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Economy vs ecology

STATE OF THE WORLD 1998. A WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE REPORT ON PROGRESS TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY·Lester Brown, Christopher Flavin, Hilary French and others· Earthscan Publications Limited, London

Published: Tuesday 30 June 1998

A Bleak scenario: economy outg (Credit: Arvind Yadav / cse) AT a time when developing nations are getting lured into global economy issues, that translate into increased consumerism promoted by the developed world, the 1998 annual state of the earth report by the Worldwatch Institute, usa, comes as a timely warning.

As the living standards of people around the globe rises and the world gets closer with advances in information technology, so does consumption of natural resources and the subsequent waste that is created. The repercussions do not pertain to a immediate vicinity, but are rather global and far reaching, often affecting those who are not even guilty of exploiting these resources or causing pollution. Vested interests and lack of political will have prevented environment issues from being solved. The major disasters of 1997, especially the forest fires in Southeast Asia Indonesia, Borneo and Sumatra, speak for itself. Thousands of hectares of forests were wiped out in the raging blazes, mainly because of El Nio, a recurring weather phenomenon that causes severe droughts in one part of the world and floods in another. While poverty is often maligned as the cause of pollution and degradation, affluent societies are no less guilty of the deteriorating senario.

While studying environmental issues, the book gives a clear account of cause and effect the cause being one country or group of countries and the effect being on others. It takes a close look at the various natural resources of the world, the challenge before agriculture, climate change and the requirements of a new economy that is sustainable. It also deals with recycling of organic waste and politics of aid. Another issue, perhaps, more social than environmental, that is also covered is the proliferation of small weapons.

As the world edges towards adopting a Western pattern of economic growth, characterised by consumerism, Lester Brown says that expansion of the global economy as perceived in its present form cannot continue to expand the way it is, that is, with ecosystems deteriorating at the current rate. Brown rules that no national political leader of any industrial country has categorically said, "Thus far and no further," once the people's basic needs of food, shelter and healthcare are met a task matched in its enormity only by its urgency.

Economies are outgrowing ecosystems. Once the sustainable yield threshold has been crossed, further growth cuts into the resource base, be it forests, fisheries or the growing demand for water. For instance, once the demand for forest products exceeds sustainable yield, forests begin to shrink. As the gap between supply and demand widens, deforestation accelerates. Countries like Mauritania, Ethiopia and Haiti have almost completely been deforested within scarcely a generation.

According to Gary Gardener, many regions around the globe are now overfertilised. Organic matter is not being recycled into farm soils as they should be, possible only if the farmers are convinced about the product they are buying.

Another factor affecting the environment is private aid. As the private flow of aid to developing countries increases, so does the alteration of natural resources. The new relationships being forged between governments, international organisations, industries, private financial institutions and ngos need to support rather than undermine environmentally sustainable development.

Moreover, estimating that about us $3 billion worth of small and light weapons are shipped across borders each year, Michael Renner expresses concern about proliferation small, easy to use and often used in contemporary conflicts with devastating impact. In South Africa, decades of warfare and violent political struggle have given rise to a pervasive gun culture. With unemployment running high in a number of developing countries, crime and impulsive killings are on the rise, made easy by the availability of these weapons, made possible by governments clandestinely or through international black markets.

Defining a system of sustainable economy in this bleak scenario, Brown and Jennifer Mitchell advocate a system that respects the limits and carrying capacity of natural systems, a system based on renewable energy systems, reuse, emulating nature and based on solid science. The question of growth needs to be redefined. And lastly, but the most important, population needs to be stabilised at the earliest.

The book is a must for any concerned citizen of the world its facts could even stir up the indifferent ones. The excellent coverage of data and referencing makes it useful for researchers.

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