment and development remains a hotly contested issue both in academic and policy circles (Leach, 2008; Adger et al., 2003). This has created numerous problems on how to formulate viable policies for sustainability that are founded on empirical evidence. Leach (2008) explains this conflict of ideas by presenting cases involving Caribbean and West African tropical forests. In these cases, conceptions of ecological and social systems associated with mainstream policy and scientific practices seem to occupy one side of the debate while more dynamic perspectives emerging from the history of the forests and the experiences of communities living adjacent to those forests occupy the other side of the debate. Although the latter side of the debate holds sway in terms of potential for success in addressing the challenges of sustainability, it has been relegated to a subordinate position. This is a serious contradiction that should be unravelled for policies aimed at achieving ambitious sustainability-related targets to be achieved. According to Leach (2008), it is surprising that policymakers fail to see this, hence the tendency for them to be surprised whenever their policies fail.

The contradictions that arise from the concept of sustainability may be analysed in terms of the fact that economic growth and technological advancements bring wealth to some while at the same time creating a new class of poor, marginalized populations (Leach, Scoones & Stirling, 2010). For many people, there is an expectation that economic growth and technological advancements will enable the world better achieve the goal of sustainability (Peet & Watts, 2004). On the contrary, these developments have tended to create a major fallout for marginalized populations through pollution, overcrowding, health hazards, and poor health (Redclift, 2000). In the long run, some of these problems, for example pollution, end up affecting even those people who consider themselves to fall within the category of the developed world.

Emerging ‘Green’ and ‘Neoliberal’ Agendas and their Frameworks for Thinking about Sustainability

The idea of ‘green’ development is increasingly becoming a popular catchphrase among environmentalists. Business executives and government bureaucrats alike have formed a tendency to invoke the idea of the ‘green’ agenda whenever they are talking about policies they claim can facilitate the achievement of sustainability. Based on this idea, sustainability is said to have been achieved if the present generation is able to meet its needs in a manner that does not compromise the future generations’ ability to meet their own development-related needs. This view seems to contain a rhetorical character in addition to being somewhat vague. Despite these shortcomings, it has become popular, particularly among those who are interested in ways of eradicating poverty while at the same time maintaining intergenerational equity.

The green economy remains a powerful social and political agenda in a world where serious concerns are being raised regarding climate change. Heads of governments, environmentalists, human rights activists, and other international actors continue to hold meetings to address ways of mitigating climate and adapting to its effects. The issue carbon emissions has attracted a lot of attention among those who feel that countries should do more to ensure that activities relating to manufacturing and industrial production are undertaken in a manner that does not pollute the environment (Steps Centre, 2014). In this regard, most of the blame for carbon emissions falls on developed economies, which have invested heavily in industrial and manufacturing processes that emit all manner of pollutants and wastes, leading to massive environmental degradation. As a corollary to this argument, these advanced economies are being called upon to do more as far as green development is concerned (Sultana, 2009).

Many economies in the North have responded to this call by channelling huge investments to the South through bilateral and multilateral arrangements to address the carbon phenomenon (Steps Centre, 2014). The objective is to bring about climate justice for local communities in the South, who have been continued to bear the greatest brunt of climate change despite the fact that this problem has been contributed to primarily by the North. However, in political and academic circles, concerns remain over whether carbon schemes aimed at promoting the green economy can bring about realistic development outcomes and climate justice to vulnerable populations in the developing world (Chambers, 2009; Adger et al., 2003).

Neoliberal development ideas have also taken a dominant position in the discourse on sustainability. The neoliberal regime supports the view that a successful sustainable development strategy should be anchored on the understanding that the economic sphere can be expanded in size indefinitely, meaning that everyone in this world can reach high living standards by possessing more material wealth. This assumption forms the basis of today’s trickle-down development model. This assumption leads neoliberal thinkers to the conclusion that there is no need for the world’s resources to be redistributed, and that no alterations should be made on the way environmental costs are distributed. In this case, environmental costs normally take the form of contaminated water, air pollution, climate change, and proneness to natural disasters.

In neoliberalism, it is also assumed that technological advances and capital mobility offer an ideal regulatory mechanism through which degraded environmental goods can be replaced with substitutes (Desai & Potter, 2008). On relation to this assumption, neoliberal environmentalists contend that for environmental issues to be addressed, a country must have reached a considerably high consumption level. The line of thinking in this assumption is that once high income levels have been achieved, such a country will have adequate resources at its disposal for correcting all environmental costs that may have been incurred during earlier phases of development. Since the 1980s, these neoliberal assumptions, whose basis is classical economics, have greatly influenced policy options on environment and sustainability. Leach & Mearns (1996) points out that for the most part, this approach has led to the establishment of institutional frameworks that restrict development options for developing countries.

The New Body of Work on the Concept of ‘Dynamic Sustainability’

Despite the dominance of neoliberal and ‘green’ debates, a new body of work that responds to the ideas on green development and neoliberalism has started emerging. This body of work is being modelled around the concept of ‘dynamic sustainability’. In this concept, the idea of dynamism in environmental conditions, science and technology, globalization, and social systems is being expressed (Leach, Scoones & Stirling, 2010). These changes have an impact on urbanization, market relationships, population growth, flow of information, and investment patterns. Patterns of mobility also continue to change, such that some areas are rapidly transforming while others remain impoverished (Leach, Scoones & Stirling, 2010). It is unfortunate that the existing policies and institutions designed to deal with this dynamic context are anchored on the implicit assumption that we live in a static world. This is where the idea of dynamic sustainability comes in. under this concept, countries are called upon to come up with policies that can be relied on to address sustainability issues in a dynamic world.

The idea of dynamic sustainability offers a viable platform for scholars, environmentalists, and policymakers to address the failures of past frameworks, notably green development and neoliberalism (Bryant, 2009). However, it is worthwhile to note that some of arguments raised in neoliberalism and green development are of utmost importance in efforts to come up with a new theoretical framework for environment, development, and sustainability. The world is highly dynamic and it may be counterproductive for developed countries to renege on their persistent promises of helping poor countries address climatic vulnerabilities affecting them (Leach, Scoones & Stirling, 2010). Through dynamic sustainability, the international community has an opportunity to address the various social and environmental changes occurring today as well as their impact on sustainability.


Issues relating to the environment, development, and sustainability continue to elicit heated debates. At the heart of the matter is the question of policymaking, with the shared objective being to formulate policies that can bring about sustainability. The popular view is that sustainability is said to have been achieved if the present generation is able to meet its needs in a manner that does not compromise the future generations’ ability to meet their own development-related needs. The nature of these debate reveal a lot about the complex and contradictory nature of the mainstream ideas on environment, development, and sustainability.

‘Green’ development and neoliberalism are the two dominant themes that have shaped frameworks for thinking about sustainability. Thus, whichever failures that may have occurred in terms of policies governing the environment and sustainable development may be attributed to these two strands of thought. It is in the context of the green agenda and the neoliberal view that the contradictions and complexities of the debates on environment, climate justice, and sustainable development are defined. Despite these failures, a new strand of thought, known as dynamic sustainability, has emerged. This concept offers new hope for governments, environmental pressure groups, and business leaders to reframe the environment debate with a view to address the problems that have made it difficult for the objective of sustainability to be achieved.



Adams, W 2008, Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Third World, 3rd edition, London, Routledge.

Adger, W, Brown, K, Fairbrass, J, Jordan, A, Paavola, J, Rosendo, S & Seyfang, G 2003, ‘Governance for sustainability: Towards a `thick’ analysis of environmental decision making’, Environment and Planning, vol. 35, pp. 1095 – 1110.

Bryant, R 2009, ‘Born to Be Wild? Non-governmental Organizations, Politics and the Environment’ Geography Compass, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 1540–1558.

Chambers, R 2009, Practising what we preach? The failure to apply sustainable livelihoods thinking where it is most needed – in the North. Institute of Development Studies, 21 July 2009, p. 1.

Desai, V & Potter, R (eds.), 2008, The Companion to Development Studies, Hodder, London.

Leach, M & Mearns, R 1996, The Lie of the Land: Challenging received Wisdom on the African Environment, Oxford, James Curry.

Leach, M 2008, ‘Pathways to Sustainability in the forest? Misunderstood dynamics and the negotiation of knowledge, power, and policy’, Environment and Planning, vol. 40, no. 8, pp. 1783 – 1795.

Leach, M, Scoones, I & Stirling, A 2010, Dynamic Sustainabilities: Technology, Environment, Social Justice, Earthscan, London.

Peet, R & Watts, M 2004, Liberation Ecologies: environment, development and social movements, 2nd Edition, Routledge, London.

Redclift, M (ed.), 2000, Sustainability: Life chances and livelihoods, Routledge, London.

Steps Centre, 2014, Missionary discourses: Can the green economy bring climate justice to the south? 10 July 2014, retrieved from http://steps-centre.org/2014/blog/missionary-discourses-can-green-economy-bring-climate-justice-south/?referralDomain=  on 30 December 2014.

Sultana, F 2009, ‘Community and participation in water resources management: Gendering and nurturing development debates from Bangladesh’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 34, pp. 346–363.

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