Interpreting Economics, Rhetoric and Sustainable Development: some implications for policy determination

Sarah Lumley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Many of the controversies about environmental resource use relate to the perceived conflict between economics and conservation. This conflict might have been resolved with general acceptance of the concept of sustainable development, and with a more transparent and honest use of economics terminology. However, interpretation and application of this concept appear to have led to some further conflicts between perceptions of economics and the environment, partly because commerce and development are sometimes portrayed as having the same meaning. Commercial activity resulting from the use of natural resources is often held to promote social good, while conservation of natural resources, many argue, renders the wealth which may be obtained from such resources unavailable. The latter is deemed to be bad for society. However, although in contemporary parlance economics is usually restricted implicitly to issues concerning commerce, finance and profit, economic theory requires the consideration also of intangible values, such as environmental damage. Environmental and other economists have worked hare to stress the importance of non-financial values in economic theory, and to ensure that they are included in economic analysis. However, these latter aspects of economics are not generally known to the wider public, partly because of the tendentious manner in which interested parties often use economics. When positions are argued on the basis of economics, the arguments are frequently expressed in language designed to persuade members of the community that all commercial activity is in the interests of society, while incurring minimal costs. In these circumstances, economics might be viewed as a form of rhetoric. Anyone assessing the merits of such arguments ought to consider carefully what this rhetoric really means. This is especially important in discussions concerning sustainable development, which is understood by some to mean sustainable, or sustained, commerce.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)35-49
    JournalAustralian Geographer
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


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