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Sustainability: an interdisciplinary guide


  • John Pezzey


A definition of sustainability as maintaining 'utility' (average human wellbeing) over the very long term future is used to build ideas from physics, ecology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, history, philosophy, economics and psychology, into a coherent, interdisciplinary analysis of the potential for sustaining industrial civilisation. This potential is highly uncertain, because it is hard to know how long the 'technology treadmill', of substituting accumulated tools and knowledge for declining natural resource inputs to production, can continue. Policies to make the treadmill work more efficiently, by controlling its pervasive environmental, social and psychological external costs, and policies to control population, will help to realise this potential. Unprecedented levels of global co-operation, among very unequal nations, will be essential for many of these policies to work effectively. Even then, tougher action may be required, motivated by an explicit moral concern for sustainability. An evolutionary analysis of history suggests that technology and morality can and will respond to a clearly perceived future threat to civilisation; but we cannot easily predict the threat, or whether our response will be fast enough.

Suggested Citation

  • John Pezzey, 1992. "Sustainability: an interdisciplinary guide," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 1(4), pages 321-362, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev1:ev120

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    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Illge, Lydia & Schwarze, Reimund, 2009. "A matter of opinion--How ecological and neoclassical environmental economists and think about sustainability and economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(3), pages 594-604, January.
    2. Bromley, Daniel W., 1998. "Searching for sustainability: The poverty of spontaneous order," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2-3), pages 231-240, February.
    3. Dodds, Steve, 1997. "Towards a 'science of sustainability': Improving the way ecological economics understands human well-being," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 95-111, November.
    4. John M. Hartwick & Ngo Van Long, 2017. "Sustainability with endogenous discounting," CIRANO Working Papers 2017s-19, CIRANO.
    5. Toman, Michael & Pezzey, John C., 2002. "The Economics of Sustainability: A Review of Journal Articles," Discussion Papers dp-02-03, Resources For the Future.
    6. Simone Marsiglio & Alberto Ansuategi & Maria Carmen Gallastegui, 2016. "The Environmental Kuznets Curve and the Structural Change Hypothesis," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 63(2), pages 265-288, February.
    7. Lafuite, A.-S. & Loreau, M., 2017. "Time-delayed biodiversity feedbacks and the sustainability of social-ecological systems," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 351(C), pages 96-108.
    8. repec:spr:rvmgts:v:11:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s11846-016-0211-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Adamowicz, Wiktor & Adamowicz, Wiktor, 2003. "Economic indicators of sustainable forest management: theory versus practice," Journal of Forest Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 27-40.
    10. Powell, Philip T., 1998. "Traditional production, communal land tenure, and policies for environmental preservation in the South Pacific," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 89-101, January.
    11. Ackah, Ishmael, 2016. "Sacrificing Cereals for Crude: Has oil discovery slowed agriculture growth in Ghana?," MPRA Paper 69953, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    environment; economics; evolution; history; natural resources; policy; population; psychology; sustainability; technology;

    JEL classification:

    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth


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