The conflict between economic growth and environment is sharper today than ever before, particularly in developing countries like India with fast growing population and mass poverty. The developing countries are making strenuous efforts to balance their need for rapid economic growth with the environmental concerns for keeping their natural base intact.
In India, as in other developing countries, the adoption of development strategy based primarily on:
- Large-scale industrialisation,
- Energy-intensive technologies
- Biochemical-based agricultural technology,
- Ignoring indigenous development paradigm based on locally self-sufficient technologies, has led to environmental degradation.
In this article, we shall explain various environmental issues and the adverse impact of climate change and explain the need for sustainable development. The ecological crisis that confronts the country has led to ‘alarming situation’.
Our PM urged upon the State governments:
- To control environment pollution,
- Clean rivers
- Fight climate change.
This statement highlights the fact that India’s growth is increasingly taking place at the cost of its environment. This shows that we have not been taking adequate efforts to ensure sustainable development. To stop further decline in our natural resources and protect environment from pollution stringent regulations and incentives are needed. Due to rampant corruption prevailing in the bureaucracy the rules regarding the use of our natural resources and protection of environment have been flouted with impunity. There are numerous instances when the Ministry of Environment and Forests has flouted all norms to give clearance to dubious projects at the cost of environment and communities that depend on it.
Population and Environment
Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC)
The EKC hypothesis is shown in an inverted U-shaped curve depicting the relationship between per capita income and environmental deterioration.During the initial period of economic development, where per capita income is low, deterioration of environmental quality is caused by rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Once per capita income reaches a higher level, the trade-off between income growth and environmental quality will cease to exist. With increased financial and technological capabilities, we can restore the environmental quality to desired levels.
In reality, the EKC is a near myth since an increase in per capita income does not bring desirable levels of improvement to the environment.? Empirical evidence across countries reveals that various attempts to increase per capita income cause more environmental deterioration.
The Indian context
A 2013 World Bank study highlighted that in India, a higher level of economic growth maintained in the past imposed, 3.75 trillion worth of environmental damage cost. Another study by the World Bank has found that India’s air pollution alone caused welfare loss equivalent to 7.69% of its GDP in 2013. Development policies give more priority to income and employment generation, implementation of pollution control policies is very poor.
Pollution control measures implemented in the bleaching and dying units in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu, for more than 25 years did not achieve any pollution reduction. It has caused significant irreversible damage to the health, agriculture and livestock sectors in that region. At present, the price of a commodity covers only the private cost of production, not the damage cost. This makes the commodity relatively cheaper leading to more demand and output, and more pollution and environmental damage cost. Some of the cities in India have earned notoriety for being the most polluted in the world.
Poverty and Environment
Both environmental degradation and poverty alleviation are urgent global issues that have a lot in common, but are often treated separately.
Consider the following:
- Human activities are resulting in mass species extinction rates higher than ever before, currently approaching 1000 times the normal rate;
- Human-induced climate change is threatening an even bleaker future;
- At the same time, the inequality of human societies is extreme:
- The United Nations 1998 Human Development Report reveals:
- Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures—the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%
To highlight this inequality further, consider that approximately 1 billion people suffer from hunger and some 2 to 3.5 billion people have a deficiency of vitamins and minerals. Yet, some 1.2 billion suffer from obesity. One billion people live on less than a dollar a day, the official measure of poverty. However, half the world — nearly three billion people — lives on less than two dollars a day. Yet, just a few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people. Issues about environment, economics and politics are inter-related through the way humans interact with their surroundings and with each other.
The impact of Poverty on Environment
For example, Nepal and Bangladesh have suffered from various environmental problems such as increasingly devastating floods, often believed to be resulting from large-scale deforestation. Forests around the world face increased pressures from timber companies, agricultural businesses, and local populations that use forest resources. Some environmentalists, from rich nations especially, also raise concerns about increasing populations placing excessive burdens on the world’s resources as the current major source of environmental problems. This makes for a worrying situation for third world development and poverty alleviation. However, an environment-only approach risks blaming the victims. While humans are largely responsible for many problems of the planet today, not all humans have the same impact on the environment.
It is important to consider, for example, that the consumption of just the world wealthiest fifth of humanity is so much more than the rest of the world, as highlighted at the beginning. Thus, putting emphasis on population growth in this way is perhaps over-simplistic. However, this does not mean we can be complacent about future population burdens. Sustainability is critical for the world’s majority to develop without following the environmentally damaging processes of the world’s currently industrialized nations. Also adding to the complexity is that resource usage is not necessarily fixed. That is, while there may be a finite amount of say oil in the ground, we may have not discovered it all, and further, overtime the use of those resources may increase in efficiency (or inefficiency). This means a planet could sustain a high population (probably within some limits) but it is a combination of things like how we use resources, for what purpose, how many, how the use of those resources change over time, etc, that defines whether they are used inefficiently or not and whether we will run out of them or not.
Business and Natural Environment
The decline and degradation of natural environment of an economy and its impact on the people. How are business firms concerned with this environmental issue?
The business firms are related to the natural environment in two ways.
- First, they require natural resources such as land (for setting up industries), energy sources (coal, petroleum, gas—the natural products), wood and water for their production work. In the present state of technological development, the modern industries do not depend on the natural resources to the extent the industries depended on them in the early stages of industrial development in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, they require land for setting up industrial plants and consume energy from fossil fuels-the natural sources.
- On the other hand, production in industries leads to degradation and pollution of environment. It is now well-known that industries and vehicular traffic in the urban areas are great polluter of air and water which cause heavy damage to the health of the people which represents social cost imposed on the society. Because of these adverse effects, the industries which pollute air and water need to be regulated to prevent them from causing heavy damage to the health of the people. Bhopal gas tragedy is prime example of polluting industries in the urban areas which pose threat to the life and health of the people.
In Bhopal thousands of people died and thousand others suffered severe damage to their health as a result of leakage of gas from pesticides producing industrial unit owned by an MNC (Union Carbide Ltd.) operating in the residential area without proper safeguards.
The Impact of Richer Nations on the Environment
The relationship between the rich and poor, and the impacts on the environment go deep. Economics is meant to be about efficient allocation of resources to meet everyone’s needs. However, international power politics and ideologies have continued to influence policies in such a way that decision-making remains concentrated in the hands of a few narrow interests. The result is that the world’s resources are allocated to meet a few people’s wants, not everyone’s needs.
Indian activist and scientist, Vandana Shiva, shows in her work that many people have been forced into poverty due to politics and economics such as concentrated land rights, pressure from industry to exploit the environment in ways that destroy diversity and affect local populations, etc. Shiva also highlights that the poor often have a lot of knowledge about their environment and are often sustainers and efficient users of it, as they recognize their link to it for their survival.
Excessive third world debt burden has meant that it has been harder to prioritize on sustainable development. Unfair debt, imposed on the third world for decades by the global institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank through their harsh Structural Adjustment programmes (SAPs) have opened up of economies rapidly, in socially, politically, environmentally and economically destructive ways, while requiring a prioritization on debt repayment and cut backs on health, education and other critical services. They have encouraged concentration on producing just a few cash crops and other commodities primarily for export, using very environmentally damaging industrial agriculture, which reduces biodiversity, requiring costly inputs such as environmentally damaging pesticides and fertilizers to make up for the loss of free services a diverse farm ecosystem would provide.
Mainstream economists and politicians have long been criticized for concentrating on economic growth in ways that ignores humanity and the environmental costs. Perhaps one of the harshest ironies is how food and farm products flow from areas of hunger and need, to areas where money and demand is concentrated. Farm workers, and women especially, are amongst the world most hungry. It is not just a problem in agriculture but other industries too. For years, rich countries have been migrating some polluting industries to poor countries, but still producing primarily for rich countries. This has been possible insofar as it is cheaper than to pay for costly environmentally clean technologies that people demand.
Environment and Poverty are Related Issues
The above just scratches the surface, but highlights the interconnectedness of humanity, the environment and all other forms of life. We cannot take the environment for granted. Humanity has a responsibility not only to each other, but to the environment as well, as the environment has long sustained us and can only continue to do so if we do not destroy it. Technological solutions, such as more environmentally friendly technologies, while extremely important, do not address underlying political, social and economic causes. Just as doctors highlight the need to prevent illnesses in the first place, and resort to cures when needed, so too do we need to understand these deeper issues in a more holistic manner. The interconnectedness needs more recognition if environmental degradation, poverty and other global problems can begin to be addressed.
Concentrating on one dimension without others is similar to those blind men looking at just a part of the elephant. A form of environmentalism that ignores humanity as an integral part of the solution, of economic dogma that forgets about our basic needs, and of forms of development that ignore environmental concerns all add up to numerous problems for the world’s people and fragile ecosystems. Some of these problems are so big we do not even see them even when we think our eyes are open.
In recent years there has been growing concern about degradation and pollution of environment and climate change as they impact on future development of both the developing and developed countries. In 1992, representatives of over 150 countries met at Rio in Brazil to discuss the environmental issues and their implications for future development of the world. This meeting at Rio is called the ‘Earth summit’ or the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).
This conference or Earth Summit clearly spelled out:
- The linkages between natural environment and development
- Put forward the concept of “sustainable development”.
- Earth Summit has produced greater awareness about environmental issues
- Conference facilitated the cooperation between different countries to reduce environmental degradation.
- Earth Summit emphasised on reduction of emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) such as carbon dioxide to prevent adverse climate change, that is, global warning in future which if not prevented will have disastrous consequences for the welfare and development of the population, both in developing and developed countries.