Lumley and Armstrong discuss how the origins of sustainability concepts where theorized prior to and during the 19th century, and that the idea evolved through a combination of factors linked together (politics, economics, environmental and social policy). Thus making the concepts of sustainability not a ‘new beginning’ in human thought. Over the time of history human thought has changed depending on the environmental influences we as a species have had to encounter causing the changes we have had to make in order to survive as a species. Survival within the environment on Earth in its modern context has changed dramatically from those hundreds of years ago. The use of natural resources from the environment has changed with the need to supply the ever expanding human population. In addition, technological advances that have developed for greater exploitation of natural resources have helped the human population to be sustained whilst other species have in turn declined because of this trade off. The idea that the environment is at a trade-off with human development was the beginning of the sustainability idea, because of its threats to human survival by resource limitation. However the concepts that make up sustainability as an idea were developed prior to and during 19th century by intellects whom envisioned this correlation between human population increase and natural resources having limits.
Before the 19th century; during the 17th century, ‘Cartesian dualism’ (“mind” and “matter”) was theorised. Whereby, the natural environment was connected with ‘matter’, therefore creating objects with a lifeless image to most of society. This image also allowed the environment to be thought of as a machine that can be altered and improved for the benefit of humans. From this point alteration of the environment had no moral or conscious thoughts, as it was believed that the environment had no limits. (Eden, 2009) Developing this belief caused exploitation to occur because people saw the environment as matter that was lifeless like a machine that could be altered and improved. The effects of human development to the environment eventually saw negative aspects associated with the change and with this led to the realisation that resources have limits. Thus a new perspective of the environment was conceptualised. This could be considered the foundations of sustainable thought, in which ideas from politics, economics, sociology and the environment converged.
During this time development was a main focus throughout most of the western world, with nations striving towards a goal for their people. The interactions between economy and politics were the main concern, with human welfare being less of a concern and the environment hardly being concerned in the least (Glacken, 1978). The environment was merely seen as an array of resources for the benefit and profit of developing societies (Eden, 2009).
The 18th century thinkers were involved in the movement towards sustainable thought through concern towards the welfare of humans mainly in Europe. At this time ‘Mercantilist thought’ was being challenged; this idea revolved around the idea that a large population had the means of developing larger markets and army’s, therefore a sign of wealth shown to the rest of the world. Economic theorist Richard Cantillon (1680?-1734) pointed out that “men multiply like mice in a barn, if they have the means of subsistence without limit” (Lumley & Armstrong, 2004). This perception of population growth was important in illustrating that well-being could be improved by the development of production, creating jobs and thus allowing for greater population growth. But this quote also pointed out that “the means” could be limited. At this time society had ambition to improve their living conditions and as individuals become higher up in society. Adam Smith recognised that ‘mercantilist thought’ however caused human suffering and the...
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