From the Encyclopedia of Global Studies Sustainable Development
Corresponding Member of RAS V.I. Danilov-Danilyan (Russia)


SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (sustainable development, more accurate translation - continuously supported development) - development that meets the needs of the present, but does not jeopardize the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs. This definition was canonized in the decisions of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), although it cannot be considered constructive, since its operational use requires a commensurate comparison of the urgency of the needs of present and fairly remote future generations. This problem is obviously insoluble due to an unavoidable high degree of uncertainty of ideas regarding the structure of future needs, forms of their satisfaction and methods of production of the corresponding products, and such uncertainty is constantly growing in time due to accelerated scientific and technological development and social changes (in turn, the average life expectancy of one generation is increasing, which exacerbates the problem).

Moreover, one cannot accept the popular idea (actually vulgarizing the given definition) that future generations should have the same potential in using the resources of the planet as the generations that currently live. In fact, “potential opportunities in using the resources of the planet” can be the same for different generations only if irreproducible resources are not used at all (and this is just a necessary, but not sufficient condition). Each withdrawal of an irreproducible resource from the natural system irreversibly reduces the potential opportunities of future generations.

Clarifications of the definition of sustainable development can be obtained by correlating it with the specific purpose of introducing this concept, which initially consisted in analyzing the possibilities of preventing irreversible changes in the environment (or the biosphere as a whole) due to increasing anthropogenic impacts. Then another problem arises: is it possible to determine the amount of permissible effects on the biosphere, i.e. those in which it retains the ability to reproduce all the essential properties of the environment and the mechanisms that ensure the homeostatic behavior of its characteristics. In contrast to comparing the urgency of the needs of different generations, this problem has not a socio-economic (and, especially, not a historiosophical), but a natural-scientific character. An approach to its solution is proposed by the theory of biotic regulation of the environment. The limit of permissible anthropogenic impacts on the biosphere is called the ecological (or economic, as well as the bearing) capacity of the biosphere. In the “Concept of the transition of the Russian Federation to sustainable development” (approved by Decree of the President of the Russian Federation No. 440 04/01/1996) there is the following definition: “Sustainable development is a stable socio-economic development that does not destroy its natural basis”. Further in the "Concept" it is explained that for this it is necessary not to exceed the economic capacity of the biosphere. The UN Johannesburg Summit 2002 provides a similar definition. Obviously, with this approach, the definition of sustainable development not only becomes constructive, but also gives the key to the analysis of at least one aspect of the problem of measuring the urgency of the needs of different generations, determining the upper permissible boundaries of these needs through their correlation with the external parameter - the ecological capacity of the biosphere.

Initially, sustainable development was considered in the context of finding an answer to an environmental challenge, but such an answer involves a systematic solution to many economic, social, demographic, scientific, technical and other problems of modern civilization. Therefore, the subject of research on sustainable development began to expand rapidly and then generalize, so that all areas related to ensuring the sustainability of civilization in the broadest sense (including, for example, combating poverty and poverty, narrowing the gap in the levels of economic development of various countries and the welfare of their population, security, including from terrorism and crime, etc.). The quoted definition from the Concept directly affects only the environmental aspect and, undoubtedly, requires expansion. Most sources indicate that sustainable development, in addition to environmental, includes economic and social areas, after which one or another particular task is considered without trying to generalize them, to develop a unified methodological approach. To a large extent, for this reason, studies of sustainable development issues leave an impression of variegation and unsystematic nature, are not convincing enough and cause criticism from different angles. One way to strengthen the rigor of defining sustainable development is to extend the approach to the environmental dimension. One of the possibilities to strengthen the rigor of the definition of sustainable development is to extend the approach to the environmental aspect of sustainable development to a wider range of phenomena covered by this concept.
The development of any system can be considered sustainable if it preserves any of its essential invariants, that is, does not change, does not jeopardize its fundamental property, attitude, limitation, subsystem, element, that is immanent to the main, critical aspect of the existence of the system. Such an interpretation corresponds to the cybernetic understanding of stability and its mathematical formalizations. In a fairly general case (in any case, for all material systems containing living elements), we can accept that this aspect is the survival of the system.
With this approach, for civilization as a whole, sustainability is almost a synonym for survival, in any case, one is impossible without the other. But any attempt to descend to one or more structural levels and, accordingly, reduce these concepts encounters the most complex methodological problems. In particular, not only “internal” own criteria appear, but also “external” ones - from the position of a supersystem. A priori, these criteria are rarely consistent, it’s not necessary to rely on the elements, on something like an “invisible hand” (according to A. Smith) - it’s already clear that structures created by man, during spontaneous development, will destroy his environment if civilization does not die earlier under the action of destructive social forces. The global instability of civilization is due to the actions of its subsystems and elements that do not take into account the problems of stability (survival) of the whole. The problem is to harmonize external and internal criteria, following the principles of humanism, respecting the rights of people and nations.
In the definition from the “Concept”, the ecological capacity of the biosphere is taken as a similar invariant, which acts as a limitation, a limit beyond which the development of civilization should not go beyond. Estimates of the ecological capacity of the biosphere are known. They probably need clarification, but this is a quantitative aspect of the matter. Qualitatively, the existence of the limit of permissible human impact on the biosphere is beyond doubt. The situation with other areas of analysis of sustainable development seems much less clear, which is due to the fact that environmental issues themselves are largely included in the field of natural science, which undoubtedly has accumulated much more reliable and systematic scientific information about nature than social sciences - about human civilization .
Perhaps the most radical difference between human and subhuman is in the mechanisms for ensuring sustainability. From a functional point of view, the basis of the stabilization mechanism in biota is genetic memory. In human society, as a supbiological structure, it is supplemented by extragenetic memory - culture. However, at the same time, man remains a biological being, his body is optimally adapted precisely to the conditions under which the species Homo sapiens originated. Anthropogenic changes in the environment have led to such shifts in it that it already now appears to be clearly inconsistent with human biological constants. If we take into account that a person lives not in a natural (even severely deformed) environment, but in an artificial environment, then the difference between reality and the norm will be huge, catastrophic. A person (as an individual) is directly affected by a huge number of anthropogenic factors determined by the technogenic sphere and socio-economic conditions (from foodstuffs and household items saturated with “chemistry” to the entertainment industry). Existing development trends in this aspect should be assessed as negative, undermining the stability of civilization. This conclusion comes from the statistics of genetic abnormalities, suicide, mental illness, drug addiction, all kinds of perversions, etc., which actually destroy the mechanism of normal reproduction of the human population. The sustainability of human development is threatened not only by the destruction of the biosphere, beyond which it cannot exist, but also the weakening of its own population health.
The invariants of the socio-economic system, which must be preserved with all its changes visible to humans, have been little studied. Sometimes they are identified with its properties, which for quite a long time remain unchanged (often contrary to the desire or even the need to change them). In fact, at the same time, stability unduly reduces to inertia. Until the system is faced with external or internal constraints or forces that explode it (even if generated by it itself), inertia is a stabilizing, protective factor. But as soon as the effect of restrictions begins to be felt, it becomes fatal, not only does not stabilize, but sways the system. Inertia is especially strong in that it creates conditions in which, in the short term, it is beneficial only that which corresponds to it, and the inappropriate requires significant initial efforts before it becomes a component of new inertia in a changed system and begins to work as an environment-forming factor. In economics, this phenomenon is well known as the initial investment barrier that every fundamentally new technology has to overcome.
In biota studies, attention is usually fixed on mechanisms and properties that ensure stability and contribute to its conservation. These include compensation mechanisms with negative feedback (for example, an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere activates the processes of its absorption by ecosystems, which leads to a decrease in concentration), competition between communities of organisms, in which only those who contribute to environmental regulation more efficiently, and etc. As applied to human society, it is rather the other way around: they speak much more often about factors and mechanisms of instability generated by man himself. When structural units (ecosystems, species, subspecies, communities of organisms, organisms) are distinguished in the natural hierarchy, at the same time they get the contours of some stabilization mechanisms (if not the principles of their work, then at least the physical boundaries). However, not a single part of civilization can be considered as just a stabilizing factor. Even if a country or group of countries carries out certain functions aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the development of human society as a whole, they always, firstly, proceed from their “internal” criteria, pursuing their own interests, which do not always coincide with general civilization secondly, their stabilization efforts coexist with factors that can definitely be qualified as destabilizing. In particular, the competitive relations of civilizational subsystems are almost the main - in a number of aspects - the source of instability of modern civilization.
In human society, almost nothing happens in which no stabilizing and at the same time destabilizing moments could be seen. This applies not only to the relationship of structural units, but also to the action of functional mechanisms. Throughout its history, mankind has found many mechanisms for the direct and indirect stabilization of social life - from various prohibitions (starting with incest), ways of organizing joint work (starting from hunting and fishing), religious rituals (starting from the rain spell), through religious awareness, moral, ethical, legal and other problems with the creation of institutions that “serve” them up to modern justice systems, education, health care, confessional structures, etc. However, each of these mechanisms and each of these structures, under certain circumstances and combinations, can become a destabilizing factor.
Thus, three aspects are identified in which it is necessary to ensure the sustainability of the development of civilization: firstly, environmental protection (guaranteed not to exceed the anthropogenic impacts of the ecological capacity of the biosphere), secondly, the protection of human population health to prevent its biological degeneration, and thirdly, the formation, preservation and maintenance of mechanisms (social, economic, political, etc.) that would ensure the solution of the problems of the first two aspects and suppress the socially destructive structure s and mechanisms arising from civilization (apparently it - its immanent property). The first aspect is environmental, the second is socio-medical, the third is socio-humanitarian and combines all other factors and problems of sustainable development, which are very closely intertwined.
The mechanisms that would ensure the sustainability of the development of civilization in all three aspects can hardly be invented, so do not be seduced by the temptations of technological optimism, scientist hopes and advertising of social construction and political technologies. Perhaps most of the necessary mechanisms already exist in human practice, we need to see them, study their effect, not interfere, but rather contribute to their development and dissemination. It is necessary to support their positive work, preventing the manifestation of negative properties. However, it is necessary to suppress the development and spread of destabilization mechanisms.
Although ensuring sustainability of development is divided into three aspects, one should not think that each of them requires its own special mechanisms. On the contrary, the most important role will surely belong to mechanisms that “serve” three aspects at once. Naturally, all such mechanisms lie in the fields of culture, morality and, accordingly, upbringing and education. It is here that “artificial selection” is necessary, but it cannot be trusted in a market that in these areas is not at all prone to elevating a person, but to exploiting its animal instincts without any interest in the long-term consequences. For selection to be effective, a wealth of opportunities is needed, for this task it is given only by cultural, ethnic, confessional diversity, but subject to close constant mutually enriching contacts (dialogue of cultures and faiths) and non-dogmatic attitude to “one’s”, if it does not correspond best to the necessary "General". There is no doubt that in this aspect the principle of non-violence is very important. It has historically proved its effectiveness, but all the more special studies are needed that would reveal the differences between the conditions and tasks when it was successfully applied and the modern ones, in order to understand its capabilities and ways of using it in the current situation.
There are frequent claims that the concepts of sustainable development, harmonization of human relations with nature are nothing more than a new version of theories of achieving "universal happiness", which invariably found complete failure in practice. In such assessments, fundamental points are ignored. First, no one has yet been able to determine what “universal happiness” is, and it seems that this cannot be done in principle. Convincing are also attempts to determine what justice is (which is often declared instead of or together with “universal happiness”), if one does not derive it from higher values (for example, the survival of mankind: what is true is conducive to it). Secondly, the achievement of “universal happiness” is optimization, work to maximize the values of any indicators, indicators, criteria, albeit not set strictly quantitatively or even not always called, but always implied. Meanwhile, optimization: 1) redundant and not necessary; 2) in the long term, it always narrows the possibilities of development, cutting off everything that does not seem “optimal” to a clearly visible horizon (and it is not always too far away); 3) due to excessive specialization, it weakens the stability of the system even in the most ordinary sense, that is, with respect to external influences, etc. Optimal, on the one hand, and stable, especially with a tinge of long-term, self-sustaining (or continuously supported), adaptive, developing, on the other hand, as a rule, are incompatible, contradictory (unless, of course, the goal of optimization is to declare stability, but such a substitution is methodologically nothing does not give).
The task of ensuring the sustainability of development is not at all aimed at optimizing any a priori indicators. This is the task of survival, compliance with the restrictions arising from the laws of nature (in the environmental and socio-medical aspects) and society (in the socio-humanitarian aspect); Of course, in the latter case, it is not legal laws established by people, but the same natural laws that are only relevant to society and different levels of its organization. The scientific information available on these laws and the limitations arising from them is completely insufficient. Moreover, little is known about the quantitative estimates of those limits for which civilization is fatal, although there is no doubt about their existence, and the approach to them is felt more and more every day. The only correct principle for making decisions in such a situation is the presumption of danger.
The analysis provides the basis for the following definition: sustainable development is such a social development in which its natural basis is not destroyed, the created living conditions do not entail human degradation and socially destructive processes do not develop to the extent that threaten public safety.
Firstly, this definition applies to all areas of public life, there are no restrictions in this regard. Secondly, it covers all areas of the consequences that we know about today and in which threats to the existence of civilization may form. Thirdly, the negative nature of the construction of the definition (“does not collapse”, “does not attract”, “does not develop”) is forced, and therefore hardly a drawback: it reflects the orientation of the idea of sustainable development to ensure the survival of mankind, that is, to prevent dangers survival, to contain them to the extent necessary. After a famous report to the Club of Rome, the idea of the limits of growth became an integral part of the modern scientific paradigm; however, for all its fruitfulness, it is insufficient to characterize the need for a transition to sustainable development, more adequate in this context is the idea of acceptable limits of destruction (biosphere, population health, social stabilizers), which is reflected in the above definition.
The measures needed to move towards sustainable development remain largely unclear. Four directions are distinguished: conservation of natural ecosystems, stabilization of the world population, greening production, rationalizing consumption.
Four directions are distinguished: conservation of natural ecosystems, stabilization of the world population, greening production, rationalizing consumption. In accordance with the decisions of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, many countries of the world have developed concepts and strategies for the transition to sustainable development. In most cases, they do not meet the task and describe the possible continuation of inertial development in developed countries or those options for modernization of the national economy in developing countries that clearly do not meet the requirements of the transition to sustainable development. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002) made no significant contribution to the development of these ideas and to the search for ways of their practical implementation. In the existing structure of global decision-making, which requires consensus in the UN system, serious measures and commitments remain unattainable, since for all states of the world global universal human goals recede into the background in front of narrowly understood and relatively short-term national interests. A change in this situation is possible only after significant shifts in the public perception of sustainable development issues, and for such shifts, it seems necessary to further strengthen the threats of destabilization and their even brighter manifestations than are known today. Waiting for such events is not the best strategy, since putting off the necessary measures will inevitably increase the costs of their implementation and increase the risk of an irreversible delay.
The transition to sustainable development is possible only on the basis of a radical change in the prevailing varieties of the value system, shifts in world perception, in stereotypes of behavior, in people's attitudes, with a qualitative increase in the level of coordination of actions of various countries, social groups, economic actors, while expanding the dialogue and preserving the diversity of cultures denominations and social patterns, which is a prerequisite for social development. In this understanding, sustainable development is quite close to the noospheric ideas of V.I. Vernadsky’s latest version, when the noosphere was conceived not so much as a new state of the biosphere, but as a qualitatively new phase in the development of social consciousness, when human society will be controlled by “scientific thought as a planetary phenomenon”, when human intelligence, which is its immanent property on an individual and partly on collective levels will become inherent and civilizational level.
The concept of sustainable development criticizes some of the anti-globalists, a number of public organizations, politicians and scientists for various reasons, which are listed below along with arguments against criticism. Firstly, the insufficient study of many issues of sustainable development and the transition to it is indicated, and the validity of this statement is not in doubt, but there are no other concepts for the survival of mankind that would have a more solid methodological basis. Secondly, it is argued that the approach is not constructive enough, there are no convincing concrete programs for the transition to sustainable development; but it is naive to expect the rapid emergence of specific programs, etc., when many methodological issues remain unresolved. Thirdly, more than a dozen and a half years have passed since the “throwing” of the idea into the public consciousness, but no significant progress is noted in any aspect of sustainable development; however, it is obvious that the point is not in the idea itself, but in the unpreparedness of mankind for the implementation of the measures arising from it. Fourth, the concept of sustainable development is criticized (from the extreme left) for the fact that it supposedly fully corresponds to the tradition of capitalist (or neo-capitalist) society, while a radical transition to a fundamentally new social structure is required; however, the concept of sustainable development poses tasks that are largely independent of the specific social structure, relevant to all of its options that currently exist and are proposed by any social reorganization projects; in addition, the basis for statements about the "conformity" of the sustainable development of the capitalist tradition is the analysis not so much of the very idea of sustainable development as its distortions in official international and national documents, by the media, etc. Fifthly, it is argued that the concept of sustainable development is tailored to the needs of transnational corporations and big business, the “golden billion”, etc., in order to impose measures beneficial to them on the world community, while the implementation of these measures will lead to opposite results which are declared (in particular, to strengthen the differentiation of countries according to the level of welfare, etc.); it is obvious that all known economic forces are characterized by a desire to use any measures, situations, events, processes in their interests, however, it was transnational corporations, big business and the "golden billion" in general that learned to do this better than others, so it is possible that they they will be able to use for their own purposes the “new world anti-globalist revolution” daydreaming by the far left. The problem lies in the fact that to ensure the priority of the goal of survival of mankind over any other goals for each participant in the world historical process.

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