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Chapter 7 - The Sociology of Sustainable Development

Chapter 7 - The Sociology of Sustainable Development - 7 E...

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7 E The Sociology of Sustainable Development 220 While it’s obvious the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro did not solve the world’s environmental problems, it did lay a foundation for continued progress. The emphasis of the event was to integrate economic and environmental issues into the philosophy of sustainable development. . . . Within the chemical industry, we’re beginning to see more and more examples of how specific companies are making great strides toward sustainability. The chemical industry has the means and the desire—not to mention the technological expertise—to become part of the solution. I believe that by working with governments and the environmental community in a productive and cooperative manner, the chemical industry can help to make sustainable development a reality. (DOW CHEMICAL CEO, FRANK POPOFF IN CHEMICAL WEEK, 24 JUNE 1992, P. 18). HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT The positive spin on environmental protection that Mr. Popoff promotes in his commentary in Chemical Week deviates sharply from the responses the chemical industry has typically taken to plans by government and environ- mentalists to curb the negative effects of chemical production. In the 1960s, the industry belittled Rachel Carson and her claim that DDT was harmful to
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both environmental and human health. The industry regularly lobbies Con- gress to limit the amount of legislation placed on chemical production. What happened for the CEO of Dow Chemical to write a call-to-arms to fellow in- dustry leaders to work with the government and environmentalists, traditional foes, in a “productive and cooperative manner . . . [to] help make sustainable development a reality”? What does sustainable development promise that ear- lier attempts at environmental protection did not? The most commonly used definition of sustainable development (SD) comes from the 1987 report prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, also known as the Brundtland Commission) titled, Our Common Future. Sustainable development is “De- velopment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 1 This term became a buzzword at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and De- velopment (the “Earth Summit”). The 178 heads of state that gathered at this forum sought to address both the “environment problem” and the “de- velopment problem.” The concept of sustainable development presented a paradigm in which officials viewed environment and development as part- ners rather than adversaries. The WCED’s sustainable development pre- sumed that economic growth and environmental protection could be reconciled. The idea was not new, it harked back to Pinchot’s utilitarian view of nature as a resource; as providing the “greatest good for the greatest number over the longest time.” The idea of sustainable development contrasts with development that fo- cuses on economic gain often at the expense of the environment. Some natu-
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