First, those who support the use of alternative sources like wind power or solar power will argue that such perceptions rest on an unproven, empirical assumption. While it's true that the transition away from a high carbon to a lower carbon energy economy will entail some economic cost, a huge body of research in the economic and engineering fields… well, for example, the recent report from the National Academies, points out, “There is limited evidence linking higher energy demand or higher energy prices with improved ecological quality.” Further on in the same report, the authors argue that while increased use of coal may reduce air quality; the net result of increased coal use “is not likely to be significantly negative for biodiversity.”
Second, those who take an opposing view of the relationship between economic growth and environmental sustainability will point out that the earth's climate can't support the continued growth of the human enterprise. As a matter of fact, according to one recent study, over the last 40 years, global warming has been the major cause of extreme weather events, the decimation of forests, and the rise of sea levels. Global warming has also increased the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, and its effects on food markets and energy systems… global warming is arguably one of the greatest threats to the world we live in today. And while there's no arguing that climate change is real, what's equally true is that it's currently being handled very poorly, and is arguably a two-way street – on the part of humanity, and nature.
For those who support economic growth and environmental sustainability, they point to the fact that sustainable development can both promote economic growth and reduce pollution. The sustainable development model, after all, strives to ensure the long-term protection and enhancement of the earth's ecosystems, and their ability to sustain human sustainability. This includes, among other things, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preserving the ozone layer, and minimizing agricultural and forest runoff. It also promotes the use of clean energy technologies and promotes alternative sources of energy. It's also sought to make sure that future generations are left with a livable planet.
In order for this to be possible, the future must be foreseen. It must be thought about and accounted for, beforehand. There is no way to get around the fact that we're currently in uncharted waters, and it's an even bigger leap forward to say that there's absolutely no hope for any meaningful progress on the environmental front until we address climate change and its mitigation. Global warming and climate change is a challenge that faces all of humanity, regardless of their place of residence, wealth, or political status. That said, those who are most directly and indirectly responsible for climate change, as well as those who stand to benefit from its continued existence (through energy consumption, for example) cannot afford to ignore it any longer.
The sooner that action is taken, the better; after all, we would need the economies of the future to prosper as well as our present ones. With the right policies in place at the appropriate time, the kinds of developments that would lead to better economic growth and environmental sustainability would begin to occur. Energy efficiency in both manufacturing and services, along with increased use of clean and renewable resources would become more commonplace. People and nations would begin to prioritize long-term health and well-being over short-term wealth. Consumer spending in this day and age are not something that a country can do away with. It is an ever-increasing necessity – one that will no doubt only . . . . . . improve as the world becomes a more aware and interdependent place.
Consumption patterns tend to be established by social class, so pursuing economic growth and improving the quality of life for everyone would require that people of all strata of the society to move forward toward this common goal. For this to be possible, all current as well as future generations would have to embrace sustainable development. Those that are capable of doing so would have the greatest benefits. Those who resist will only be harming their own pocket book, as well as their children's tomorrow. And for those that believe that economic growth and sustainable future development can only be achieved through economic growth, they are sadly mistaken.