The Rio Conference on the Environment (1992) will live on in mankind's history as the occasion which put an end to obsession with economic development. That "development" was no more than misrepresented growth of wealth along with a corresponding frantic squandering of mankind's natural reserves. The irrational vision of an "affluent society", an earthly material paradise, had dominated the mind of peoples for twenty years, to the point of blindness: all countries had thrown themselves into a competition of ruthless development and were concerned solely to measure their gross national income, on whose basis they compared themselves with one another, while being indifferent to the natural cost of this economic "progress". During the same period people were losing basic benefits enjoyed by their ancestors, such as the sun, the air, water, soil and nature.
It is true the above vision had become somewhat faded since systems scientists openly raised the problem of the limits of development, and their concern was done justice by the Stockholm Declaration on the Environment (1972). But for an ideology to be buried, its successor must first be born. The Rio Conference is memorable because it succeeded in offering mankind the new vision of sustainable development: no longer quantitative but qualitative development, in other words a balanced striving for all human values, whether material or intangible, in harmony with nature. The old vision of the "affluent society" had resulted in an unjust and ardent "consumer society". The new vision proposes a "sustainable society" as the attainable model of a just and prosperous world.
In reality, what happened was that misconceptions were abandoned and development resumed its true meaning and moral content, which does not consist in the consumption of material goods but in improving education and health, securing a good natural environment, establishing harmonious coexistence between people in a just and peaceful world, and encouraging the stable joint development of civilisation and nature, in other words a development having all that "quality of life" which had ceased being accessible to most of mankind.