Differing Viewpoints on Global Sustainability

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  • 0:02 Defining Sustainability
  • 1:27 The Neo-Malthusians
  • 2:11 The Bruntland Commission
  • 3:16 The Anti-Malthusian
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will define the issue of the Earth's limited capacity to support a growing global population and the differing viewpoints as to how it can be solved. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check for your understanding.

Defining Sustainability

One of the most fun times I would have as a kid was participating in water balloon fights with my friends. It was important to get the amount of water that belonged in the balloons just right. If there was too much water in the balloon, the balloon could explode before you even threw it, or it may not have traveled very far at all.

The idea of filling up a water balloon with just the right amount of water is fairly similar to the Earth and its capacity, as well. The Earth, much like a balloon, is of fixed size and many of its resources are fixed, as well. If too many people start to populate, or fill, the Earth, it becomes impossible for our planet to support everyone sufficiently. The growing rate of environmental decay is also making it difficult for the Earth to sustain the growing population. Environmental decay is a global problem and is not confined to the borders of a country. It affects rich and poor countries alike.

Thus, the viewpoint of putting personal advantage ahead of all of humanity is no longer seen as a wise quest, and rather it is becoming increasingly clear that we move towards a course of sustainable development. Sustainable development is economic growth that does not deplete the resources needed to maintain life and prosperity. So, in other words, I can go ahead and fill that water balloon up to increase my fun and enjoyment, but I shouldn't fill it up too much because more isn't always better. And while the view of sustainable development is a good one, not everyone agrees if that is attainable.

The Neo-Malthusians

One of the more famous views on sustainability is the Neo-Malthusian school of thought that says that the growth of the global population is outpacing the amount of food available to adequately sustain everyone. Neo-Malthusiasts believe that since food is an essential component to human life, people need to have it, but there needs to be some preventative or positive checks on population to slow its growth so that it keeps pace with the rate of food production.

Not having enough food to sustain the population would lead to starvation, which in turn would lead to higher mortality rates and lower fertility rates. Neo-Malthusians also believe that not having enough food leads to strains on a country's economy and can lead to social unrest and the rise in violent crime. So it's clear that Neo-Malthusiasts paint a pretty dire picture of the future.

The Bruntland Commission

Unlike the views of the Neo-Malthusians, which originated over 100 years ago, the concept of sustainable development is even more directly traceable to 1987. In 1987, a commission known as the Bruntland Commission submitted a report called Our Common Future, which concluded that the world cannot sustain the growth required to meet the needs and aspirations of the world's growing population unless it adopts radically different approaches to basic issues of economic expansion, equity, resource management, and energy efficiency.

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