David Rothbard

Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Craig Rucker

With “dangerous manmade climate change” essentially gone as a public concern, the United Nations and its environmentalist coterie hoped to use the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference to restore momentum for their radical green agenda.

However, sharp debate during the Rio de Janeiro confab suggested that divisions between rich and poor nations have grown, and common sense may yet rule. The fact is, UN-style “sustainability” has gone nowhere for 25 years – for good reasons – and the radical ideas being promoted in Brazil ranged from counterproductive to ruinous.

Nonetheless, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and socialist governments like Russia, China and France still seek to jettison capitalism in favor of state or UN-managed economic systems and give a new international agency for development the power to direct and finance “sustainable development” through the force of law, enticement and punishment. They made little progress in Rio. But they are already planning their next moves, and they have billions of dollars to support their efforts.

We propose a different approach – “constructive sustainability” – that could help millions of people in the developing world people climb the economic ladder, while protecting and improving our environment.

In 1987, the UN’s World Commission on Environment issued Our Common Future, proclaiming the need for “sustainable development,” which it vaguely defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Commission Chair Gro Brundtland said it also “requires meeting the basic needs of all, and extending to all the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations for a better life.”

However, despite this fine talk, the UN built its sustainability agenda on a radical version of environmentalism rooted in “deep ecology” and the “precautionary principle.” All too often, advocates of these ideas have sought to control political discourse, limit people’s aspirations for modern living standards, and restrict economic growth and development, which they view as threats to the environment.

The Future We Want was drafted by radical greens to bring those attitudes to Rio, by presenting a long wish list of actions to be implemented at the summit. “We” continued to mean what eco-activists want.

David Rothbard

David Rothbard is president of the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, a Washington, DC-based policy group that works on issues of environment and development.