Every domain of activity has its myths and sustainable development is no exception – it is actually permeated by them. Managing our attitude to these myths is the only way for humanity to progress in the long term. Here are some of the most common misconceptions in the public mind:
Sustainable development requires limitations on population and consumption. Not true. Actually, sustainable development happens not in spite of, but thanks to the growth of the world population, consumption of resources and increase in wealth. These factors cause a growth in demand and production, which in turn leads to a lack of resources and an increase in pollution. Resource shortages cause prices to increase, while pollution leads to public demands for a cleaner environment. These dynamics result in conditions that allow inventors and investors to fill in the gaps with their innovations. These innovations create higher standards of living than were possible before the problem existed. New resources or their replacements are discovered, costs fall and pollution decreases, more people live better and the cycle starts over.
Sustainable development requires that we produce our energy, food and everything else locally. Not true. Development is possible when work productivity grows, which is a result of free competition and increasingly narrow specialization. Every attempt in history at trying to achieve self-sufficiency on a local level has ended in catastrophe. Contemporary North Korea and Venezuela, and the isolation of China and Japan in the past are good examples of this.
Sustainable development is only for future generations. Not true. Sustainable development means living better here and now. Future generations will have much better chances of success if they inherit a planet on which a maximum number of people are enjoying a high standard of living and are capable of adequately reacting to all the challenges. In addition, there is no way for us to know what future generations will desire.
Regenerative development is based on the use of renewable resources because non-renewables run out. Not true. Human civilization started the moment we began to use non-renewable resources – sand, clay, metals and fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are especially important because access to cheap, abundant and reliable energy is the primary driver of development. The reserves of non-renewable resources in the Earth’s crust are practically inexhaustible. It is not a coincidence that known reserves are keeping pace with the rapid growth in their use. There is no precedent in history of an exhausted non-renewable resource. This doesn’t apply to biological resources, which are limited by the speed of their reproduction, and many species of animals and plants are intensively being exploited and are at risk of extinction.
Sustainable development puts the interests of society before the freedom of the individual. Not true. Quite the opposite – sustainable development is only possible when individuals have maximum freedom. Large scale improvements in the quality of life began when individuals received freedom and control over their own lives during the 17th and 18th centuries in England and the Netherlands. The guaranteed rights over the fruits of one’s mind, labor and investment are at the core of the industrial revolution and the technological progress that we’ve enjoyed since then. Every attempt to limit the freedom of the individual in the name of some collective ideal has ended in disaster – the Soviet Union is one of the better examples of this. It is important to note that pollution lowers the quality of life, meaning that it reduces our freedom, so that its effective regulation and management is needed.
Sustainable development requires deep and urgent changes in our socio-economic relations because the world is headed toward ecological disaster. Not true. All indicators for consumption, resource reserves and ecological health on a global level are continuously improving. The catastrophe exists only in the media and the words of people who are trying to gain power through fear.
Many more myths can be listed – our textbooks and media channels are filled with them. It is important that we dispel these myths because our belief in them leads to wrong and counterproductive political decisions that stop the process of sustainable development, whose fruits we enjoy daily.
Published in: Forbes