You are on page 1of 15

Page 1 of 15

RESOURCES, ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT


V.P.JAIN
Abstract
The ecological crisis, we face today, is a natural corollary to the accumulative
entrepreneurial motivation of man, arrogating to himself a place of dominance to exploit
nature for his pleasure. Modern technology only comes handy in expediting and
facilitating such a process, amply supported by new cultural values. The modernization
syndrome, characterized by exuberant life style and wasteful consumption for self-
fulfillment and happiness, threatens the ecological balance. Nature is to be understood in
its totality as an organic whole in which man is but one component, and cannot violate
forever, its laws with impunity. The United Nations conference on environment and
development at Rio in 1992, exhorted the world to abandon those practices that are self
destructive in favor of sustainable development. Sustainable development is much more
than environmental protection. It is a wider concept of economic growth, which ensures
fairness and opportunities for dignified life for all, without further destroying recklessly
the word's finite resources.

INTRODUCTION

Man's interaction with his natural environment involves him in using the earth to
satisfy his needs and desires. This interaction leads to extraction, processing and
consumption of natural resources which man requires in order to live (subsistence) and to
prosper (economic development). Although, man's aim in using the natural environment
has been to improve his lot, in many cases he has ruined the earth's physical and
biological systems. Even though, man is subject to certain natural controls, he acts as the
dominant force in his endeavor to appropriate nature for his various pursuits. The urge to
dominate and to subjugate nature has also created, in the process, a highly polarized
world of appalling contrasts.

RESOURCES AND DEVELOPMENT


Since, wants vary from time to time and from society to society, economic
development may be perceived differently by different people. But no matter how one
visualizes economic development, its pace is determined by a society's ability to
command physical resources (land, minerals, water, etc) and its human potential
(population, skill, human wisdom, enterpreneuership, etc). However, countries are not
totally dependent on their endowment of resources for development. Many nations
without their own resources have prospered while most with resources have not. The
Netherlands and modern Japan, for example, have remarkable successes to their credit
through conquests and trade, even though they are poorly endowed with resources. On
the other hand Britain's formidable economic position in the 18th century was essentially
due to its natural supply of iron and coal. Its access to large markets, its commercial
strength and enterpreneuership fortified the natural resource advantage and made it a big
industrial power. In contrast, most of the countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America,
even though gifted with natural resources in abundance, have failed to utilize them for the
good of their own people.
Page 2 of 15

THE POLARIZED WORLD


Today, we live in a world of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, It is common to speak
of a North\South divide into the developed world (i.e., U.S., Europe,) and the
underdeveloped world (i.e., Asia, Africa, Latin America.). Widespread unemployment,
poverty and exclusion exist, paradoxically enough, in a world that continues to grow
wealthier all the time. For the rich it is a world of consumer's paradise of immediate
gratification, of hot images and cool gadgets. On the other hand, one fifth of the
world's population i.e., over one billion people exist in conditions of absolute poverty
and are unable to feed, clothe and house themselves properly. ( see diagram 1)

Source : UNDP Report 1998


Diagram 1

These various constituents of the divided world into the haves and have-nots differ
greatly in their access to the resources of the Earth. The developed countries with less
than one quarter of the world population consume 80% of the world's resources. For
example, the per capita consumption of food, energy and material resources in the
developed world in 16 times compared to its counterpart in the underdeveloped world.
The affluent life style that most in rich countries and many in poor countries enjoy,
Page 3 of 15

consume an inordinate share of the world's natural resources. The rich form just 23% of
the population, occupy 5o% of the land area, account for 60% of the energy consumed
and earn 85% of the world's income. An average American consumes over two tons of
steel every five years in the form of cars, and eats 112k.g of meat and consumes 7822 kg
of oil equivalent in the form of energy every year. The corresponding figures for an
average Indian is 5o kg of steel, 2kg of meat and 231 kg of oil. The per capita
consumption of food, energy and material resources in the developed world is 16 times
compared to its counterpart in underdeveloped countries. What is alarming is that the gap
between the rich and poor is only widening as part of the modernization process. The
share of the poorest 20 per- cent of the world population in global income is estimated to
be a miserable 1.1 per-cent, down from 1.4 per-cent in 1991 and 2.3 per-cent in
1960.The ratio of the top 20 per-cent and that of the poorest 20 per-cent rose from 30 to 1
in 1960 to 60 to 1 in 1991 and to all high of 78 to 1 in 1994.
But, the contrast does not manifest merely in the form of North\South divide.
These inequalities are even more pronounced within nations. The developed world also
has its slums known as ‘ghettos’. In the midst of astounding affluence in America, for
example, a substantial number of Americans (13.5 % of the U.S. population) remain poor.
Similarly, hundreds and thousands of people in the underdeveloped world enjoy affluent
life styles and indulge in the luxury of sophisticated goods. While obesity clinics
mushroom in metropolitan cities in India, for example, to slice off the extra fat layer of
the nouveau rich, one third of the people struggle hard, for the better part of the day, to
procure enough food for bare survival.
Consumption and production patterns impact the planet's ecosystems. When
humanity's ecological resource demands exceed what nature can continually supply, we
move into what is termed ‘ecological overshoot’, liquidating the planet's ecological
resources. The overshoot is measured by ‘Ecological footprint’, a metaphor used by
ecologists to explore the sustainability of individuals and nations lifestyles and
consumption patterns. It depicts the amount of ‘land equivalent’ a human population
would hypothetically need to provide the resources required to support itself and to
absorb its wastes, given prevailing technology. Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) also
raises several important social equity concerns. If Earth’s productive resources in terms
of land were to be shared out equally, everyone would have 1.8 hectares or 4.5 acres. But
the division of the resources among the nations is highly skewed (as shown above),
USA’s ecological footprint being 12 hectares (typical of developed countries), which is in
sharp contrast to the share of India’s ecological footprint, being around 1 hectare (typical
of underdeveloped countries). The exuberant lifestyle of the Rich, comprising only
twenty percent of the World population, widespread poverty notwithstanding, global
Footprint accounts over the last forty years indicate a twenty-five year growth trend
beyond the amount of renewable bio-capacity. In short, humanity's Ecological Footprint
appears to have breached ecological limits and is thus unsustainable.

The problem has been further compounded by market-led globalization and


liberalization which was adopted as a development policy world-wide at the instance of
the World Bank and the I.M.F. in the early nineties. More people live in poverty today
than five years ago: The policy of globalization and liberalization, powered by free flow
of capital and information technology revolution, has further widened inequalities within
and between nations. Many Economists believe that liberalization which was meant to be
Page 4 of 15

a crisis management exercise should not have been adopted as a long term policy of
development. The disastrous consequences are there for everybody to see. The central
problem of the globalising economy is its unequal sharing of benefits: distribution of
income, employment opportunities and excess to social services such as health and
education.
ECOLOGICAL DISASTER
Thanks to science and technology, more and more people are consuming a more
amazing array of goods today, than at any other time in history. It is a dream world
coming true, where chemists and bio-engineers fiddle with genes, where the life style of
the rich and the prosperous, as epitome of success in a consumerist society, are beamed
by satellites to every part of the globe, where multinationals flourish by picking up
beauty queens from the fashion industry as role models to endorse and market their
products. The newly acquired production potentialities have generated enormous wealth.
But, of course, one is not sure whether these have generated the kind of wealth which
makes people happy. The modern economy with all its glamour masks a disfigured
planet. The exuberant life style and wasteful consumption meets it nemesis in the
ecological disaster that threatens all life on earth. It has scarred the land and stained the
seas, eroding the very foundation of nature, which threatens to destroy humanity's only
means of survival.

The unprecedented growth in production and consumption of material wealth is


leading to environmental stress through impacts that are both global and local. These
impacts can be classified in to four forms, although they interlock; physical changes
(deforestation, soil degradation, building cities, mining etc); chemical changes
(pollution), direct biological changes(overkill of bio-diversity) and social
pathologies(displacement of people, stress, crime, violence etc).

PHYSICAL CHANGES
Deforestation. Millions of poor people depend on forests for their need of energy, fodder
of animals and food. The world’s forests, which also bind soil and prevent erosion,
regulate water supplies and help govern the climate, are shrinking. At the beginning of
the century, 50% of the ancient forests were intact. It was a world of oceans and masses
teeming with a wide variety of lives. Aborigines inhabited vast expanses of wild lands
who knew how to tap the land for food, medicine and sustenance. The children of the
21st century will inherit a word to find that previous generations have squandered and
defiled their natural wealth, foreclosing many options.

Every year land starved peasants press deeper and deeper into rain forests in tropical
regions like Brazil, for instance, clearing patches of earth by torching the trees. In
Indonesia, last year a serious environmental crises erupted because of the same practice
to find land for commercial crops. Between 1980 and 1990, an estimated 8% of the total
world tropical forest was cut, burnt or otherwise destroyed. As a region loses its forests, it
loses its ability to trap and absorb water, and so runoff denuded woodland deepens the
natural process of soil erosion. As is fashionable now, farmers harvest crops year after
year (intensive farming) exposing the soil to wind and water. This results in wearing
away 24 billion tons of topsoil every year, roughly equal to the topsoil on the Australian
wheat lands. When dry areas are worn down by the wind, by intensive farming or by the
hooves of too many grazing animals, the region may eventually become a sterile desert, a
Page 5 of 15

fate that has befallen 30% of the world's drylands. Three quarters of the drylands in
Africa and North America are in some stage of desertification.

One disastrous consequence of the practice has been the pressure on woodlands,
especially the tropical forests that are the reservoirs of most of the earth's animal and
plant species. In the past decade tropical forest area has shrunk from 4.7 to 4.2 billion
acres (1.9 to 1.7 billion hectares). According to an estimate as much as 17 million
hectares of tropical rain forest, an area about the size of Japan, are destroyed every year.
One of the causes for deforestation is commercial logging. Demand for
industrial timber is expected to go up from around 1.6 billion cubic meters a year in 1995
to 1.9 billion cubic meters in 2010 driven by rising standards.

Soil degradation and desertification. Since 1945 nearly 2 billion hectares of productive
land has been degraded. This amounts to losing one sixth of the world’s fertile area
undermining the earth’s capacity to support human life. Indeed the earth's 6 billion people
are already running out of land. According to Washington's world watch institute the
average amount of grain land per person has dropped in 30 years from over 0.2 hectares
to a little more than 0.1 hectare. Much of the arable land is losing its arability because of
urbanization, chemical pollution, and desertification and overuse of water. Eighty percent
of the damage has taken place in underdeveloped countries. In China, for instance, 1.1
million hectares of grain land was lost annually from 1990 to 1994 as it was converted to
industrial sites and put to other uses. The current policy of creating SEZs in India by
acquiring fertile agricultural to be handed over to multinationals for setting up factories
under the guise of promoting industrialisation, in spite of country wide protests. The
policy will only compound the plight of the farmers, thousands of whom, bereft of any
means of livelihood, have taken their own lives since the beginning of the current
century. China, the world's largest grain producer in the past, has already emerged as the
second ranking grain importer, trailing only Japan. The present import figure of 16
million tons is expected to reach a whopping 210 million and 370m tons, annually by
2030. According to world watch institute the world has lost 200m hectares (500m acres)
of tree growing area. since 1972, an area about one-third the size of continental U.S. At
the same time the world farmers have lost about 500m tons of topsoil, an amount equal to
the tillable soil coverage of India and France combined. Farmers, the world over have
boosted their yields and fought against desertification by resorting to heavy doses of
inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water, but with disastrous consequences.
Agricultural chemicals gradually poison the soil; and irrigation also deposits a harmful
residue, when the water evaporates, it leaves behind various salts- the salinization process
which renders the land useless for cultivation. According to World Bank report 1993,
some degree of salinization affects 28% of the U.S' irrigated land, 23% of China and 11%
of India.

Marine life depletion. Land, rivers, even whole seas have been converted into sewers
and industrial dumps. More than half of the world's people live within 100 k.m. of a
seashore and the oceans are already a mess, littered with plastic and chemicals,
threatening all marine life. Some of the visible reasons are the garbage dumps, the oil
spills, and the sewage discharge which flow from this humanity into the sea. But the
actual threats, accounting for 70 to 80 percent of all marine pollution, are the sediments
and contaminants that flow into the seas like topsoil, fertilizers, pesticides, and industrial
wastes. As a consequence, many of the worlds fish species are already starting to die. The
Page 6 of 15

rich countries have already, depleted their stock of fish. They now import large quantities
from developing countries that catch more fish than they can do. In 1995 fish exports
from developing countries were worth $23 billion. If the trend in over-fishing continues it
could hurt the poor countries, as their people rely more heavily on fish for their protein
requirement than the rich in the north.

Water stress. Clean water is our most precious resource in terms of both quantity and
quality. There is a serious threat to the availability of water as depletion all over the world
is becoming irreversible as a result of groundwater over-pumping and acquifer depletion.
Since 1950, demand for water and its consequent withdrawal has nearly tripled. It has
gone up from 1365 cubic kilometers a year to 3760 in 1995.At the same time the
availability of water has declined from about 16800 cubic meters per capita per year in
1950 to 7300 in 1995. According to human development report, 20
countries with 132 million people suffer from water scarcity with less than 1000 cubic
meters per capita per year, the minimum required for human health. If the present trend
continues 25 more countries would be added to the list of the deprived category by the
year 2050.

The drought in India in the year 2002, covering 12 states is a grim reminder of the
gross misuse of precious water resource for intensive cultivation and abandonment of
cheap water harvesting techniques. Rural electricity is highly subsidized or free, which
prompts over-pumping of groundwater. Worse, subsidies have distorted crop patterns,
encouraging farmers to grow water guzzling crops like rice and sugarcane even in the
water scarce areas of U.P. Haryana and Maharashtra.

It is not so much the absolute availability of water but its skewed distribution which
creates the crisis. Industries in Saurashtra region, for instance, draw 30 crore liters of
water a day even during the current draught. During draught, drinking water wells are the
first to go dry, hitting the poor the most. As the water tables keep going down, shallow
tubewells also run dry depriving the small farmers as well. Ultimately, only the affluent
farmers who own the deepest tubewells, continue to have access to the scarce
groundwater. In Saurashtra, excessive drawing up of groundwater for irrigation exhausted
the reserves leading to the infiltration of seawater, ruining the aquifers permanently.
Similarly, the canal system is collapsing all over the country because of ridiculously low
water rates. Most of the canal water is usurped by the big farmers at the canal head,
invariably, for water guzzling crops, leaving virtually nothing for millions of marginal
farmers at the tail end of the canal.
Page 7 of 15

India’s water availability per-head of 1947 cubic meters, for example, is enormous in
comparison to Israel’s water availability per head of 184 cubic meters. Yet Israel is a huge
agricultural success because of their rules, regulations and pricing systems which ensures
optimum and fair utilization of every drop of water. In contrast, half the population in
India does not have access even to potable water. Much of India’s rainwater, for instance,
now runs off to the sea instead of being collected to keep the water tables intact.
According to well known environmentalist Anil Agarwal, “water harvesting formed the
backbone of ancient India’s famed economic prosperity, agriculture and human
settlement.” All over India, people had developed extraordinary systems for storing
rainwater to meet the exigencies of the dry period. It is an irony that these time tested
traditional methods of water harvesting like ponds, tanks and wells in villages, which
provided water for irrigation and recharged the wells for clean drinking water have been
abandoned in favour of centralized projects like big dams disrupting the entire
hydrological system.
At the same time, the quality of water has considerably deteriorated which is even
more frightening. Most of the water bodies as ponds, lakes, rivers, oceans have become
polluted due to industrial growth, urbanization and other uncontrolled human activities.
Most of the rivers, the world over, are taken to be the easiest source to receive a heavy
flux of sewage, domestic waste, industrial effluents and agricultural residues.

CHEMICAL CHANGES

Global warming and Ozone layer depletion.. The two great dangers threatening the
balance of gases in the atmosphere that sustain life on earth are global warming and the
thinning of the ozone layer. Most scientists agree that all the smoke and fumes and
exhaust that human activities generate will eventually alter the earth's climate. Those
changes could be modest or they could lead to what is termed as the greenhouse effect or
global warning. The threat comes from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
produced mainly in the industrial world by the burning of fossil fuels. It is estimated that
the total world wide manufacturing output increased from about $2500 billion in 1975 to
about $4000 billion in 1990 and the trend continues unabated. This relentless industrial
growth places a heavy demand on world's non-renewable resources particularly fossil
fuels and minerals. The developed world generates nearly 10 times as much carbon
dioxide from energy use as their counterpart in the developing countries. (see diagram 2)
The US, tops the list, with the former Soviet union next. While the average American is
responsible for between 4 and 5 tons of carbon per year, the average Indian or Chinese
share is 0.4 and 0.6 respectively. However, under-developed countries who are trying to
imitate the western model of growth and their life style,(which is environmentally
disastrous) are only compounding the problem. It is estimated that if per capita emission
of greenhouse gases in China and India, for example, were to increase (as the trend
indicates) to reach the present level in France, then the emission worldwide would jump
nearly 70%.
Page 8 of 15

Source : UNDP Report Diagram 2


CFC's (chlorofluorocarbons) have been and still are widely used for refrigeration.
Despite the 1987 Montreal Protocol which calls for a phase out of CFC's and other ozone
depleting chemicals by the year 2006, the assault on the stratosphere continues unabated.
The developing countries were also promised $6250 million by rich nations for the phase
out but so far only 60% of the funding has materialized. Delegates to the 1992 Earth
summit called upon the rich nations to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to 1990
level by adopting energy efficiency measures. It is estimated that it will be only by the
middle of the next century that efforts initiated now can restore the 1970 level. But the
schedule could be thrown off balance by international smugglers who managed to bring
in 20,000 tons of contraband CFC's into U.S. alone, in one year, for repairing or
recharging old appliances.
In order to avert the impending danger, an agreement was made under the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) known as the Kyoto
Protocol. Named after the Japanese city where it was concluded in 1997, the Kyoto
Protocol is an international agreement to address global warming and delay climate
change. Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reduce their emissions of carbon
dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain
or increase emissions of these gases. The Kyoto Protocol is an historic milestone: It is the
first, and only, binding international agreement that sets targets to reduce the greenhouse
gas emissions that cause climate change..
The Kyoto Protocol now covers more than 55% of global greenhouse gas (GHG)
emission. Different countries have different targets to achieve. The industrialised
countries will reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to
the year 1990.( this target would be tantamount to a 29% cut in the emissions levels that
would be expected by 2010 without the Protocol). The Protocol sets targets for the
greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries for the period 2008 to 2012 (the first
commitment period). National targets range from 8% reductions for the European Union
and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permit increases of
8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland.
Page 9 of 15

As of December 2006, a total of 169 countries and other governmental entities have
ratified the agreement. Notable exceptions include the United States and Australia, the
two biggest polluters in the World today. The United States, although a signatory to the
protocol, has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the protocol. The signature alone is only
symbolic, as the protocol is non-binding over the United States unless ratified. The
United States is, as of 2005, the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning
of fossil fuels. Other countries, like India and China, which have ratified the protocol, are
not required to reduce carbon emissions under the present agreement despite their
relatively large populations.

Acid rain. In many parts of the World, the architectural treasures like Taj Mahal are
eroding, soils and lakes are becoming abnormally acidic, endangering flora and fauna,
aquatic life, crops and human heath. Scientists attribute much of the damage to acid
rain: rain or snow carrying dissolved acids. Acid rain, which until recently, was an hazard
to central Europe only, is now spreading to underdeveloped countries also. It appears that
it is an imminent threat in India too. Industrial areas with pH values(water acidity) close
to critical levels have been recorded in Delhi, Nagpur, Pune, Bombay and Calcutta. There
is a strong link between acidity of rain and industrial growth. Burning fossil fuels results
in the production of noxious gases which are emitted, mainly from coal based power
stations and heavy industrial plants. According to an estimate, total emission of SO2
from fossil fuels, in India, increased from 1.38 million tons in 1966 to 3.20 million tons
by 1980. The analysis of NEERI air quality data (1967-87) shows a decline in so2
concentration in many cities such as Jaipur, Kanpur, Hydrabad, Chennai. But Delhi has
registered a significant increase in SO2 emission after 1980, largely because of
uncontrolled industrial and urban growth.

Many environmental scientists believe that dry deposits in the form of tiny
particles, called suspended particulate matter (SPM), are as destructive as tainted rain or
snow. These deposits stem from the activities of human beings: primarily by vehicle
exhaust, coal burning, smoke from factories and dust stirred up by speeding vehicles.
These particles easily find their way into people's lungs, leading to serious bronchial of
lung diseases, many times becoming fatal. During the 1990’s the level of SPM has
remained consistently high and much above the permissible limits in all cities in India.
Contrary to the general belief, the air indoors is often as bad as the 'toxic soup' one
breathes outside. According to a study by CSIR , the SPM in most Delhi homes are more
than hundred per cent above the safe levels, due to intense concentration of vehicle
exhaust, dust and cooking in the confines of concrete homes.

BIO-DIVERSITY LOSS
Humans, as the dominant species, have been responsible for major habitat changes
leading to a loss of genetic and species diversity. Tens of thousands of plant and animal
species that shared the planet with us in 1972 have become extinct It is estimated that by
the year 2020, 10 percent to 20 percent of the earth's 10 million species of plants and
animals will be wiped out, thank to mans endeavor to conquer nature. What is not
appreciated is that, once a species becomes extinct, it is lost forever. Recent experimental
studies regarding ecosystem support have amply highlighted the fact that we have so
foolishly ignored: the more species living in an ecosystem the higher its productivity and
the greater its ability to withstand drought and other kinds of environmental stress. Each
Page 10 of 15

species is a masterpiece of evolution, offering a vast source of useful scientific


knowledge because, it is so well adapted to the system in which it thrives. Moreover,
there is a great potential for scrutinizing a multitude of species and organisms for their
medicinal value, which is lost when we eradicate them mindlessly. It is naive to rank one
species above another, to declare one plant or animal more precious, less replaceable than
the others in the community. It is thinking of this kind which has made human interest
paramount and put us into our present predicament. According to a famous biologist Lyal
Watson, "Every loss of diversity represents a loss of organic vigour and a corresponding
reduction in the possibilities of interaction and cooperation. And the loss is progressive.
As diversity fades, so do chances for change and eventually the system breaks down
altogether." The protests at the W.T.O. meeting in Seattle amply demonstrates that policy
makers all over the World are obsessed with commercial interests at the cost of social,
cultural and environmental issues. The commercial exploitation of biodiversity to support
the profligate life style of the industrialized world, and the affluent elite in
underdeveloped nations, in total defiance of the natural laws, is a sure recipe for
ecological desaster. The message is clear: whether it is crocodile reserves in Colombia or
international whaling or commercial logging, forces of big business, which defeats all
effort to save animals and plants, have to be contained
SOCIAL PATHOLOGIES
Since the beginning of civilization, cities have risen to greatness only to collapse
under their own weight due to epidemics, ecological calamities and social disorder.
Scarcity of renewable resources may precipitate civil strife. Environmental problems of
shortage of water, forests, fertile lands and the like are very often the cause of violent
conflicts especially in under-developed countries. The generation of wealth, the
maximization of agricultural and industrial output, is intrinsically environmentally
degrading.
Page 11 of 15

Source : UNDP Report 1998

The deterioration of the physical environment has been accompanied by a


corresponding decline in health and well being of the people. Whereas malnutrition and
infectious diseases are the giant killers in underdeveloped countries, the
industrialized countries are beset by social pathologies which have been appropriately
termed as the diseases of modern civilization. According to Karl Marx, every
technological change brings, in its wake, a cultural change as well. There is an all round
increase in stress related disorders of which the principal killers are heart diseases, cancer
and stroke. The social fabric of society seems to be fracturing, leading to the emergence
of a sick society. Psychological depression, schizophrenia, violent crimes, accidents,
suicides, drug abuse is on the rise as is evident from the table above.
Page 12 of 15

The exploding appetite for consumption and wasteful pattern of resource use in India,
for instance, have together conspired to create a process of the state sponsored
subsidized flows of resources to a narrow elite comprising organised industry,
services and the big landlords in the villages. The state bears a large fraction of the costs
of water power, raw material, fertilizers, petroleum, etc. supplied to these segments of the
society to the detriment of the large majority of the marginalised poor. This gives rise to
social conflicts as the benefits and burdens of social and economic development are not
equally shared, and different groups exercise competing claims on a dwindling resource
base.

The deterioration of the physical environment has been accompanied by a


corresponding decline in health and well being of the people. Whereas malnutrition and
infectious diseases are the giant killers in underdeveloped countries, the
technological change brings, in its wake, a cultural change as well. There is an all round
increase in stress related disorders of which the principal killers are heart diseases, cancer
and stroke. The social fabric of society seems to be fracturing, leading to the emergence
of a sick society. Psychological depression, schizophrenia, violent crimes, accidents,
suicides, drug abuse is on the rise as is evident from the table above.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

The United Nations conference on environment and development (Earth Summit) at


Rio de Janeiro in 1992 exhorted the world to abandon those practices that are self
destructive in favor of sustainable development (Agenda 21). Ten years after the first
‘Earth Summit’ in Rio. (It was therefore also informally nicknamed "Rio+10".) the World
Summit on Sustainable Development, WSSD or Earth Summit 2002 took place in
Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September 2002. It was convened to
discuss sustainable development by the United Nations. WSSD gathered a number of
leaders from business and non-governmental organizations who reaffirmed their
commitment to the Rio declaration. It was emphasised that poverty eradication, changing
consumption and production patterns and protecting and managing the natural resource
base for economic and social development are overarching objectives of and essential
prerequisites of sustainable development.

According to world commission on environment and development sustainability


refers to "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their own needs." It must be appreciated that the future
growth and overall quality of life are critically dependent on the preservation of the
natural environment. The reckless destruction of that endowment in the pursuit of short-
term materialistic gains penalizes both present and future generations.

The first discernible change in attitudes towards environment was reflected in the
Earth Summit held in Stockholm in 1972. Serious concern was expressed at the rate at
which exhaustible resources were being depleted. The impetus to the debate was
provided by the famous study 'Limits to Growth'; undertaken by a team of scientists from
MIT in America headed by Donnela Meadows. The Club of Rome, a gathering of
wealthy businessmen and politicians, funded the project. Several computer simulation
models incorporating resource depletion, growing pollution and industrial output pointed
to an impending environmental catastrophe. There was a serious question mark over
Page 13 of 15

whether traditional economic policies designed to raise real income could be continued,
given the limits to growth.

However, the predictions of ecological doom have turned out to be wrong. Actually,
the known reserves of 'finite' resources have grown since the publication of the report of
the Club of Rome. In 1980s and early 1990s the focus shifted to the quality of the
environment: how growth could be achieved without jeopardizing the environment. The
focal point of the debate shifted from resource depletion to pollution. Good
environmental policies would help growth; and economic growth, if sensibly managed,
would help the environment. The shift occurred essentially due to the failure to persuade
the rich nations not to get richer by further cornering and over-exploiting precious
resources.

The earlier models of economic growth were capital oriented and stressed investment
in machines and infrastructure to achieve desired levels of incomes. In this process
technological progress played a crucial role. The thrust was on technologies, which aimed
at source reduction. They must avoid damage and save on the amount of energy and
materials per unit of production (conservation). Conservation and technology became
the technical means to secure sustainable development. The persistent poverty in
most of the third world, and in sizable pockets of the affluent nations seemed to refute
these models. Since the economy and environmental problems are so closely linked, the
causes of such environmental degradations lie in the functioning of an economy, and
more so in the economic distortions that are part of the state policy.

The green revolution, the application of high technology to agriculture - increased


food output manifold but made it vulnerable to pests, diseases and climate variations;
technology and capital matter, but so do free inputs of nature. Thus the 1980s showed that
it was wise to appreciate growth that is environmentally sensitive and distinguished these
limits from absolute limits to economic growth (meadows). Sustainable development was
broadened to mean a process in which natural resource base was not allowed to
deteriorate. The emphasis was placed on environmental quality and natural inputs in the
process of development. Today, natural habitats are recognized as valuable resources.
Tropical forests protect watersheds, and regulate climate. They also house valuable
species. Wetlands purify water, protect inland area from storm surges, and provide a
major source of bio-diversity. As such the causes of environmental degradation lie in the
working of the economies, and so does the solution. As such natural environment acts as
the life support system: major biological, geological and chemical cycles regulate the
conditions in which we all live. The ozone layer depletion and the greenhouse effect, as
global evils internationalized the environmental issue. The whole world is much at risk
even though the threat has been created by the industrial nations.

With the publication of U.N.D.P. reports the concept of sustainable development has
acquired a new meaning. It underlines the role of environment and its inputs, for
enhancing the quality of life. Sustainable development is much more than environmental
protection. It is a wider concept of economic growth, which ensures fairness, and
opportunities for dignified life for all, without further destroying recklessly, the word's
finite resources. According to Mehbub-al-Haq, principal author of the much celebrated
U.N.D.P. annual reports, "sustainable development is a process in which economic, fiscal,
Page 14 of 15

trade, energy, agricultural, industrial and all other policies are designed to bring about
development that is economically, socially and ecologically sustainable."

The preservation of the global environment raises serious issues about the growth
and distribution of global income and wealth. Developing countries are, obviously, not
satisfied with their present lot and cannot be expected to sustain their poverty in the name
of environmental protection. On the other hand the affluent countries cannot be allowed,
forever, 85% of the world's resources to maintain their present profligate consumption
pattern. There is no easy and clear link between present and future needs. Sustaining the
physical environment is not an end in itself. What we need to sustain is human life and
environmental debate must have a human perspective. Human development and
sustainability are essential components of the same ethic of universalism of life chances.
The concept of sustainable development should, then, emphasize not only the future but
also the present.

The world conservation strategy 1980, emphasized the need for conservation of
nature and natural resources, and that development to meet human needs was an essential
context for conservation. Commitment to sustainability implies a value judgement.
Actions that enhance sustainability are right. Actions that degrade the earth, impoverish
nature (overuse of resources), create inequity are undesirable, in both a practical sense
and an ethical sense. Emphasizing this aspect Mahatma Gandhi said: "how can we be
nonviolent to nature, unless the ethics of non-violence becomes central to the ethos of
human culture." He, the visionary, could see the eternal truth: "Earth has enough
resources to satisfy everybody's needs but not their greed."

This approach calls for major changes in how people live and how communities
operate. It demands cutting back on over consumption of material resources and energy
use. It also means generating waste within the confines of the ecosystem. This change
will have a bearing on the whole culture of consumerism and the economic system that
impels it. It also means that underdeveloped countries need to raise the quality of life by
creating opportunities for development. It may also demand a reversal of the
development paradigm and the abandonment of the belief that underdeveloped countries
have to make themselves as much like the West as possible. The earlier models of
economic growth based on the idea of rush for growth appear unsuitable for the
developing world where poverty is the central issue.

According to U.N.D.P. report 1994, "development patterns that perpetuate today's


inequities are neither sustainable nor worth sustaining." The poor are not preoccupied
with the impending catastrophe of global warming or depletion of the ozone layer. Their
concern is rooted in polluted water and degraded land - that put their lives and lively-
hood at risk. Redistributing resources in favour of the poor (from rich nations to poor
nations and from the rich to the poor within nations) would mean enhancing human
capital. Investment in health and education would increase productivity and the ability to
generate higher incomes -now and in the future. Sustainability should not be interpreted
to mean (implied in the concern for conservation by the exponent of 'limits to growth'
theories) the perpetuation of the present level and inequitable pattern of development for
future generations as well. The new paradigm defines sustainable development to mean
'sustainable human' development which puts people at the centre. The conceptual
framework of sustainable human development values life for itself. It does not value life
Page 15 of 15

merely because people are instrumental in the production of material goods. Nor does it
value one person’s life more than another’s. The essence of sustainable human
development is that everyone should have equal access to development activities, now
and in future. Sustainability is, thus, a matter of distributional equity of sharing
development opportunities between present and future generations. Human development
report 1998 sums up the situation succinctly: “The world has more than enough resources
to accelerate progress in human development for all and to eradicate the worst forms of
poverty from the planet. Advancing human development is not an exorbitant undertaking.
For example, it has been estimated that the total additional yearly investment required to
achieve universal access to basic social services would be roughly $40 billion, 0.1% of
world income, barely more than a rounding error. That covers the bill for basic education,
health, nutrition, reproductive health, family planning and safe drinking water and
sanitation for all.”