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Fundamentals of Sustainable Development

Routledge Publishers, London

1st  Edition: 2012

Paperback:  ISBN  978-1849714198
Hardback:    ISBN  978-1849713863

2nd Edition: 2017

Paperback:  ISBN 978-1138713826
Hardback:    ISBN 978-1138713796
E-book:         ISBN 978-1138714182

This book is applied as a FFEA Extension for training and course purposes.


Table of Contents


A taste of the book: a part of chapter 6


In 2012, Fundamentals of Sustainable Development was published by Routledge, under the Earthscan imprint.

The 2nd, revised and updated edition is finished and will become available in print in August 2017. If you want to know more, please contact the author.

It is a textbook for university students, mainly aiming at the United States, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries and regions.

The book is based on Roorda's Dutch book Basisboek Duurzame Ontwikkeling. It has the same structure and partly also the same content. But, compared with the Dutch book, many of the cases in it are different: they are gathered by two American co-authors of Florida Gulf Coast University: Peter Blaze Corcoran and Joseph P. Weakland.

Table of Contents

The Table of Contents is:

    1.    Sustainable development, an introduction
    2.    Flaws in the fabric: people and nature
    3.    Flaws in the fabric: people and society
    4.    Sources of vigour

    5.    Here and There
    6.    Now and Later
    7.    Climate and energy
    8.    Sustainable business practices


Just as the Dutch edition, there is much more than just a book, as it comes with many accessories that can be downloaded from the companion website, such as

  • more than 200 exercises for students in every thinkable didactic style, e.g.: problem-based learning, project education, discussions & debates, art & creative tasks, math exercises, research, serious games
  • learning goals for every chapter, based on a KISA division: Knowledge, Insight, Skills & Attitude
  • summaries to the chapters
  • more than 40 video clips
  • extra texts: for each chapter, an extra. This nearly doubles the contents of the book without doubling the price, as all extras are freely available - but you have to create an account to be able to approach and download them.
  • Four computer programs developed by Niko Roorda, as accessories to some of the exercises. Elsewhere on Roorda's website, you can find descriptions of these programs:
    EPU (Environmental Pollution Unit)
    Fox Rabbit (Theoretical Model)
    Fox Rabbit (Artificial life)
    PopSim (Population Simulation)

And for lecturers, protected by a password that only lecturers can acquire:

  • Answers and discussions to the exercises
  • Powerpoints for each chapter, containing the images in the book, making it easy to prepare the lessons.


A taste of the book: a part of chapter 6


6.5.    World scenarios

A large number of models have been developed for the purposes of studying our future. The United Nations, for example, uses models to chart the expected growth of the global population. When creating such models, many issues are naturally simplified, otherwise they would be impossible to generate. Assumptions are made about future developments, such as economic growth, possible new discoveries of metals, oil and other resources, as well as new technological developments. Different scenarios can be generated through adjusting the assumptions, and so some scenarios result in a higher population growth than others. Standard practice is to represent the results using a ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low scenario’, as can be seen in the UN example in figure 6.17.


        Figure 6.17. World Population: Prospect until 2100.
        Source: UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA): World Population Prospects 2002, 2012 & 2015


For the purposes of comparison, a scenario of uninhibited growth is included in figure 6.17, which is (fortunately) not realistic. The ‘High’ scenario is based on the ‘Upper 95’ estimates of the UN’s World Population Prospects published in 2015; likewise, the ‘Low’ scenario is based on the ‘Lower 95’ estimates.

All of these scenarios share the same curve in the 20th century, which is logical as this part represents the past, which is already known.

Also added are the ‘Medium’ scenarios based on earlier UN Prospects: of 2002 and 2012. It is striking that, through the years, the medium expectations are getting higher and higher. In 2002, it was expected that the world population would peak around 2075. Current forecasts don not even expect a maximum before or around 2100, which is not very good news. The corrections are mainly due to an unexpected high population growth in Africa.

With the aid of a model such as this one it is possible to examine “what if…” questions. “What if the natural environment can take more than we thought?” “What if we have an Aids vaccine within a decade?” These and any other relevant questions can be studied. Such assumptions are translated into scenarios, calculated in the form of simulations, and the results are examined. This allows us to develop a picture of the future – or rather, of one possible future.

Aside from investigating growth forecasts for the entire world, the UN’s growth models also allow us to examine those for a region. Figure 6.18 contains the graphs for the four regions that were dealt with in the previous chapter, with the section to the left covering the past and that on the right dealing with a possible future.  A medium scenario has been used for each of the regions.


        Figure 6.18. Population of four regions: Prospect until 2100.
        Source: UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA): World Population Prospects 2015


It is interesting that the four lines in figure 6.18 fit together like pieces of a puzzle, as if they are part of the same development, just at different stages. Take first the ECOWAS curve, and next the India, China and EU lines in succession and place them side-by-side, overlapping slightly. This will provide a graph resembling that in figure 6.19, which is not coincidental, as the four regions are undergoing a process within which a number of the processes correspond to each other. This development can be considered as a ‘standard scenario’.

The ‘standard scenario’
The ‘standard scenario’ has already played out – partly or wholly – in many places, in many forms and at many speeds. In general, the development roughly goes as follows.

The story that figure 6.19 tells starts off in prehistory, and in the far left of the graph the people are still subsisting from gathering edible plants and dead animals, as well as from some hunting. The fertility rate – the number of children per female – is high, but there is little population growth as the infant mortality rate is also high as a result of disease and accidents, amongst other things. This is actually fortunate, as only very few people following this lifestyle can live off the land – no more than a couple on each square kilometer.


        Figure 6.19. Standard scenario for the population growth of a region


And so it takes a long time, maybe even thousands of years, before the population reaches a density where it becomes impossible to continue this way of living, and once that point is reached, famine becomes an issue. This necessitates a new lifestyle, which is either invented or adopted from neighbouring regions – agriculture (A in the graph).

The shortage of food declines thanks to agriculture. The new lifestyle makes it difficult to maintain a nomadic existence, and so permanent homes are built. New health issues arise, such as contagious diseases due to larger groups of people living together. At the same time, the fertility rate increases, pushing up population growth. The introduction of agriculture is far from idyllic, as farmers have to work much harder than hunter-gatherers and dependency on weather conditions increases – there is always the chance of failed crops and livestock diseases!

Agricultural productivity increases where this transition is successful and, because more people can survive per square kilometre through agriculture, the population can grow unabated for a time. Over the course of hundreds or thousands of years, villages and towns come into being, and the population density continues to rise. In due course, agriculture itself proves insufficient to feed all the mouths, despite innovations such as the plough and the use of draught animals.

And so mechanisation (M on the graph) is introduced at a certain time. Windmills are amongst the oldest forms of this mechanisation. This is followed by industrialisation. In Europe and America, it is now the 19th century. Coal becomes the main source of energy, with oil employed next. Artificial fertilizers are introduced in agriculture. But the population growth is still not dramatic, as both the fertility rate (the birth-index) and infant mortality are still high. In spite of this, the population is considerably larger than it was before, because the growth is exponential, as can be seen by the characteristic shape of figure 6.19 (to the left of H), which is comparable to graph A in figure 6.12.

Hygiene and healthcare improvements and vaccination then result in a radical change (H in the graph). Infant mortality decreases greatly. But the birth-index does not significantly follow. This is logical, as there are still no centrally-organised provisions for old-age, such as pensions. Adults need their offspring to care for them when they become elderly. Besides, there is little or no opportunity to restrict the number of births, with contraceptives not yet existing (in 19th-century Europe) or not widely available (in the 20th-century ECOWAS region).

This results in the population skyrocketing – the graph suddenly becomes much steeper between H and P – and there is a population explosion, a baby boom.

Meanwhile, education also improves and the population’s level of knowledge increases. Together with industry, this leads to increased prosperity (P), which allows for pensions to be introduced, taking the pressure of having many children off the parents. The fertility rate decreases, and the population explosion slows down.

The combination of a fast-growing population and increasing prosperity ups the pressure on the environment. Ever greater areas of land are subjected to cultivation, for which the natural environment has to give way, while dumping and industrial discharge spoil the habitat.

Once the population growth slows, the baby boom generation starts to mature and a large group of people reach retirement age while far fewer children are born. This means that a region is confronted with an aging population, i.e. with an increasing percentage of elderly people (E in the graph).

A point is ultimately reached when the population starts to shrink instead of grow. This is already the case in a number of European countries, including Italy.

One can envision many variations to this ‘standard scenario’. For China, M and H are much closer together than they are for Europe, which means the population explosion occurred relatively early. Another feature for China is that the decline in the population growth has not only been due to increased prosperity but also to intervention by the authorities. In another region, Russia this time, the deviations are different – the population is shrinking even though the people have not peaked in terms of prosperity. Russia does not fit well into this standard scenario as it is beset by a long-term economic downturn, with many Russians no longer optimistic about their future.

What happens after the E on the graph? Will Malthus prove correct, and will our civilisation collapse, or will we be able to attain a sustainable equilibrium? We do not yet know what the outcome will be, but it can be said that it is a rare event for a civilisation to reach a point of equilibrium. Of all the civilisations that have ever existed, some fell apart in a calm and peaceful manner before reaching E. Others are still developing and have not yet reached that point. Only a very few have found a stable balance. These cultures, which had abandoned issues such as population growth and overexploitation, were mostly in small areas – generally isolated islands – where no technology comparable to that of today was developed. Our civilisation, the stage at which it finds itself and the global nature of things, together constitute an ‘entirely new experiment’ in world history.

In order to find out what might happen next, we can once again turn to models and simulations.

You can create an experimental future yourself. On the website of this book, software is available called PopSim, which stands for Population Simulation. It can be used for studying a wide variety of scenarios, in-cluding the standard scenario, which can be run for a low, medium and high version. The differences between these are striking. You can also study the effects of positive and negative feedback, uninhibited and inhibited growth, higher and lower birth rates and a one-child policy, amongst other things.


        Figure 6.20 The World scenario simulation program PopSim



Two decades after the Rio Earth Summit, the debate over sustainable development and how to achieve the necessary political, economic, social and technological change is as diverse but also as confusing as ever.  Fundamentals of Sustainable Development makes clearer sense of our current situation, the difficulties and dilemmas faced by people all over the world, and the key strategies that offer hope for a more sustainable future.

Written in a clear and accessible style with compelling analysis of case studies, this is an invaluable learning resource for students in disciplines across the natural and social sciences.  

Dr. Nigel Watson, Lecturer in Environmental Management, Lancaster University, UK

As the imperative for sustainable development increasingly comes into focus, so does the need for a new way of educating the next generation unshackled by the confines of traditional disciplines. ‘Fundamentals of Sustainable Development’ seamlessly moves from economics to ecology to political science, painting a realistic picture of intricate connections unbiased by the lens of any particular discipline.

Ruth DeFries, Denning Professor of Sustainable Development, Columbia University, New York, USA

I have now used the book Fundamentals of sustainable development for a year on a course, Teaching and learning for sustainable development, and now I’m planning  to use it on two other courses. The fact is that the students appreciate the book very much and so do I. I couldn´t have said it better.

Hans-Olof Höglund, Karlstad University, Sweden

Here is a lively and challenging resource book aimed at all who have an interest in sustainable development. It provides some excellent case studies and descriptions of the complex and diverse issues concerned with making this planet a safer and fairer place upon which we can all live. I can recommend it for undergraduates, for taught postgraduate students and their teachers, as well as the interested general reader who may be concerned with the future of humanity and our Earth

Dr. Hadrian Cook, Kingston University, London, UK

A recent monograph (via Routledge by Niko Roorda), Fundamentals of Sustainable Development strives to enable a global perspective for urgent discussions beyond academia. Its particular strength lies in bringing together issues of equity (among people) arising from insufficient recognition of ecology (around the planet) in the economy of growth (as irresponsible profits).

We strongly recommend careful reading — not just by federal and provincial bureaucrats and legislatures but also by organisations of employers and labour. Social activists will find much support for their advocacy agendas for local and provincial public action. Disagreements among the ‘haves and have-nots’ will arise, but it is the book’s strength to provoke informed contestation among those committed to a decent world for our children and their children. If the future does not matter, then human existence is indefensibly parasitical. The book provides a lot of material for even schools with good teachers.

Organised into eight chapters on not just what is but also what should and can be, the book presents numerous case studies across both the ‘developed and developing’ world. Those well-versed or just impatient can jump to the second part where solutions are discussed.

Dr. A. Ercelan and Muhammad Ali Shah, Pakistan

‘Fundamentals of Sustainable Development’ is unique and compelling with its focus on the triple bottom line of sustainability in a way that is both accessible and powerful for students and faculty.  While many books claim to be about ‘sustainable development’, they invariably fall short in addressing social and ethical aspects. ‘Fundamentals’ uses case studies and systems thinking to avoid this pitfall while highlighting the challenges and opportunities in sustainable development in a realistic yet optimistic manner that transcends disciplines.

Mike Shriberg, PhD, Education Director, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, University of Michigan, USA

Aimed at a broad range of aspiring professionals, Fundamentals of Sustainable Development combines a penetrating critique of current unsustainable practices with a bracing survey of the “sources of vigor” that hold the potential to inform and energize a truly sustainable future.  Humans must mobilize immediately, and on a grand scale, if we are to cope successfully with the problems triggered by our rising population and our swelling ecological footprint.  Higher education has a critical role to play in preparing people to realize a society grounded in principles of justice and sustainability.  Shifting deftly between essential theories and illuminating case studies, this accessible and well-balanced text will enable students in all fields to grasp the complicated interplay among people, planet, and prosperity.  The book’s global scope helps underscore the planetary scale of the problems it describes and the solutions it proposes.

Andrew Wingfield, Associate Professor, Director, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA

There is an ever increasingly large number of books on the market dealing with sustainable development, so any new book has to offer something new.  Fundamentals of Sustainable Development By Niko Roorda published under the  Earthscan imprint by Routledge (2012) offers just that in a very innovative way.  It goes against the trend of specialization within the area of sustainable development, which often creates inaccessible and to my mind overly confusingly complex views, but gives a fresh approach to understanding the problems and to some extent the solutions to the crisis facing us today. Roorda describes the crisis in the develop world as the triple crunch (i.e. climate change, economic crisis and oil depletion), which illustrates his no nonsense approach.

Based on case studies and littered with other examples and colour images, this is a fascinating book and is as complete a text as I think could have been achieved.  It has numerous student questions which, with the support of an equally innovative and exciting website, makes this text very interactive.

The book really is interdisciplinary, and while challenging in places is truly accessible to readers of all backgrounds.   The presentation of the book is excellent and the format makes this a very attractive paperback, and at 350 pages, it is not too big for students (and lecturers) to carry around. This is a colourful and intriguing textbook which I highly recommend.  It is the sort of book you wish you had written yourself, but Niko Roorda has done just that and in the process added a remarkable edition to the sustainability library.

Nick Gray, Professor Environmental Sciences, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Last year, I piloted an excellent publication called Fundamentals of Sustainable Development by Dutch author Niko Roorda, which my graduate students, some with substantial experience in the topic and others newcomers to the field, thoroughly praised for its breadth as well as its depth.

Supported by a myriad of case studies, photographs, and charts, Roorda’s book covers the concepts of intra- and intergenerational equity; the developments leading up to the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development; the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profit); linear versus systems thinking, including positive and negative feedback loops and their influences on stocks and flows; population growth and its impact on ecosystems; the relationship between economic imbalance, ecosystem destruction and poverty, violence, and warfare; the impact of climate change, including adaptation and mitigation efforts; the precautionary principle; recent geopolitical developments such as the ascent of China as an economic powerhouse; computer models projecting future growth scenarios; energy resources, including peak oil and renewable energy sources, global economic production lines and chain management; and corporate social responsibility and ethical standards.

Anouchka Rachelson, Miami Dade College, Florida, USA