Synopses & Reviews
Environmental activists, politicians and celebrities have touted the wisdom of "sustainable development" as though its meaning and value were clear. But the concept has barely been defined, let alone subjected to scientific, economic, and philosophical scrutiny.
Oxford University economist Wilfred Beckerman puts "sustainable development" to the test, questioning several of its core claims: Will economic growth burn itself out by depleting the natural resources it requires? Will global warming wreak widespread havoc? Does human activity threaten to throw a delicate planet dangerously "out of balance"? Do future generations possess rights that morally override the claims of those alive today? At what price?
After examining the evidence, Beckerman finds "sustainable development" lacking on both scientific and moral grounds. Although millions of people lack clean air and water, and are plagued by deteriorating ecosystems, these problems are caused not by "unsustainable development" but by poverty, poorly defined property rights, and lack of freedom of opportunity. And, Beckerman concludes, because "sustainable development" recommends policies that would worsen these conditions (for present and future generations), it hardly occupies the moral high ground, as its supporters claim.
A Poverty of Reason provides a critical examination of this highly controversial topic and will prove essential in the ongoing debate about environmental and economic practices.
"I have always been uneasy about the philosophical and scientific underpinnings of 'sustainable development.' With A Poverty of Reason, we now have an excellent book which carefully examines these concerns and which can be used to seriously debate the concept." Donald H. Stedman, Phillipson-Brainerd Professor of Chemistry, University of Denver
"In A Poverty of Reason, Wilfred Beckerman brings wisdom and wit to his examination of major themes found in today's environmental policy. With his economist's scalpel, he cuts to the core of high sounding words and phrases such as 'sustainable development' and finds hopeless contradiction. Not much for slogans, Beckerman goes far beyond the usual in developing recommendations for environmental policy. In his view, governments that seek to provide 'greener pastures' must emphasize economic growth and enhanced protection of human rights and liberty." Bruce Yandale, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Economics, Clemson University
"Sustainable development has become a shield for numerous special-interest arguments in the policy arena. In A Poverty of Reason, Beckerman has provides an important, well-reasoned, and careful critique, pointing out both the crucial ethical and economic shortcomings of the arguments." P.J. Hill, George F. Bennett Chair of Economics, Wheaton College
"Beckerman's book, A Poverty of Reason, sparkles with provocative claims and vigorous insights. Advocates of 'sustainable development' are unlikely to be convinced by all of Beckerman's claims; but they will learn a great deal from him, and refine their own views in the process. Beckerman is obviously concerned with the prospects of the poorest people in the poorest nations and in that light, his doubts about some popular environmental proposals have special credibility. Highly recommended." Cass R. Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago
"Wilfred Beckerman shows brilliantly in A Poverty of Reason that 'sustainable development' is a confused jumble of ideas that is capable nevertheless of doing much policy harm in the real world. Anyone who believes that 'sustainable development' is a meaningful intellectual construct needs to read this clear and concise book." Robert Nelson, Professor of Public Affairs, University of Maryland
Includes bibliographical references (p. 77-82) and index.
In this detailed economic investigation of sustainable development, a noted professor of economics argues that many of the alarms commonly sounded by environmentalists are, in fact, unfounded, and that current sustainable development policies should be reconsidered in light of their effects on the earth's human population, such as increased poverty and environmental degradation in developing countries. In a rare balanced counterpoint to popular sustainable development rhetoric, Professor Beckerman forces policy makers to consider whether future generations have rights that morally constrain and trump the claims of those alive today, particularly the masses of people living in dire poverty, arguing that the current sustainable development program is a menace to the prosperity and freedom of both current and future generations.
About the Author
Wilfred Beckerman is an emeritus fellow of Balliol College at Oxford University. Dr. Beckerman is an economist and the author of many academic articles and several books including In Defence of Economic Growth, Small is Stupid and most recently Justice, Posterity and the Environment (with J. Pasek). Dr. Beckerman has served on Britains Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and chaired the Academic Panel of Economists for the UK Department of the Environment from 1991 to 1996.
Table of Contents
Preface -- Introduction -- ch. 1. What is sustainable development supposed to mean? -- ch. 2. Finite resources and the prospects for economic growth -- ch. 3. Energy and biodiversity -- ch. 4. Climate change -- ch. 5. The precautionary principle -- ch. 6. Bureaucratic regulation and protectionism -- ch. 7. The "ethics" of sustainable development -- Notes -- References -- Index -- About the author.