The public response to the vision statement and principles shows widespread support for the overall effort, presents some serious differences about the relationship of economic growth to sustainable development, and offers a considerable number of suggestions for improvement to both content and format. Many commentators stress the importance of local or community action, while others focus on the global context. A percentage of those who are favorably disposed suggest that PCSD move forward quickly to the implementation stage, rather than spend additional time "wordsmithing." Among those who generally favor this effort, there is interest in continuing to follow the Council's efforts and in addressing the implementation of the vision statement and principles.
"Our vision is of a life-sustaining earth. We are committed to the achievement of a dignified, peaceful, and equitable existence. We believe a sustainable United States will have an economy that equitably provides opportunities for satisfying livelihoods and a safe, healthy, high quality life for current and future generations. Our nation will protect its environment, its natural resource base, and the functions and viability of natural systems on which all life depends."
The most frequent criticism of the statement by those generally supportive of the effort is that the vision statement omits the global or international context. Many people feel that this omission undercuts the integrity of the entire effort. A small minority feel strongly that the effort should continue to concentrate on action in the U.S.
A second criticism of the statement is its anthropomorphic quality - that it does not adequately acknowledge the importance of preserving, conserving, or protecting resources that are of benefit to living things other than human beings. Thus, there are suggestions to add wildlife or biological diversity to the vision statement.
The word "equitable" is very appealing to those concerned with environmental justice or gender issues. But to many other respondents, the word represents a fundamental shift to a redistribution of resources that is at odds with private property rights (as opposed to equal opportunity for all). Still other respondents express confusion about what "equitable" means.
The phrase "high quality of life" also generates numerous negative reactions and criticism for being too valueladen. Many writers question just what PCSD had in mind and who would decide what their high quality of life would be, and again suggest that this intrudes on their rights as Americans.
Other frequent suggestions for additional principles are:
Comments were received from representatives of federal, state, and local government (156); nongovernmental organizations (156); industry (108); academia (91); religious organizations (10); and individuals (97). The average satisfaction rating is 3.45 for the vision statement and 3.43 for the principles, on a scale of 1 - 5 with 1 being "very dissatisfied" and 5 being "very satisfied." See Tables 1 - 4, Appendix B.
A rather high number of respondents express concern that, taken as a whole, the vision and principles fail to accord the right amount of importance to both the local and the global perspectives, and that these problems not be tackled just at a national level. Some commentators express the view that the national level is the most unlikely forum for implementing sustainable development principles.
Conversely, many commentators strongly urge PCSD to reconcile economic growth and environmental protection. These commentators generally view the vision statement as being insufficiently supportive of economic growth, and are adamant that sustainable development "provide a framework that rationalizes and integrates environmental quality, natural resource management, economic development and social welfare."
Many of these commentators want a commitment to a growing economy.
From a broader perspective, many commentators who are particularly critical of the statement believe that it abandons basic American values, such as liberty, freedom of choice, individual creativity, and innovation. Some of these writers offer suggestions to try to reconcile the overall goals expressed in the statement with a reaffirmation of American values:
"Our nation will protect its environment, its natural resource base, and the functions and viability of natural systems on which all life depends. We will do this while maintaining the principles of freedom, individual rights, and free enterprise system on which our nation was founded, has grown, and prospered. Achievements of the balances necessary to accomplish sustainability will require the dedication of an informed educated and rational citizenry."
There is a minority of respondents who feel strongly that this effort should not encompass global issues, but should rather concentrate on cleaning up the U.S. first. However, while those who express that view seem to feel strongly about it, they are a very small percentage compared to those who do want PCSD to deal with the global context. Yet another group finds the vision statement confusing on this point (the first sentence refers to "earth" but the rest of the statement is specific to the U.S.), and asks that it be clarified.
Perhaps the second most frequent specific criticism of the statement (but to a far less degree than the global issues), is that the draft statement is too anthropomorphic, i.e., that it does not acknowledge the importance of preserving, conserving or protecting resources for the benefit of other living things (40 responses). There are a number of suggestions to the effect that wildlife should be acknowledged in the statement. Additionally, many commentators advocate including the concept of biodiversity in the statement and substituting the term ecosystems for "natural systems."
Two controversial words or phrases are clearly "equitable" and "high quality of life." There are deep divisions among respondents over the meaning of the word "equitable" (54 responses). While clearly appealing to those who are involved in the environmental justice movement or in gender issues, to many, it represents a fundamental shift to a redistribution of resources ("socialism"). Numerous respondents are puzzled and profoundly troubled by this word. In the words of one writer, "If it means all mean are created equal and their rights are equal, okay." But it is not clear to many that "equity" is compatible with the American way of life. "Fairness" or "just" are suggested as synonyms for the concept that some people believe PCSD is trying to express.
Similarly, "high quality of life" generates numerous negative reactions from several sectors (32 responses). Many writers question just who would decide what their high quality of life should be, suggest that the decision about one's view of a high quality of life is a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, and are very leery of efforts by PCSD to define it. Some of these respondents suggest that unlike "health" and "safety", "high quality of life" is simply too valueladen to ever be a satisfactory term in this context.
Linking methods to goals is a general theme of many letters; in other words, these goals sound great, but they do not say how we are going to get there. Several respondents suggest that the vision statement should at least reference a process that would serve as the pathway to implementation.
Several commentators believe that the word "society" should be substituted for the word "economy" in the second sentence of the draft vision statement, and that this would be a significant substantive improvement in the statement. On the other hand, other writers want the word "growing" inserted before "economy" and some, such as Secretary Brown, believe that PCSD had already agreed upon the inclusion of "growing."
Several commentators advocate adding to the vision statement the goal of including environmental and social costs in society's accounting of costs, rather than treating them as "externalities." Persons who believe that the statement should be compatible with economic growth strongly advocate substituting the word "conserve" for "protect."
A few commentators suggest adding the concept of restoring the environment, along with protecting it. One commentator suggests using sustainability as a substantive criteria within federal decisionmaking. Adding the "precautionary principle" is also identified as an appropriate addition to the vision or as a separate principle.
Many commentators suggest additional issues to be included in the draft vision statement. These issues include communities; agricultural productivity; the cultural, historic or built environment; the high seas; women's or gender issues; indigenous peoples; and the population issue. Other commentators urge PCSD to lessen the number of socialpolitical issues covered by the vision and principles, feeling that the Council is trying to "take on too much" and thus might achieve little.
"The process has been healthy. The reality of the draft product is that it will become a political football, too extreme for the entities which are expected to bear the cost of implementation."
But a representative from a nongovernmental organization, while expressing similar skepticism about their ultimate adoption, says:
"The role of PCSD should be to lead a public debate, not to provide a 'correct' answer. Congress and the President, state and local governments should then set the goals."
Just as the vision statement is criticized for being too vague, so too are the principles. Similarly, the same tension between those who advocate economic growth and those who believe economic growth is fundamentally incompatible with sustainable development is evident. Many commentators write that overall, the principles are either "too preservation oriented and too negative" or "too growth oriented." Several commentators state that to move forward, PCSD must resolve the growth issue.
One general theme that runs through many comments on the principles is the need to include the concept of responsibility for taking the actions needed to achieve sustainable development. This is reflected either in wording changes to specific principles or general comments or suggestions for a new principle. Those that are suggested as being "responsible" for sustainable development include governmental entities, but many commentators also emphasize the necessity for individual citizens and corporations to take responsibility for their own behavior.
Quite a number of comments focus on the organization, structure and wording of the principles (apart from the substantive content). While some respondents find all of the principles to be well written, more are critical of the writing from a technical viewpoint. Many commentators suggest reducing the number of principles, perhaps by combining several of the principles or deleting certain ones, and some commentators believe that the 15 statements are a mixture of principles and the actions necessary to achieve them.
Many respondents suggest organizing the principles based on priority or content or some other rationale, and also suggest some parallelism among the principles. Use of more understandable language or definitions of widely misunderstood words and the avoidance of "jargon" are suggested by some. One commentator suggests that a professional writer redraft the principles once PCSD decided on the content, both to improve the organization and "to breathe some life into them."
Another set of comments provided in response to the principles (but applicable to the entire exercise) relate to the purpose and outcome of this exercise. Questions include:
This principle stimulates less controversy than many of the principles, although the overall statement elicits some criticism, primarily from industry, states, and academia, for being too preservation-oriented. A number of these respondents prefer the idea of conservation rather than preservation, and are also troubled by the concept of restoration (e.g., "'restore' lead us to the evils of Superfund.").
Many commentators are troubled by the phrase "where possible" and want "practical," "feasible," or "reasonable" substituted for it. Some commentators ask how "possible" is to be interpreted, e.g., from a technical, economic or political perspective. A few commentators are troubled by the thought that this principle would preclude monoculture crops; a number of commentators suggested adding "soils" to the list of natural systems.2 Some nongovernmental representatives also think that "possible" should be deleted, again questioning what the criteria for "possible" would be.
The relationship of human needs to the earth's natural systems is addressed by commentators from quite different vantage points. One commentator suggests that society should only maintain systems with a demonstrated connection to economic prosperity, while two commentators stress the need to minimize human influence in large areas and to preserve corridors for wildlife between wild areas. Other commentators urge that cultural resources be included in this principle. Commentators from the religious community urge that PCSD recognize that sometimes environmental and economic goals would be mutually exclusive, in which case they urge that society "should pick life itself" and "take no actions that cause irreversible harm or irreplaceable loss."
While the overall concept of a triad of economics, environmental protection and social equity receives general support, there are two controversial phrases in this principle. First, the term "economic growth" stimulates a great deal of discussion from those who believe that it is fundamentally inconsistent with sustainable development, and that the Council's efforts will fail if it does not acknowledge this tension. These commentators suggest such that the word "economic" should be followed by "prosperity," "well being," or, perhaps most frequently, "development."
Another set of commentators believe that the inclusion of "social equity" is a dangerous concept that implies a redistribution of wealth, and is fundamentally at odds with a free market society. These commentators favor should phrases as "equal opportunity" and "freedom to choose" as substitutes for social equity throughout the document.
While there is fairly widespread acceptance of the general proposition from those who interpreted it to mean that both regulatory and market forces should be used for environmental protection, the emphasis on market forces troubles some, while the terminology of "harness private energies and capital" confuses and troubles others.
Those who question the use of market strategies for environmental ends believe that "the market is how we got into much of this mess in the first place" and are skeptical of relying on the good will of businesses as a tool to achieve sustainable development. For example, one commentator cited a 1992 study by the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations that purportedly identified the major force behind environmentally friendly actions by corporations as being home country legislation. This commentator summed up the views of many like-minded writers by stating "Corporations are environmentally friendly because of regulations, not free markets."
Another set of commentators basically favors the use of market strategies, but cautions against relying too much on markets. For example, one commentator states that the market could not resolve questions of ownership of rights to deplete and pollute, nor identify the total level of key resources that are sustainable. Many commentators advocate the use of examples in the principle itself (for instance, adoption of totalcost assessments and revision of tax policies).
Yet another set of commentators are very concerned about the term "harness." In essence, these commentators believe that "harness" implies additional government interference with market strategies - "reining in" free enterprise. Some commentators, suspecting that the "harness" would be troublesome to some, suggest substituting the word "guide" or "steer" for "harness." Several commentators question who would develop such strategies unless it was the government, since they believe antitrust laws would prevent private collective action.
Not surprisingly, this principle is frequently identified as either absolutely vital to the achievement of sustainable development, or absolutely unacceptable. Among those who fundamentally object to this principle, some question whether we can ever know what level is "sustainable," many are troubled by who would decide such levels, and several writers believe that acceptance of the principle implies acceptance of abortion and "the end of immigration." "Makes me very uncomfortable", writes one respondent. Others, with less fundamental objections, would support a principle related to population if it specifically emphasized education as opposed to coercion.
Those who believe a principle of this nature is essential to achieving sustainable development (89 responses) suggest various criteria for a stabilization level (e.g., consistent with a regional ecosystem capacity to support its living inhabitants). Many express support, but hesitancy about implementation, and a number of writers express confusion about whether this principle is meant to reflect a national or global context. Another group of writers suggest that consumption levels, not population levels per se, should be the main focus of change, or that population and consumption should be combined into one principle. Finally, some commentators state that they believe population is relevant, but "too hot to handle."
This principle is generally viewed as important by nongovernmental organizations and representatives from academia, and as an infringement on individual freedoms by some industry representatives and individuals. Some commentators who are generally supportive of the principle are critical of striving for "efficiency", suggesting that efficiency may actually hasten resource exhaustion ("efficiency implies full use, not wise use"). Those who are more skeptical of the need to reduce consumption suggest that sustainable development "may require" such a change, but insist that such change must be voluntary.
This principle generates considerable criticism, as well as a number of questions regarding the Council's intent or the relationship between poverty and sustainable development. Some commentators believe that this is a byproduct and not an essential element of sustainable development; more echoed the sentiment that, "the poor will always be with us," and that this principle is unrealistic. Many writers suggest that the word "minimize" or something similar be used instead of "eliminate" to make the principle more believable. A considerable number of representatives from industry suggest that the wording of the principle "had it backwards - economic progress leads to eliminating poverty, not the other way around."
A number of respondents ask what PCSD's definition of poverty is or who would define that. Some suggest this is just too difficult an issue to tackle, while a few commentators suggest that the focus should be on curbing excessive wealth as well as reducing poverty.
Both the sentiment and the wording of this principle invoke considerable controversy among respondents from all sectors. Part of the concern expressed about this principle mirrors the concern expressed about the word "equitable" in the draft vision statement: these commentators are concerned about property rights issues and redistribution of wealth. Again, some of these commentators suggest something like
"No segments of society should be discriminated against in the allocation of environmental benefits and burdens."
Other critics identified this principle as a rephrasing of the "polluter pays" principle, but suggest that internalization of environmental costs is not yet possible. Some commentators from industry believe that the principle can lead to economic inefficiencies.
Another group of commentators believe that the principle means that everyone shares equally in environmental burdens, and that such a principle is not fair to the poor. Some of these writers suggest that environmental burdens should be allocated in proportion to a citizen's consumption level or to a business, benefits. Such a sentiment is reflected in one proposed rewrite:
"Each segment of society should suffer the burdens of environmental damage consistent with the benefits it enjoys."
Another suggestion, aimed at the idea of equity, is
"No community should unfairly reap the benefits or burdens of another community's creation."
This principle enjoys fairly wide support and an absence of widespread criticism. Some commentators want specific language indicating that economic decisions should be based on longrange projections, and several writers suggest that the third "leg" of sustainable development - social equity - be included in the principle. Several representatives of business and industry would like the phrase "widest possible range of choices" deleted or the word "practical" instead of "possible", and some believe that the principle implies too much government interference in economic decisions. A few commentators state that existing generations also deserve some deference and suggest "future generations" be changed to "all generations."
The wording of this principle provokes considerable criticism as well as comment on the importance of sound science in the decisionmaking process. A number of commentators who are critical of the principle view it as a restatement of the "precautionary principle" which "has been too often used for alarmist ecoscares", and suggest that it is fundamentally antithetical to "good science." Some of these commentators suggest that action should be risk based.
A number of writers who are generally supportive of what they think PCSD is trying to say nonetheless express concern about the wording of the principle. The general view is that the phrase "even in the face of scientific uncertainty" is inconsistent with the concept of prudent action ("how do we take action if we do not know what we are doing?"). A number of rewriters are offered:
"Where there is a reasonable probability that public health will be adversely affected, or environmental damage may be serious or irreversible, prudent action is required."
Another rewrite, from a commentator who supports retaining the idea of scientific uncertainty, states:
"It is prudent to err on the side of caution to protect public health and the environment, even in the face of scientific uncertainty. It is critical to do so when the consequences of a wrong decision could be serious or irreversible, as with the extinction of species and genetic variability."
Yet another suggestion: " . . . action consistent with informed risk/benefit trade off is required which takes into account scientific uncertainty."
This principle invokes both strong support and considerable concern. Those who support the principle commend PCSD for "biting the bullet," recognizing that "business cannot go on as usual," and that sustainable development requires "deep, far-reaching changes." Some supporters of the principle suggest that this is an appropriate place to insert the concept of individual responsibility, that achieving this principle would require much education, and that it will also require more emphasis on cooperation between various sectors of society.
Those who oppose the principle question what kind of "fundamental change" PCSD has in mind, and who would be in charge of that change. Several commentators believe that such fundamental change is intended to establish a centrallycontrolled society. Many critics believe that the principle is too vague and too negative. These commentators, primarily from industry and academia, believe that the principle implies that our current level of activity is bad, that revolutionary (as opposed to evolutionary) change is being advocated (environmental terrorism) and, as one writer put it, "It scares the hell out of me."
Some writers suggest modest wording changes to soften what they view as a draconian approach - for example, using "may require" instead of "requires" and "large" for "fundamental."
This principle does not generate a great deal of commentary. A few writers stated that this is a very important principle ("should be #1!", "a groundbreaking principle"). One writer suggests that countries that follow principles of sustainable development are much less likely to go to war than those that expand their consumption of or dependence on resources outside of their own nation.
Conversely, other respondents question how environment affects security, and are skeptical that it does. These writers question the "real world relationship" and suggest that the principle is not one that is universally accepted.
This principle generates a great deal of controversy and confusion. Much of this reaction revolves around different interpretations of the phrase "free institutions", as well as a belief that the underlying premise is simply not true.
Many people do support the principle, particularly representatives from industry. However, some of those commentators sharply question whether this principle is consistent with any of the other principles. Others suggest adding support of private property rights to it; another suggested addition is "free and responsible."
A number of commentators ask, "what is a free institution?" Confusion about this seemed to revolve around whether the institution referred to is the government or private businesses ("will corporations be free to do as they please? Help!"). Many writers suggest substituting the word "democratic" for "free" to avoid such confusion.
Another set of commentators challenge the truth of the principle. These commentators suggest that a "benevolent dictator" would probably be more efficient. One commentator points to China's population policies as a example; another asked, "If this is true, then why don't we have sustainable development in the U.S.?." Other commentators wonder whether this principal would be offensive to other countries, suggesting that it sounded arrogant or imperialistic, too "cold war-ish" or too "politically correct." One critic, echoing several other respondents, says the principle "has no meaning and gives license to anything." Yet another writer feels that the principle is generally true, but that it would run into difficulty when there are such widely held conflicts in values over such things as "takings."
There is considerable support for and little criticism of this principle, although there are numerous editorial suggestions for rewording. A few commentators suggest that the principle be modified to make it clear that the decisions referred to are government decisions, not private decisions. Some representatives from business advocated including private property rights in this principle. A few respondents from nongovernmental organizations suggest including a reference to alternative dispute resolution. Virtually everyone endorsed the concepts of access to information and the other concepts in this principle, although some counseled against letting lawyers "bog down everything."
Commentators are generally supportive of using science and technology to achieve the goal of sustainable development. However, many people (144 responses) express alarm and concern at the implication that science and technology are always beneficial. Examples of harmful applications of science and technology are cited by many commentators who advocate such changes as "may be" or "are often." Commentators also point to the need to assess the environmental impacts of new technology, as well as the need to learn from indigenous peoples. Several wrote of the need to balance science and technological advances with ethical behavior.
Another controversial expression in this principle is "ecoefficiency." Many commentators seemed quite irritated by this "jargon" and strongly suggest deleting it. Some find it confusing, asking what it meant; others think it sounds too colloquial.
This principle is reasonably well received. Industry representatives express the need to maintain a level playing field and to maintain our national integrity and autonomy, but also pointed to the desirability of avoiding transferring the costs of environmental degradation to developing nations. Several commentators suggest adding defense policies to the principle. Some are sensitive to appearing too "preachy" to other countries, while others believe that the principle would be better directed toward the U.S. encouraging other nations to adopt sustainable development policies:
"The U.S. should encourage sustainable development policies in other nations, recognizing that sustainability in the U.S. is closely tied to global sustainability."