The term "sustainable development" was popularized in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development. It refers to a systematic approach to achieving human development in a way that sustains planetary resources, based on the recognition that human consumption is occurring at a rate that is beyond Earth's capacity to support it. Population growth and the developmental pressures spawned by an unequal distribution of wealth are two major driving forces that are altering the planet in ways that threaten the long-term health of humans and other species on the planet.
Human health is dependent on the healthy functioning of the earth's ecosystem. These systems would be overwhelmed if all of the earth's inhabitants were to match the consumption patterns of wealthier nations. Sustainable development requires alterations in the lifestyle of the wealthy to live within the carrying capacity of the environment. To achieve sustainability there is a need for holistic responses to global issues such as urbanization and energy overconsumption, and there is a need for better measures of ecological and social sustainability. While sustainable development is a prerequisite for the long-term health of humans, it will not be possible to achieve sustainability in much of the world unless the toll of major health scourges, such as malaria and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection, is significantly reduced.
BERNARD D. GOLDSTEIN
(SEE ALSO: Atmosphere; Brownfields; Carson, Rachel; Climate Change and Human Health; Ecosystems; Environmental Justice; Environmental Movement; Equity and Resource Allocation; International Health; Pollution; Urban Health; Urban Sprawl)
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United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme.