Economy & Energy
Ano XII-No 68
June -July
ISSN 1518-2932


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Petroleum and Gas: The Role of The State

What is Sustainable Development?

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O Crepúsculo do Petróleo
Mauro F. P. Porto


What is sustainable development?

Leonam dos Santos Guimarães (*)

Before the world was small because the Earth was big.
Now the world is very big because the Earth is small.
                Gilberto Gil

The United Nations Organization (UNO) created, through the World Commission for the Environment, the concept of Sustainable Development: A model that aims at the satisfaction of the present needs without risking the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs utilizing the natural resources without jeopardizing its production, enjoying nature without destroying it and searching for life quality improvement.

Integration and economic balance, social and environmental issues are fundamental for the conservation of human life on Earth. In order to reach these goals, it is necessary to find a new focus to the way we produce and expend, live, work, get along to each other and make our decisions. The concept is revolutionary and like all original ideas, arise hot debates among the governments and citizens.

There are many formal definitions of these terms by several authors and institutions worldwide. One of the simplest and more accepted is the one by Lester Brown, from Worldwatch Institute, that remarks: “Sustainable development is developing without narrowing the perspectives of future generations”. The definition by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development - WBCSD, institution that gathers various companies around the world states: “Sustainable Development” means adopting business approaches to fulfill the organizational, the human and the community needs that simultaneously keep the natural resources for the next generations”. The definition by Pontes & Bezerra in "Sustainable Organizations" is: “Discover and utilize a new awareness that enables us to progress taking into account all the ecological dimensions (human, social, economic and environmental), supporting, keeping and restoring all the planet’s resources at our disposal for future generations”.

All human beings on earth wish the best for themselves, their kids, relatives and friends. So, it means that we have been ignoring what we are causing to our planet after the industrial revolution. Sustainable Development is o modern guideline that provides all the society’s segments with a compass to evaluate our progress, a new kind of progress, to produce basic education and pluralistic culture; proper health and nourishment, housing and work; conserved environment; clean and renewable energy; leisure and entertainment for all ages and worldwide communication and mobility.

To make it all happen, we must unite around sustainable projects that produce growth and simultaneously keep the basic structures of life. Educating our children, push companies as well as consumers to be ecologically correct and socially fair; choose, through the vote, candidates really committed with these fundamental issues and many other actions that can be accomplished by each one of us so we can make the difference.

From the entrepreneurs’ point of view, the concept of Sustainable Development is getting increasingly important. Through concrete actions, big companies around the world, including Brazil, are trying to include such knowledge to their procedures using different approaches and tools, thus getting ready to be “competitive” and differentiated in the new millennium, since it is no longer a ”fashion issue” in business administration rather a survival matter for our planet. The big corporations are beginning to realize that there is another growth model and that is no longer enough growing isolated; it is necessary to share the growth with all stakeholders, making a wining world for all.

The Sustainable Development issue is undoubtedly one of the harder to be considered by decision makers in all levels, either public or private. In this field, really innovative ideas intermingle continuously with the most absurd ideas and big impulses of generous humanism and hypocrisy are mixed with various motivations. This way, it is now urgent to clarify the main concepts involved if one really wants to avoid ecologic catastrophes that are foreseen in a quite near future.

Sustainable Development intends to create an economical model capable of creating wealth and welfare and simultaneously promoting social cohesion and preventing the destruction of nature.

The first interpretation of the term, that considers as incompatible the economic development and respect to environment, was stated in 1972 in a report of the so called Club of Rome. However, this approach of solidarity regarding only nature and not with the developing countries is strongly subject to criticism for its inherent asymmetry, since these countries could not interrupt a growth towards development which was not reached yet. Criticism lead to the current interpretation that includes economic (developing countries growth), social (integration and solidarity between North and South Hemispheres) and environmental (preservation of universal world goods and regeneration of natural resources) aspects.

The Brazilian government adopts the definition utilized in the report “Our Common Future”, issued in 1987, also known as the Bruntland Report, in which Sustainable Development is defined as “the development that fulfills the present needs without compromising the ability of future generations of supplying their own needs”. This report, issued by the World Commission on Environment and Development created by the United Nations and chaired by the then Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro-Bruntland, is part of a series of initiatives that stress a critical view of the development model adopted by developed countries and imitated by the developing ones, where the risks of excessive use of natural resources without considering the support capacity of the eco-systems is emphasized. The report points out the incompatibility between Sustainable Development and the current production and consumption standards.

The formulation of a Sustainable Development concept implies then the acknowledgment that the market dynamics would not assure the natural resources and environment conservation, that is, the conflicting objectives of economic development would become incompatible in the long run.

Analyzing this concept from a recent historic perspective, one can verify that we are dealing with an ecologic and socializing answer to the neoliberal ideas, since the “long-term compatibility” notion was conceived by the ultraliberal criticism of Hayek’s disciples, mainly from the University of Chicago, to the monetary distortions usually practiced after 1945 by the governments aiming at improving their growth at any price based, frequently erroneously, on the ideas by Keynes who died in 1946 and could not give an answer to these arguments.


The followers of the Chicago school explained that chronic inflation caused by such practices would make such growth unsustainable. The distortions in the price system, the increasing exports prices, the high speculation of certain goods and the shortage in other sectors would lead to an “economic infarction”: stagflation - a combination of stagnation and inflation. In other words, there would be for each economy individually taken, a non-inflationary optimum growth pace that would warrant to society lasting gains. Remarkable anti-state and anti-planning machine, this original macro-economic theory on Sustainable Development lead, at first, to “monetary purges” that stopped the growth for some time (the first two years of Reagan era, 1980-1982, for instance) and to changes that reduced the power of political authorities in favor of strong and independent Central Banks.

Disoriented by the spectacular victory of liberal thought by the end of the 70’s, some left-wing Anglo-Saxon economists more individualist than the previous generation and also more aware of the big economic and social damages caused by the gigantism of the socialist states, mainly the Soviet Union, preferred answering to Milton Friedman and his disciples not denying, but re-inventing their new paradigm: yes, there are really certain limits to growth that must not be surpassed, but they are not only exclusively quantitative or monetary, but more than anything qualitative and environmental. If such limits are not respected, growth will turn against itself.

The goods that cannot be divided are air, water, chlorophyll from vegetables, but also the basic infrastructure and energy production cannot be completely handed to private production. These “new economists” showed the limits to commercial trade of non-renewable goods, whose price did not include its virtual shortage at long-term. So, it was reestablished the need for government planning for the production and consumption of certain goods and it was theoretically triggered a new synthesis between market (in the short term and for easily renewable goods, that can be divided among individuals as well as) and government planning (in the long term and for goods difficult both to renew and to divide). The socialism was, then, rescued from the Soviet disaster by ecology.

The notion of Sustainable Development, in this form, arises as incontestable and, thus, irresistible: but how could one plan the actions of the economic actors without imposing sanctions to the eventual “transgressors” of this global planning? Impunity would lead the “virtuous” governments that follow the planning to impose to themselves vain sacrifices, since the “transgressors” governments could ignore it. And which governments would be the “transgressors”? The spectrum is really wide: it would include the hundred of millions of agriculturalists and cattle farmers of developing countries who burn vegetation and carry out deforesting to prepare the soil, hundreds of millions polluter car drivers from the North hemisphere, as well as coal miners and industries of the former socialist countries.

From this impasse the most intense and non-operative demagogies arises. However, some major principles had emerged as a result of this debate, usually confuse and loquacious, but none of them is easy to implement. For instance, it is possible to interrupt the devastation of big rainforests as long as their inhabitants are directly paid to conserve and reforest it. Without this direct subvention that should be globalized, poor people from developing countries will try to maximize their income to the detriment of the planet. It is also possible to globally manage and more economically the available potable water, provided resources would be properly transferred from North to South. It will be necessary to accept, obviously under strict rules and with subsidies, the beginning of water trade.

As if riding a bike, humanity has superseded, since ancient times, the constant unbalances of progress towards the improvement of its material life quality. Only big technological advances in the areas of energy production, biotechnology and climate control, resulting from big programs of scientific development run by the government, will be able to overcome the current difficulties. Unfortunately, though, the adepts of Sustainable Development that rely on the progress of science and technology are rare.


(*) Leonam dos Santos Guimarães is presently Assistent to the Director-President of Eletronuclear and he was Coordenator of the Nuclear Propulsion Project in the CTMSP

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Thursday, 08 March 2012

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