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Sustainable development has become a central tenet of modem environmentalism. Unfortunately, this concept has often been used as a slogan in environmental battles rather than as a concrete guide to policymaking. This paper analyzes how environmental decision-making might be structured to achieve sustainable development.
Sustainable development requires the adoption of environmental policies which ensure that resources are replenished at rates that match or exceed levels of consumption. The concept has a moral overtone insofar as it implies that intergenerational equity requires future citizens to be left a world with reasonably clean air, water, and land, and a fair share of nonrenewable resources. Its economic logic highlights the fact that welfare losses inflicted by emissions into the air, water, and soil must be offset against gains achieved through economic growth. A focus on social welfare -broadly considered- is especially important in the context of environmental threats that are difficult to detect or have a long time lag before the harm becomes apparent. Similarly, problems that are global in scope, such as the depletion of the ozone layer or the buildup of greenhouse gases, may be ignored unless policymakers take the comprehensive perspective of "sustainability."
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