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The Role of Social and Intergenerational Equity in Making Changes in Human Well-Being Sustainable

Summers, J. K., Smith, L. M.
Ambio 2014 v.43 no.6 pp. 718-728
decision making, economics, humans, society, space and time
A sustainable world is one in which human needs are met equitably and without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Human well-being is described by four primary elements—basic human needs, economic needs, environmental needs, and subjective well-being. These elements can interact in a myriad of ways to influence overall well-being. What makes changes in human well-being sustainable for a population or a nation? Two major interactional concepts can push changes in human well-being toward a sustainable state in space and time—social equity and intergenerational equity. The concept of social equity distributes well-being over space, ensuring the fair treatment of all members of society promoting spatial sustainability of a well-being decision. The concept of intergenerational equity distributes well-being through time, ensuring the well-being of present and future generations of a population or nation, promoting temporal sustainability of a well-being decision. The roles of social and intergenerational equity in terms of their influence on human well-being are examined with a focus on more sustainable decision-making.