Big topic. Messy topic. Political topic. Potentially ugly topic. Let's keep it objective please...
Sustainability goes beyond natural resources to include human wants and needs. That is, the notion of sustainability includes economic sustainability. People value the environment, but people also value goods and services and their standard of living. We know that imposing Pigouvian taxes (e.g. a carbon tax) or standards (e.g. mandates on allowable technology) or a combination policy (e.g. 'cap and trade') will increase firms marginal cost and increase the prices of goods and services. In other words, if you want a cleaner environment, you're going to have to pay for it. Note that "pay" here could include opportunity costs - you can have more X if you give up Y, and Y doesn't have to be dollars. I hinted at this idea in the first lecture, when I asked if you think the environment is "priceless" and then I asked what kind of car you drive (if you truly felt the environment were priceless, you wouldn't drive any car).
Joel Kotkin of Forbes has an interesting article titled "The limits of the Green Machine", where he discusses these issues and the political viability of environmentalism. His basic thesis is that pushing for too much environmental protection would be a mistake (especially during an economic downturn), because people just aren't ready or willing to give up their way of living.
Thoughts? Again, I'm not looking for normative opinion here.
How does this idea fit in with the lecture readings on common property/public goods?