Consider how much the world has changed over the last century and a half — the time since the Industrial Revolution. Some may think of advances in manufacturing, medicine, and quality of life. Others may point to growth in population, pollution, and resource depletion. Economists traditionally say that as long as the price is right, the laws of supply and demand will provide needed resources while avoiding the harmful externalities. Many environmentalists, on the other hand, are skeptical of the market’s ability to supply public goods and believe that the last 150 years have shown that continued growth will result in continued degradation or even catastrophe.
From many corners of the debate, sustainable development has become the hope of tomorrow. Politicians and environmentalists have taken up the cause. Corporations now advertise their innovation and green practices; many claim to be generating profits that are compatible with environmental improvement (and are achieved without onerous new regulations). But could the relentlessly promoted message of sustainability be hype obfuscating the real hardships facing generations to come?