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Abstract: The concept of sustainable development emerged in the early 1980s when existing theories proved unable to provide convincing models of how to satisfy the seemingly contradictory developmental demands of simultaneously increasing wealth, of keeping production and consumption within global environmental limits and of providing an equitable distribution of material goods and opportunities. This dilemma produced “sustainable development” as an attempt to reconcile those goals. After a difficult process of negotiations the Brundtland Commission provided the most elaborate model in 1987. During the following years, both supporters and critics have frequently focused on the Commission’s endorsement of growth, largely overlooking the Commission’s recommendations of fundamental changes in economic structures and processes. Mainstream reception, especially, has used a selective interpretation in order to defend economic growth with cosmetic modifications against environmental criticism. After 27 years and several large international conferences on the issue, the underlying conflict of goals remains unresolved. In particular the issue of wealth redistribution appears under-addressed in mainstream discourse as well as in degrowth discussions.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session “Degrowth and history – Economics, sustainability, power” at the 4th International Degrowth Conference in Leipzig in 2014.