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Recovering Sustainable Development

Courtesy Reuters

A FASHIONABLE NOTION

The concept of sustainable development first emerged from academic seminar rooms two decades ago, thanks to a best-selling report called Our Common Future. Put together by the World Commission on Environment and Development, the report argued that boosting the economy, protecting natural resources, and ensuring social justice are not conflicting but interwoven and complementary goals.

A healthful environment, the theory goes, provides the economy with essential natural resources. A thriving economy, in turn, allows society to invest in environmental protection and avoid injustices such as extreme poverty. And maintaining justice, by promoting freedom of opportunity and political participation, for example, ensures that natural resources are well managed and economic gains allocated fairly. Civilizations that have ignored these connections have suffered: consider the Easter Islanders, who by denuding their forests triggered a spiral of economic difficulties and strife that eventually led to their civilization's collapse.

Yet even as

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