Advertisement

Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 367–378 | Cite as

Some of the Nineteenth Century Origins of the Sustainability Concept

  • Sarah LumleyEmail author
  • Patrick Armstrong
Article

Abstract

Interpreting and applying the concept of sustainable development is increasingly viewed as being the way to promulgate just and practicable economic, environmental and social policy. It is thus important that there be increased public and political awareness concerning the origins of economic theory, and its early relationship to sustainability concepts. While the term 'sustainable development' was popularised by the World Commission on Environment and Development report Our Common Future in 1987, it is generally recognised that notions of sustainability were promoted in `limits to growth' and 'green' discourses in the early 1970s (Meadows et al.: 1974, The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome, Potomac Associates and Pan Books, London and Sydney). However, there is little acknowledgement of the way in which nineteenth century intellectuals, from a range of disciplines, conceptualised the importance of balancing economic, social and environmental sustainability in their quest for justice and the conservation of nature.

There was a considerable exchange of ideas on `political economy' and nature across Europe, and later the Americas, from the middle of the eighteenth century. This discourse reached its intellectual peak in the nineteenth century. During that era there was a proliferation of literature that was aimed at improving the human condition and recognising humanity's dependence upon nature. In Europe and the USA the participants in the debate included Cantillon, Quesnay, Condorcet, Galiani, Von Hayek, Marx and George. Due to the breadth of this influential body of work, we focus here on the British Victorian thinkers such as Darwin, Malthus, Martineau and Mill. These thinkers influenced each other in developing their theories and ideas in science, politics, economics and philosophy, and were influenced in turn by an earlier generation of intellectuals, such as Adam Smith. For the Victorian thinkers, conserving nature while trying to improve the distribution of wealth was a not a paradox, but a moral duty, and for them Smith's `rational' pursuit of self-interest could only be followed if it did not interfere with 'the rules of justice'. We argue that the manner in which these thinkers conceptualised their theories and ideas represents the nineteenth century origins of sustainability concepts.

classical thinkers economics eighteenth century environment history nineteenth century policy political economy science sustainability. 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Armstrong, P.H.: 2000, The English Parson-Naturalist: A Companionship between Science and Religion, Gracewing, Leominster.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, R.A.: 1996, 'The great gun of Durham-Canon Henry Baker Tristram, FRS (1822-1906). An outline of his life, collections and contribution to natural history', Archives of Natural History 23, 327–341.Google Scholar
  3. Bentham, J.: 1843, The Commonplace Book, in J. Bowring (ed.), Works, Vol. 10.Google Scholar
  4. Brewster: 2002, Memoirs ofNewton, quoted in Famous Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists, http://members.tripod.com/blackcatter/UU/famous2.htmGoogle Scholar
  5. Commonwealth of Australia: 1994, Summary Report on the Implementation of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, Australian Government Publishing Office, Canberra.Google Scholar
  6. Darwin, C.: 1873, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex; first published by John Murray, 1871, the quotations are from the second edition (1873, 1901 reprinting).Google Scholar
  7. David, D.: 1987, Intellectual Women and the Victorian Patriarchy: Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Macmillan, London.Google Scholar
  8. George, H.: 1886, Protection or Free Trade.Google Scholar
  9. George, H.: 1897, The Science of Political Economy.Google Scholar
  10. Gladstone, W.E.: 1866, Speech to the House of Commons on the Reform Bill.Google Scholar
  11. Gould, S.J.: 1990, 'Darwin and Paley meet the invisible hand', Natural History November, 8-16.Google Scholar
  12. Heilbroner, R.: 1972, The Worldly Philosophers. The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers, 4th edn., Simon and Schuster, New York.Google Scholar
  13. Hunt, T.: 2001, 'Revisiting the age of Victoria', Australian Financial Review 25 January (Republished from the New Statesman, London).Google Scholar
  14. Jevons, W.S.: 1881, 'Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy', Contemporary Review, January.Google Scholar
  15. Knubley, E.: 1893, 'The protection of wild birds eggs', Naturalist 18, 238–240.Google Scholar
  16. Lumley, S.: 2001, 'Harriet Martineau 1802-1876', in P.H. Armstrong and G. Martin (eds.), Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies, Vol. 21, Continuum, London and New York, pp. 46–64.Google Scholar
  17. Malthus, T.R.: 1966, An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society, published anonymously, 1798, Reprinted 1926 and 1966 with the original pagination, Macmillan, London.Google Scholar
  18. Martineau, H.: 1877, Autobiography: Harriet Martineau's Autobiography with Memorials by Maria Weston Chapman, Vol. 2, Smith, Elder and Co, London.Google Scholar
  19. Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. and Behrens, W.W.: 1974, The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome, Potomac Associates and Pan Books, London and Sydney.Google Scholar
  20. Mill, J.S.: 1849, 'Principles of political economy: with some of their applications to social philosophy', in L. Gruen and D. Jamieson (eds.), 1994, Reflecting on Nature: Readings in Environmental Philosophy, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Paley, W.: 1825, Natural Theology, London.Google Scholar
  22. Pearce, D.: 1999, Economics and Environment. Essays on Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development, Edward Elgar, Aldershot.Google Scholar
  23. Quesnay, F.: 1758, Tableau Economique, Paris.Google Scholar
  24. Smith, A.: 1759, Theory of Moral Sentiments.Google Scholar
  25. Smith, A.: 1776, An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.Google Scholar
  26. UN: 2002, United Nations: Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, <http://www>.johannesburgsummit.org/html/Google Scholar
  27. WCED: 1987, Our Common Future, World Commission on Environment and Development, Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  28. Wollstonecraft, M.: 1792, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, London.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth and Geographical Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

Personalised recommendations