11 May 2009

sustainability - the flip side

The juxtaposition of sustainable development with ecology and development is a valid comparison and one that is open to debate. Development at an unprecedented rate cannot continue and the lack of proper ecosystem management is making it extremely difficult to support current rates of growth. Already the adverse effect of environmental abuse is being felt. There is a direct impact on world economy due to climate change – change in weather patterns, agricultural losses, increase in floods, tornadoes, droughts. All of these have impacts on world economy.

The definition of sustainability itself has large black-holes that need explanation. As a relatively new business model, it challenges the traditional notions of growth. Whilst a growing economy simply expands, a developing economy improves. Within the frame of the definition of sustainability there is no indication of how we can support current rates of growth "without compromising on the ability of future generations to support themselves". There is no basis on which to perform a projection analysis to figure out what resource use the future generation requires because we barely know what is acceptable today. However since there is a deceptive simplicity around the concept of sustainability, it is applied to every new business model.

The idea of sustainable development is based on two assumptions. The first is that we are running out of resources and the second is that economic growth is the cause of this depletion. However, resources are becoming less, not more, scarce. Agricultural yields for all the major crops like rice, corn, and wheat have been on the increase. Increased exploration of oil, coal and natural has been revealing that known reserves are expanding. This same phenomenon has been seen with metals like aluminum, zinc, iron, and copper where reserves have increased. Improved technology has ensured that more-conservative production techniques are encouraged and this in turn has ensured the exploration and new discoveries of underground reserves. Life expectancy, housing, nutrition and education levels are improving world over. In short, the prosperity we enjoy today is leaving future generations better off, not worse off.

If the definition of sustainable development incorporates the maximization of human welfare, then this is only possible if the legal system ensures property rights in order to ensure market operability. The definition of sustainability should incorporate the idea of right to development. The right to development and by proxy the right to environment can only be guaranteed when the tragedy of the commons is abolished. Since growth and increasing wealth leads to improved environmental quality by raising demands for it, economic growth cannot be the antithesis of sustainable development but the essence of it.

Political and economic systems based on property rights is the only base to sustainable development. Government regulation to stop growth is the antithesis of any development and will see a decline in environmental quality. Scarcity of resources is the excuse given for lack of institutions that ensure human freedom.

The biggest problem is that there is no common consensus that world governments and organizations can reach in order to resolve these issues. Additionally, any measure we have in place in terms of treaties etc are not mandatory not legally-binding. Unless there is some measure that legally enforces sustainable development, the change is going to be slow to come. At this point, 'slow' cannot be afforded.


sushil yadav said...

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].

"Growth Rate" - "Economy Rate" - "GDP"

These are figures of "Ecocide".
These are figures of "crimes against Nature".
These are figures of "destruction of Ecosystems".
These are figures of "Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality".

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land].

Destroy the system that has killed all ecosystems.

Destroy the society that plunders, exploits and kills earth 365 days of the year and then celebrates Earth Day.

Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Delhi, India

Toby Thaler said...

Very interesting post and thoughts, but I think there are some basic flaws in your logic. "The idea of sustainable development is based on two assumptions. The first is that we are running out of resources and the second is that economic growth is the cause of this depletion." is incorrect.

The first assumption of sustainability is that any ecosystem (e.g. Earth) has a limited carrying capacity. The quantification of that capacity is based on many assumptions and variables. Regardless, your opening paragraphs clearly acknowledge that there are limits to growth.

You talk about the "tragedy of the commons" but fail to explain how it works or relates to either of your assumptions. Nor do you explain your conclusion that private property and the elimination of the tragedy of the commons go together.

The essence of the tragedy of the commons is an economic system (i.e., property relations) that does not recognize that there are limits to growth. Global warming is a "tragedy of the commons"; everyone wants to externalize their carbon costs onto the world atmosphere. Please explain how "private property" as the base for an economic system has anything to do with the need to eliminate all environmental externalities.

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

Hi Toby,

Thank you for your comment. I must say that I was attempting to point out another side to the sustainability debate.

If you could check out another post of mine, it explains the 'tragedy of commons' better http://thegreenden.blogspot.com/2009/09/tragedy-of-commons.html

I think that elimination of this phenomenon can increase accountability and therefore better land management by imparting a sense of ownership.

Private property as an economic system is certainly not going to eliminate all externalities. It will however, empower people to take better care of the environment especially if their livelihood depends on it. This concept has worked in several forest and fisheries rehabilitation programs. The Australian government manages their fisheries based on a model where fishermen are accountable for the catch, to great success.

However as you have rightly pointed out there are many instances where this principle does not work i.e., global warming - how do you privatize the atmosphere? Maybe if we could figure out a way to, it might make polluters more accountable.

Hope this answers your question.