A leading economist offers a brilliant analysis of the worldwide need to balance economic development and environmental sustainability.
Sustainable development is “the greatest, most complicated challenge humanity has ever faced,” writes Sachs (Sustainable Development, Health Policy and Management/Columbia Univ.; To Move the World: JFK's Quest for Peace, 2013, etc.). In an important, comprehensive and remarkably accessible book—a standout in a sea of jargon-laden titles that fail to explain and vivify this enormously complex topic—the author writes lucidly about a staggering array of intertwined challenges, including poverty, overpopulation, species extinction, overextraction from oceans, urbanization, social mobility and climate change. Sachs stresses that sustainable development is “inherently an exercise in problem solving,” and he calls for a holistic approach and new ideas to produce “prosperous, inclusive, sustainable, and well-governed societies.” He explains the history of world economic development, the factors that help make some nations more impoverished than others (such as the landlocked nature of much of Africa), the science of climate change, how technical advances have fostered the depletion of ocean fisheries, the “unfinished business” of social mobility, and the pressing need for sustainable technologies and higher farm yields (especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia). In each instance, the author offers telling details and anecdotes accompanied by useful charts, maps and photographs that drive home his points. Two photos of Shenzhen, China, taken three decades apart, convey the astonishing growth of that major southern city. Examining each aspect of his topic in detail within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals formulated at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, Sachs argues that solutions are feasible and affordable, despite strong opposition by vested interests and the inaction of governments.
Required reading for policymakers and students, and general readers will finish the book realizing they actually understand what sustainable development is all about.