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Toward Environmental and Social Sustainability: in search of leverage points
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences, Department of Earth Sciences.
2015 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

It may be argued that ours is far away from a sustainable society. For all the technological wonders that we have been able to produce, some basic problems such as lack of universal access to the means to satisfy one's basic needs, human rights violations, systematic degradation of the environment, among others are still present. Not for a lack of effort, but scientific progress, political effort and economic growth appear to have real limitations in their capability to help us solve some of these problems that have endured through time. Donella Meadows, an expert in systems analysis, has developed a comprehensive list of points to intervene in a system in order to effect change. Using that framework as a basis, the present study aims to try to identify potential reasons for why most of the efforts conducted so far to solve some of the previously mentioned fundamental problems appear not to be so effective. Many of the fundamental assumptions of the mainstream economic school that heavily influence policy making and individual behavior to a large extent, have been identified as potentially important leverage points being pushed in the wrong direction! Economic powers and vested interests allow for the erosion of the self-controlling elements of the global political-economic system such as democratic institutions, what Meadows classifies as weakening of negative feedback loops. The mainstream economic models promoting "success to the successful" loops such as accumulation of resources in the hands of a few, all the while concentrating power can be pointed out as an example of a positive loop getting dangerously out of control. Uncontrolled positive loops inevitably lead to system collapse. Concentration of power is specially dangerous as it can bestow upon an elite the power to set the rules of the system, one of the most effective leverage points according to Meadows. Additionally, by curtailing biological, ideological and cultural diversity we are compromising one of the fundamental conditions for our systems to endure threatening changes, the ability to self-organize, or evolve. The most powerful leverage point is the paradigm out of which the whole system is constructed. The current mainstream economic thinking is fundamentally based on a single paradigmatic assumption of scarcity by mean of the supposed impossibility of satisfying human material wants, as 'new wants are always emerging'. In this mindset, it seems to make sense for the economic system to promote limitless growth and accumulation under the assumption of unlimited material wants. In the possibility to transcend such a paradigm lies an important potential for leverage in the efforts to solve the fundamental problems that still hold our society from attaining sustainability.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. , 35 p.
Examensarbete vid Institutionen för geovetenskaper, ISSN 1650-6553 ; 230
Keyword [en]
Sustainable development, leverage points, paradigm, democracy, growth, diversity
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-254617OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-254617DiVA: diva2:819012
Educational program
Master Programme in Sustainable Development
2015-05-29, Geocentrum, Villavägen 16, Uppsala, 10:45 (English)
Available from: 2015-06-10 Created: 2015-06-09 Last updated: 2015-06-10Bibliographically approved

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