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The Brief History of Sustainability

We'll explore the origins and popularity of sustainability in our learning journey.

The concept of sustainability is one of the most popular terms of our time. In the learning process we are about to embark on shortly, we will examine where and how sustainability emerged, why it came about, and how it became so popular.

The concept of sustainability was first used in 1713. In that year, Hans Carl von Carlowitz, a German forest engineer, published a book titled "The Economy of the Forest" based on his experiences in the forestry industry. In this book, Hans discussed the idea that forests have a certain rate of self-renewal and that exceeding this rate in consumption would lead to the depletion of forests. Hans's goal was to ensure the continued economic viability of the forestry industry. In other words, without trees, there is no forestry, and consequently, there is no money. Thus, sustainability, one of today's most popular concepts, made its debut in history.

With the rapid increase in the use of fossil fuels and the development of production activities driven by the Industrial Revolution,environmental problems also emerged. These issues were first raised around 1972. One of the early uses of the contemporary term "sustainable"was in the classic report "The Limits to Growth," published in 1972 by the Club of Rome. This report was written by a group of scientists led by Dennis and Donella Meadows from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Describing the desired "global equilibrium state," the authors wrote: "We are seeking a model output representing a sustainable world system that can meet the basic material needs of all its people without abrupt and uncontrolled collapse."

In the same year, the United Nations organized the Stockholm Conference. Many countries came together to seek solutions to environmental problems. The resulting declaration included common views and principles aimed at improving the quality of human life. While initially adopting a human-centric approach, the declaration laid the groundwork for future global collaborations on environmental issues

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the studies conducted in the field of environment and sustainability laid the foundation for the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Earth Summit in Rio resulted in crucial decisions for the future of sustainability. Firstly, all nations around the world participated at the highest level in this summit. The decisions made in Rio were endorsed and signed by all nations worldwide. This is highly significant for both sustainability and all other resolutions taken at this summit.

Another significant development in the field of sustainability is the Kyoto Protocol. This protocol sets binding greenhouse gas emission targets for developed countries for the period 2008-2012. However, the protocol faced significant criticism, especially from Western countries, as it did not heavily impact developing nations with high emissions such as China and India. Consequently, it did not contribute significantly to halting climate change.

 As a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. The primary goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100, with an aspiration to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible.The measures to achieve this goal cover the period between 2020 and 2030.

As a concept that emerged in 1713, sustainability has continued to evolve as a proposed solution to environmental issues. Its development hinges on the existence of environmental problems and the steps taken to address them. Without these challenges and the efforts to find solutions, such a concept might never have come into existence.

Ece Erenler
Verified writer

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