The (Im-)morality of Sustainable Development


In academia, a popular shared belief states that technology might be the solution for environmental problems. It is generally agreed that contemporary societies can commercialize and develop environmentally friendly technologies that, in comparison to the current technologies used, produce less pollution and require less natural resources.

It can be argued that long-term environmental sustainability can be achieved, as taxes, state regulations, market forces, the existence of necessary technologies and self-awareness exist. However, theorists have referred to ‘green’ technologies as commodities, which implies a relation of exploitation and inequality. Therefore, even though the development of ‘green’ technologies might create benefits in core nations, it might produce negative effects such as environmental degradation and social disruption in peripheral areas.

The Theory of Environmental and Social Costs of Ecological Modernization in the World-System states that increased future economic investments will no longer be required since the environment and the economy have been decoupled. In other words, given that ‘green’ technologies have less harmful effects on the environment, they are considered to be of a neutral value and beneficial for the common good. The question that arises is whether ecological modernization in advanced societies rests upon increased materialization in the periphery.

The main idea of the Ecological Modernization Theory is that it has a neutral value and is universally beneficial. This view might be resting on that fact that ecological modernization theorists tend to see technological innovation as the outcome of value-neutral scientific imperatives and overlook the issues of power, inequality and domination. These theorists do not debate whether ‘green’ technologies benefit one group of people in the detriment of others, as long as the principles of Utilitarianism are met.

The critique to the neutral value of ecologically friendly technology is summed up in the “Jevons paradox”, which states that the use of technologies that improve efficiency increase, rather than decrease the amount of natural resources used. This paradox states that as efficiency increases so does its availability to consumers. Therefore, the widespread commercialization of more efficient technologies can have a positive effect on the economy and ultimately decrease society’s total impact on the environment. In the modern era, the speed and scale of transformation are unprecedented, but so are the disparities in environmental damages between nations. Fully developed, rich nations have a high impact on the global environment, while developing nations contend with the consequences of the degraded ecosystem. Thus, it could be argued that the technological and economic expansion of the core nations occurs at the expense of peripheral areas.

In conclusion, while ecological modernization may contribute to increased environmental well-being in core nations, profound environmental and social disruptions will be created in the periphery. There are three acknowledged ways to relate to this issue. The first two attitudes are optimistic- (1) denying that there are any major problems that will not be solved by new technologies and (2) acknowledging that major political and cultural reforms are needed in order not to reach a state of disaster, but to continue to believe in the feasibility of such reforms. The third, more realistic, implies that state of urgent demand for change and acknowledges the state of disaster, but is yet to visualize any realistic solution for preventing it.

Medeea Fercu



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s