UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Heat, Greed and Human Need: Rethinking Brundtland for the Plutocene

14 November 2017, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm

Heat, Greed and Human Needs

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UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Room G01, Central House, 14 Upper Woburn Place, London, WC1H 0NN

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: 1) the concept of ‘needs’, and 2) the idea of limitations. (Brundtland Report).

This paper summarises some of the arguments in my forthcoming book, Heat, Greed and Human Need: Climate change, capitalism and sustainable wellbeing. It is in three parts.

The first part addresses the questions left unanswered in Brundtland: what are human needs? Why are they central to sustainable development and sustainable wellbeing? What is the relation between meeting needs and GHG emissions?

The second part introduces inequality, the distribution of need satisfactions and their close relationship to the distribution of income and wealth in capitalist economies. It reveals four contradictions between the economic, environmental and social domains in the present era – a phenomenon some have labeled the Plutocene. Inequality lies at the heart of climate change and effective climate mitigation.

The third  part distinguishes three very broad strategies within rich countries to limit climate change: green growth to ramp up the eco-efficiency of production; ‘recomposing’ consumption towards sustainable levels; and degrowth. It argues that the first, though essential, is neither sufficient nor desirable on its own, and the third seems politically impossible. Some attention is then devoted to the recomposition of consumption and how this could pursue both sustainable climate mitigation and equitable wellbeing. 

About the speaker: 

Ian Gough is Visiting Professor in CASE (Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion) at the London School of Economics, and an Associate of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment also at the LSE. His books include The Political Economy of the Welfare State; A Theory of Human Need; Insecurity and Welfare Regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America; and Wellbeing in Developing Countries. Some of his essays are published in Global Capital, Human Needs and Social Policies. His new book Heat, Greed and Human Need: Climate Change, Capitalism and Sustainable Wellbeing will be published imminently. 

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