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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993


In the following remarks, “environment” is defined comprehensively to include all relationships between humans and all that impact upon them, and all that they impact. Cultural and natural forces are involved, and economic, technological, and philosophic aspects of life are interconnected with biological and ecological factors. Although for convenience we subdivide the unity of the world into conceptual categories, there is a holistic universe from which our existence is inseparable. When we address particular categories of experience, such as “environment” or “development,” we are drawing distinctions useful for the orderly processing of information. We cannot deal simultaneously with the whole of reality. But to deal effectively with any part of the whole, we should be aware of the relationship of the part to the whole, e.g., to its environment.

Development is a term of several meanings. It may—but not necessarily—imply growth. It more consistently indicates maturation, elaboration, or improvement. Economic development as commonly used is generally taken to imply material growth—more or bigger. But sustainable development, as will presently be considered, implies limits—not all forms of growth are sustainable, especially in the long run. The ascertainable limits to growth are environmental—notably finite space, finite resources, and the parameters bounding the capacity of living systems and organisms for regeneration.

There is growing opinion throughout the Americas that problems of environment and development in a world with limits are not being effectively addressed. There is also a less prevalent, but nonetheless influential, belief that technology may solve these problems. Analytic technologies have been sought that might generate reliable ways of overcoming limits to growth and development but simultaneously protect the viability of the environment.

Since their advent in the 1960s, the techniques of impact analysis and technology assessment have become major tools of planning and decisionmaking in relation to the environment and development. That they are valuable instruments for rational policymaking has been clearly demonstrated; that alone they are capable of providing the “right” answers to all questions of policy for environment and development has not been clearly demonstrated. To benefit from these analytic techniques, their rightful relationship to planning and policymaking should be understood and institutionalized.

Before these techniques can be applied to international or hemispheric cooperation (as among the American states), some major questions of policy must be answered by the participating governments. In principle, these questions are not unique to the Western Hemisphere. They are relevant wherever international environmental cooperation is sought. This essay will therefore address the general principles to be considered and the strategies to attain them. Subsequently, considerations specific to the American states will be addressed.