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The ladder of sustainable development and its stepsBaker proposed the ladder of sustainable development (ladder of SD) in 1997 in order to make a clear categorization of the big variety of approaches to SD (Pelenc et al, 2015). This ladder uses different steps to rang attitudes towards nature from an anthropocentric point of view to an ecocentric point of view. In total, there are four steps on the ladder of SD: pollution control, weak sustainable development, strong sustainable development and the ideal model of sustainable development (Baker et al, 2016). In this order, pollution control stands on the lowes step of the ladder (at the very anthropocentric side) and the ideal model stands on the highest step of the ladder (at the very ecocentric side). These steps on the ladder do not only organize the different approaches to the promotion of SD, but they also organize the type of policy that is associated with these different approaches (Baker et al, 2016). Furthermore, the ladder displays the connections and differences between the different approaches of SD. In the next paragraphs, the different steps on the ladder of SD and their corresponding philosophies will be discussed.
First of all; on the most anthropocentric side of the ladder stands the approach of pollution control. Central in this approach is the opinion that environmental protection is important, but that economic growth remains the highest priority in all cases (Baker et al, 2016). Therefore, according to this approach, environmental protection does not lay boundaries on economic growth (Baker et al, 2016). This absence of limits on economic growth results in the exploitation of natural resources without keeping an eye on natural boundaries, which will in its turn lead to environmental deterioration (Baker et al, 2016). Yet, this does not have to be a very big problem according to the approach of pollution control, since the maintenance or increase of the total amount of value for the benefit of the future generations is considered the most important matter (Neumayer, 2012).
From this point of view it does not matter whether the current generation uses up their resources, as long as there is enough technology to compensate for it (Solow, 1993). This way of dealing with nature shows one of the most important normative principles of the first step on the ladder, namely that nature only has an instrumental value and no intrinsic value (Baker et al, 2016).Preceding on the ladder is the concept of weak sustainable development. According to the approach of weak sustainable development natural capital can be preserved by giving an economic value to the natural resources and processes (Baker et al, 2016). In this way of thinking natural resources can be exploited, but only if the gains of exploiting this natural resource outweigh the environmental loss (Baker et al, 2016). The approach of weak SD allows this substitution of environmental capital by human capital since human capital is, in this approach, believed to not only have the ability to substitute the environmental capital, but also to generate the same kinds of well-being (Pelenc et al, 2015). This approach to nature appears to be taking environmental degradation more serious than the approach of pollution control (Kirkpatrick, 2015).
Yet, although the policies that promote the concept of weak SD do take environmental costs of economic growth into consideration, economic growth remains the highest priority (Pelenc et al, 2015).The third step on the ladder is strong sustainable development. One of the main beliefs of strong SD, is that environmental protection is a condition for economic development (Baker et al, 2016). Therefore, this approach does not assume that technology can be used as a substitute for all natural resources (Kirkpatrick, 2015). Instead, strong sustainability believes that there must be strict limits on the amount of human capital that can compensate for natural resources, so only in cases that services play such an important role in creating human well being, assessments should be made (Ekins et al. 2003). Since this form of SD puts strict limits on the amount of natural resources that may be used (Pelenc et al, 2015), there will be strict limits on economic growth as well (Baker et al, 2016). With these limits on resource exploitation, the approach of strong SD also hopes to see the current consumption-based society develop to a society where the quality of life gets the priority instead of the measure of consumption (Baker et al, 2016). In order to reach this type of society, sustainable consumption and production patterns must be achieved, which means that involvement the government, consumers and firms is necessary to prevent irreversible damage to nature by human interference in natural capital (Baker et al, 2016).Finally, on the top of the ladder there is the ideal model of sustainable development.
This approach is primarily focused on the need to restructure our economic, political and social structures (radically) (Baker et al, 2016). Therefore, this approach promotes a big change in our attitude towards nature and its resources. In this ideal model, natural capital may no longer be substituted by human capital, since natural capital a big intrinsic value which is critical for human well being (Ekins et al., 2003; Dedeurwaerdere, 2013). Also, according to this model, every species gets the same value and is therefore held to be equally important (Kirkpatrick, 2015). In order to achieve a big change in the contemporary economic, political and social structures, development should be strongly regulated (Kirkpatrick, 2015. Yet, because of these strong regulations and idealistic goals, many people criticise this ideal model as impossible to achieve or as anti-developmental (Kirkpatrick, 2015).
As is seen in this article, the different types of SD all have different philosophies and normative standards. Yet, it is very clear that on the most anthropocentric side of the ladder, economic development gets the highest priority by far while the more you move across the ladder to the ecocentric side, the higher priority goes to the intrinsic value of nature and the conservation of it. Furthermore, the article shows that on the anthropocentric side of the ladder, there is a lot of emphasis on the operation of the free market, while the more you move along the ladder towards the ecocentric side, the more regulations there need be in order to secure the stronger models of SD. It is clear from the article that the approaches on both extreme sides of the ladder are either impossible to implement or undesirable.
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