Introduction to the Economics of Water Resources: An International Perspective

By Stephen Merrett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN

Water resource planning for a sustainable society

7.1

Introduction

Chapter 5's enquiry into evaluation methodology explicitly postponed consideration of projects' environmental benefits and costs. In correcting this omission, it would be a mistake immediately to return at the level of the project. Projects, by their nature, are spatially delimited. In addition, project analysis is usually confined to relatively short periods of time (5, 10, 25 years) and the weight of later events, as we have seen, is powerfully reduced by discounting procedures. A prior task, in examining the interdependence of the economy and the environment in respect of water, is to develop a synoptic and long-term perspective. To use the language of Johan Åkerman, whereas the “time horizon” of project planners is short-and medium-term, the time horizon for society in respect of environmental change must be secular and the scale must be global (Åkerman 1960; Mjøset 1994:10-11).

To carry through such a task, the concept of sustainability is of the most vital significance. However, it has to be admitted that, in the mid-1990s, among the throngs attending conferences, seminars and workshops on sustainability and water-or energy or nature conservation or transport or land-use planning-one could not doubt the existence of real confusion and disagreement about the meaning of this concept (Merrett 1995). For the naïve, this uncertainty might have been dispelled by a conference chairperson confidently stating that the Brundtland definition would be used. “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987:43). But others asked themselves why it is that the adjective “sustainable” is attached by one author to “environment” and by another to “development”. Perhaps, since sustainability is seen to be so praiseworthy, each writer or speaker simply hooks sustainable on to the noun that expresses the activity or entity that person most values. These philosophical qualms are reinforced among those who know that sustainability in its current sense is first to be found in Blueprint for survival, where an early reference is made to “a sustainable society” (Goldsmith et al. 1972:2).

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