Strong and Weak Sustainability

Karst remains, which are left behind after phosphate mining, in the center of Nauru Island in 2004. The devastation of Nauru, which affected about 80 percent of the 21 sq. km. island nation, is an example of weak sustainability.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility

The distinction between “strong” and “weak” sustainability has grown out of the discourse and thinking around “natural capital” and specifically in relation to the substitutability between “human” and “natural” capital and how much “critical natural capital” we need for sustainability. Proponents of weak sustainability maintain that human-made and natural capital can be substituted for one another, while those who support strong sustainability believe they cannot, arguing instead that human and natural capital should be seen as ...

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