Ecological Sustainability

  • J. Baird CallicottEmail author
Part of the The International Library of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Ethics book series (LEAF, volume 26)


Sustainability is simply a property of an activity or complex system of activities capable of going on indefinitely. The concept of sustainability, however, is most often implicitly associated with human economic activities or complex systems of human economic activities that are constrained by environmental limits. From the perspective of current environmental concerns, the essentially economic concepts of sustainable yield and sustainable development are flawed. The former is strongly anthropocentric and has historically ignored ecological (and mathematical) complexity. The latter, while based on weak anthropocentrism, is also based on weak sustainability—artificial capital may be substituted for depleted natural capital; and thus the only things the present generation need bequeath to future generations are wealth and an entrepreneurial culture. Norton rejects weak sustainability, but also strong sustainability—the view that artificial capital cannot substitute for natural capital—championed by ecological economists and conservation biologists. Strong sustainability, according to Norton, is about “stuff,” while sustainable societies commit themselves to “to perpetuate place-based values and project them into the future.” Place-based values, however, are not always environmentally sound—think, for example, of coal-country values or desert-casino-country values. Alternatively, ecological sustainability conceives the human economy to be (as in fact it is) a subset of the economy of nature. The economy of nature is powered by solar energy and efficiently re-cycles materials. A sustainable human economy would thus pattern itself as microcosm to macrocosm on the economy of nature, lest growth of the former seriously disrupt the latter.


Sustainability Sustainable yield Sustainable development Weak sustainability Strong sustainability Ecological sustainability Economy of nature 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, University of North TexasDentonUSA

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