Introduction: Multiple perspectives on tradeoffs

Michelle Hegmon

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The three grand challenges of the 21st century are “freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on this planet” (United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his Millennium Report to the UN General Assembly 2000). Implicit in these eloquent words is a sense of tension among the goals: Some of the needs of the present are met most efficiently with non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels that will not be available for future generations and that are contributing to what may be irreversible climate change. Living within environmental limits may be good for the long term, but it prevents some people from meeting their needs today. Subsequent work recognized these tensions and tried to untangle these multiple goals, recognizing that they involve different scales, actors, institutions, and targets (e.g., Martens 2006; Parris and Kates 2003). Even more recently, it is recognized that hard choices and tradeoffs are often necessary, because it is not always possible to alleviate poverty and preserve the environment simultaneously (e.g., Campbell et al. 2010; McShane et al. 2011; Turner et al. 2003). As a result, there is a growing concern with understanding tradeoffs, conceptually and in practice. This volume is designed to address that need. A brief story illustrates: At a recent conference in Taiwan, Margaret Nelson (the lead author of Chapter 8) presented a paper entitled “Sustainability, Resilience and Policy” based on her archaeological research about vulnerability tradeoffs (see Nelson et al. 2010, 2013). In the ensuing discussion, one of the national research directors, who was developing national policy regarding sustainability for Taiwan, told her that he thought he had solutions (such as recycling) to various problems, but her talk helped him to realize that his “solutions” also had consequences and he needed to reevaluate parts of his strategy. The point is not that recycling is bad – it is usually better than dumping trash in a landfill – but rather that it also has costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Give and Take of Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationArchaeological and Anthropological Perspectives on Tradeoffs
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781139939720
ISBN (Print)9781107078338
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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