Summary of "Sustainable Development of the Biosphere"

Summary of

Sustainable Development of the Biosphere

By William C.Clark and R. E. Munn, eds.

Summary written by T.A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Sustainable Development of the Biosphere, William C.Clark and R. E. Munn, (eds), (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986),475 pp.

Sustainable Development of the Biosphere will be of interest to those who seek an understanding of the prospects for sustainable development on a global scale. Essays by multiple authors are grouped into five parts, each with an overarching topic. The first of these is a brief overview by Clark. He presents themes for a research program on sustainable development which contains a brief examination of the Earth as transformed by human action, addressing the increasing scale of interactions. He next discusses the technologies, institutions and research aimed at managing global change. The author concludes with consideration of policies which support sustainable development.

Part two addresses human development. The first of five essays discusses the relationship between the world's environmental history and economic development. This is followed, as are all the essays, by a commentary from another author. The second essay of the second part addresses sustainable redevelopment of regional ecosystems degraded by exploitive development with a special focus on the redevelopment of degraded forestry and fishery resource systems. The next essay is an examination of the future of agriculture which " ... is portrayed as an interacting system of resources, technologies, institutions, and environments". J. Darmstadter offers a retrospective examination of, and prospects for, globalenergy patterns. With a focus on the interaction between changing technology and dwindling resources, long-term, large-scale energy use patterns are examined. The final essay of the section explores "... one long-term technological strategy that might limit pollutant emissions sufficiently to permit an ecologically sustainable development of the world's fossil fuel resource ...".

The third part is devoted to consideration of the world environment. The first of four essays focuses on the changes in the natural environment of the Earth as evidenced by the historical record. The Gaia hypothesis is of special concern to the author in this essay. The second essay in this part addresses the effect human activities have upon chemical cycling between the Earth and its atmosphere. The authors offer evidence for human action affecting the: "... absorption of ultraviolet energy, thermal radiation balance ... global oxidation efficiency, precipitation acidity, visibility, and corrosivity". R E Dickson offers a framework for the examination of the impact of human activities on climate wherein alternative methods for study of climatic response to perturbation are discussed. The final essay in this section makes use of the Gaia hypothesis as the mechanism for linking physical, biological and social phenomena across spatial and temporal scales.

Part four is devoted to social response. The first essay is best read subsequent to the last essay of part three. This essay addresses surprise in the interactions between physical, biological and social phenomena "... with special attention to the ways in which certain long-term trends and scale-effects increasingly predispose systems to discontinuous and often unexpected change". G. Majone examines the role of the scientific community in dealing with environmental problems on the international scale. The author focuses upon the many "... principles, ... and values ..." that the scientific community shares which can be greater motivators for change than governmental actions. The next essay explores how the use of environmental monitoring might improve long-term management of renewable resources. The final essay in this part offers M L Parry's assessment of the implications of climate change for human development.

The final part of the book examines what is termed ?Usable Knowledge'. The first essay in this part addresses the implications of incomplete science on policy formation.

P Timmerman discusses the relationship between human constructed concepts of the natural world, and what we count as a surprising natural phenomenon. The final essay in the book proposes that rather than the models, simulations and games which have been employed in an attempt to understand, and predict the actions of, the natural world, the use of experimental "policy exercises" might be helpful.

Sustainable Development of the Biosphere is a comprehensive examination of the possibilities and prospects for global sustainable development. Each individual essay is accompanied by table and figures which will be most useful to the informed reader.