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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .


Global Sustainable Development in the 21st Century
Keekok Lee, Alan Holland and Desmond McNeill (eds.)

Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2000
244pp. Index. Pb.: 15.95; ISBN 1-85331-241-X



This book is a collection of essays by 13 experts on the field, the majority with a philosophy, politics or environmental science background. None is a political economist, although almost all the chapter authors emphasize both the relevance and the importance of economics to sustainable development.

The title is taken from the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, published in 1987. That report put the term "sustainable" on the map, defining it as the development which 'meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (p 11). Core issues covered include global equality, economic growth, poverty reduction, future generations, technology, the role of women, population and diversity. It may be 'an ideal text for students', as stated in the back cover; but it is more suited for graduate students because the different arguments posed by its authors and the conflicts between the developed and developing nations to which they refer require more intellectual maturity and sophistication to appreciate.

Sagoff, for example, provides ample evidence that through technology humanity has overcome natural resource constraints and he refers to dire predictions of three decades ago about raw materials shortages, predictions which have not come true. Along similar lines is the argument by Neefjis. Leff, on the other hand, quotes the same authors as Sagoff to support his claims 'for the impoverishment of biotic systems' and argues that 'ideologues and politicians in the North are seduced by the belief that technology will solve environmental problems'. He maintains that 'indigenous and peasant groups in Latin America and countries belonging to the South mobilize to regain property over their lands and ethnic territories and to re-affirm common rights to their patrimony and natural resources'. Dobson argues that 'sustainable development has come to be associated with issues of justice between the so-called developed and developing worlds', while Mallor sees women's experiences to be markedly different in the North and the South. Finally, Redclift remarks that developed countries see the environmental problem as one to be tackled by using cleaner technologies so as to minimize the impact of growth upon the environment, whereas in the developing economies the first priority may be the supply of drinking water and staple starchy food.

Despite the comprehensive Introduction and the Commentaries preceding each chapter written by Allan Holland, the book seems to lack a concluding chapter, which would draw on the quite disparate aspects expressed by the authors.


Ross Fakiolas
National Technical University




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