Sustainability and Intergenerational Social Equity

Sustainability and Intergenerational Social Equity Edmund C. Stazyk, Alisa Moldovanova, and H. George Frederickson

1. Perhaps no word in modern languages means so little and much as sustainability. As both a word and concept, sustainability reflects a growing awareness that current human needs and expectations must be balanced against the immediate and long-term capacity of supporting ecosystems(IUCN/UNEP/ WWF, 1991; UN General Assembly, 1987). The most commonly utilized depiction of sustainable development traces from the Brundtland Commission, which describes the process as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising? the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (UN General Assembly, 1987). Without maintaining supporting ecosystems today and into the future, the continued health and survival of humanity is questionable. Sustainability provides a seemingly neat and simple lens through which many of the conflicting demands facing modern societies may be viewed.

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Efforts to address these conflicting demands require balancing a complex mix of environmental, social, and economics pressures-the so-called three pillars of sustainability (UN General Assembly, 2005).

2. Sustainability has come primarily to be associated with the environmental movement. However, sustainability is hardly a new concept. In fact, 2,500 years ago, citizens of the Athenian city-state took the following oath: We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many; we will continuously seek to quicken the sense of public duty; we will respect and obey the city’s laws; we will transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was left to us. With this oath, Athenian citizens accepted the responsibility to effectively conduct the affairs of the city. They pledged to leave the city better for future generations-in other words, to practice sustainability.

3. From the Greeks, we learn that sustainability has long been valued. We also learn that sustainability encompasses more than a narrow emphasis on environmental management. In this broader historical context, sustainability can be understood primarily as a form of intergenerational fairness, which claims that current generations have obligations toward future generations abound. Rawls (1971) is one of the leading advocates for including future generations in the domain of justice and suggests that classical reflections on morality and ethics frequently include future generations as worthy of consideration. In other words, current generations have a moral obligation to future generations .Sustainability as a Form of Equity

4. Taken together, the perspectives reviewed above indicate future generations are a valid and important domain of consideration. We do, in fact, have an inherent obligation to future generations that must be met when possible. The challenge is this: How can and should our obligations to future generations be balanced against current needs and expectations? The best method for sorting out our obligations to present and future generations rests in treating sustainability as a concept that has primarily to do with equity across generations. Therefore, sustainability addresses the universal sense of belonging and emphasizes shared values of humanity.

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