Sustaining Development in a Thermodynamic Universe

This content is not available in the selected language.

There is a bit of an experimental feel about the article I just finished. The article strays from conventional legal doctrine. It explores the very personal ideas that have led me to environmental law.

My objective was to try to come up with a definition for the concept of sustainable development that made sense to me in a context where this notion is often used to promote projects that epitomize unsustainability.

To achieve my aim, I’ve had to explore domains that have little or no relation to my field of research. Because of this, some parts of the argumentation rest on shaky grounds, with recourses to analogical reasoning at crucial junctures instead of properly articulated logic.

As a result, this thought experiment should be seen as a work in progress rather than a finished product. I would be grateful for any feedback, and I’d be happy to discuss the points that may appear provocative.

With these important reservations in mind, I still think the text is useful because it brings into the debate about sustainable development some ideas that I consider fundamental but insufficiently discussed in Canadian doctrine. It touches on notions such as ecological efficiency, ecosystem carrying capacity and limits to growth, amongst others.

The general conclusions of the text are as follows:

  • The laws of thermodynamics indicate that in order to maximise sustainability, development has to be minimized to the lowest possible level. Accordingly, the legal framework placing the most constraints on development is also the framework that most fosters sustainability.
  • There are critical thresholds where human development acquires emergent properties that make it unsustainable. While jurists are unable to scientifically locate these thresholds and define their exact nature, law might facilitate their materialization.

The article has been written as part of a collection of texts by researchers of the Regroupement Droit, changements et gouvernance that is tied to the Centre de recherche en droit public .

I am grateful to Professeur Vincent Gautrais, CRDP’s director, for giving me a blank check to write on anything that would catch my fancy; I never thought I would explore the ideas in this text in an academic setting.

This content has been updated on September 24 2015 at 13 h 49 min.