Policy Documents

The Three Faces of Sustainability

June 23, 2014

Pressure from the United Nations, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and environmental activists to promote “sustainable” development has led to “economically harmful and environmentally counterproductive” policies that have resulted in completely unsustainable practices, writes environmental expert Paul Driessen in a new report for The Heartland Institute.

The failure to define exactly what true sustainability is “gives unelected regulators increasing control over energy use, economic growth, and all other aspects of life,” writes Driessen. Both wealthy and economically depressed regions of the world are pressured to avoid developing coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric power, and nuclear power despite evidence showing them to be “the only abundant, reliable, and affordable sources of energy.” Such anti-energy policies “perpetuate poverty for developing countries and reduce living standards in wealthier countries.”

In “The Three Faces of Sustainability,” Driessen calls for “true sustainable development” that “improves living standards instead of paying mere lip service to them.” This requires “allowing people the freedom to develop and use new technologies and best practices that conserve resources, reduce waste and pollution, and give people incentives to choose the most efficient energy and mineral sources and to abandon them once better ones are found.”

He concludes,

Wise resource use is consistent with sustainable development because the creative human mind – what economist Julian Simon called the ultimate resource – will continue to devise new technologies and new ways of finding and extracting important natural resources. We will never lack the resources needed to continue improving lives, unless misguided activists, politicians, and regulators succeed in placing those resources off-limits. Our most valuable natural resources are not endangered or approaching exhaustion under any reasonable analysis. ... In sharp contrast, political sustainability impedes efforts to improve lives, protect the planet, and prolong resource availability for current and future generations.

Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. His articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Investor’s Business Daily, and numerous other newspapers and magazines, and on websites around the world.