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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: December 2012

8 - Sustainability and policy

Summary

Having an understanding of climate change is one thing, but relating it to real-world development is another. In the latter half of the 20th century it became apparent to politicians that human impacts on the environment were sufficiently detrimental that they undermined the sustainability of human well-being, and hence environmental quality. ‘Human well-being’ is a catch-all term relating to material and cultural standards as well as quality of life.

Many of these terms, while having a clear meaning to Western politicians and policy-makers, have no strict definition or individual basis of quantitative indexing in the strict scientific sense, although in some instances attempts have been made. Other terms have been used so much by the media that they are often used in policy-making, although human ecologists are often more precise. For example, ‘carbon footprint’ is misleading as it generally does not include biofuels (which are carbon-based) and it also seemingly relates to the spatial concept of ecological footprint as opposed to a quantitative dimension of carbon mass. Academic comment on misleading terms and usage has reached the highest impact-factor journals (for example, see Hammond, 2007). A better term is fossil carbon burden, or fossil burden for short. Indeed some terms (such as medieval climatic optimum, climate tipping point and fertility that were discussed in earlier chapters, and zero carbon, which will be mentioned in section 8.5.1) are not only misleading but mean different things to different people. In 2009, with regards to the term ‘carbon neutral’ the UK government's Department of Energy and Climate Change even held a formal consultation on the term's usage (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2009).

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