At present, as never before, the future of life on our planet has become a matter of great concern. As the twenty-first century and the third millennium approach, we are confronted with several warnings concerning the growing fragility of the Earth's life support systems. For example, on November 18, 1992, some of the world's senior scientists from 70 countries, including 102 of the living scientists who are Nobel Laureates, signed and sent an urgent warning to government leaders of all nations as part of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the "Earth Summit") held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to this warning:
"The environment is suffering critical
stress.... Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of
life - coupled with the environmental damage which is inflicted by deforestation,
species loss, and climate change - could trigger widespread adverse effects,
including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose
interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand. Uncertainty
over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in
facing the threats.
"A new ethic is required - a new responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the Earth. We must recognise the Earth's limited capacity to provide for us.... We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes."
Declaration of October 1990, by the Association of University Leaders
for a Sustainable Future, was a significant forerunner to the Earth Summit
held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The declaration of the latter, endorsed
by governments of most of the world's nation states, was the most prominent
among the many documents that highlight the impending crisis. The Rio
summit was followed by several other events which include: the Global
Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States,
Barbados, 1994; the International Conference on Population and Development,
Cairo, 1994; the World Summit on Social Development, Copenhagen, 1995;
the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995; the Second UN Conference
on Human Settlements, Habitat II, Istanbul, 1996; and other non-UN forums.
All these, and many other events, have raised awareness and contributed
to the concept of sustainable development.
"The growth of world population and production combined with unsustainable consumption patterns places increasingly severe stress on the `life supporting' capacities of our planet. These interactive processes affect the use of land, water, air, energy, and other resources."
"life support systems", the authors of this document specified
concern for the wise use of land, water, air, energy, and other resources.
These resources underpin life itself. However, life is a highly complex
set of interactive systems on which human existence is ultimately dependent.
The collapse of some ocean fisheries, the destructive influence of agricultural
and animal husbandry practices on unsuitable lands, and the devastation
of tropical rain forests are all caused, directly or indirectly, by population
growth pressure. These practices seriously threaten sustainability and,
ultimately, human survival.
Economic and development policies should be oriented as needed, to respect the earth's carrying capacity. In this way human actions are guided to avoid conflicts between these policies and the Earth's natural systems, which might lead to "global crisis" Instead, the policies should ensure the maintenance of conditions for sustainability of life and global security. The notions of global (international) security and risk have not been defined precisely and uniformly enough thus far, primarily because they involve threats and opportunities that have not been fully realized. Until recently, international security was considered synonymous with military security, although it is clear that this is an inadequate definition. There are in fact at least seven different types of Human Security, namely, Economic, Food, Health, Environmental, Personal, Community, and Political. The threats to security are also varied and can be military, economic, social, or ecological.A major premise motivating the evolution of the Encyclopedia is that economic and other development policies should be based on the principles of sustainability, namely: intergenerational equity; intragenerational equity, and precautionary principle (risk aversion strategies) and conservation of biodiversity .
In this respect, several knowledge resources are essential for an integrated and comprehensive understanding of the sustainable development paradigm. Naturally, scholars from diverse fields of specialization tend to use different nomenclature to characterize this knowledge. However, the following broad framework has received wide acceptance:
Resources or Natural Capital (The Environmental Dimension)
The complex interactions among the various subsystems are shown in Figures 1(a) and 1(b). Figure 1(a) shows the various fundamental dimensions of the sustainable development paradigm which relies on a wide spectrum of disciplines. Figure 1(b) suggests what has to be sustained by human policies aimed at better quality of life.
Other ways of subdividing the total system are possible. In order for the total system (the human system embedded in the natural system) to be viable, each of these essential subsystems must be viable. Viability of the total system depends on the proper functioning of the sub-systems. The six subsystems correspond to potentials that must be sustainably maintained. Although other classifications are possible, this identification of subsystems is not arbitrary.
The knowledge needed for the understanding of the subsystems for their sustainability is highly interdisciplinary. For instance, to understand the sustainability of the Natural Capital ( or Environmental Dimension), one has to rely on disciplines such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, as well as Mathematical Sciences in addition to the use of technological tools such as Computer Systems, Remote Sensing, Global Information Systems, etc. as depicted for the sake of simplicity in Figure 1(c).
Figure 1(a): The complex interactions among the different dimensions of sustainable development
Figure 1(b): The six major systems of the anthroposphere and their major relationships. These six sector systems can be aggregated to the three subsystems: Human System, Built System (Human Engineered System) and Natural System.
Figure 1(c): An understanding of the sustainability of the natural system lies at the confluence of many disciplines
Figure 1(d): Sustainable Development with reference to Different forms of Capital
shows that the body of knowledge may be referred to the different forms
of capital that are essential for sustainable development.
The far past is associated with inactive
approaches in which there is no concern for environmental degradation
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