Dr Rajiv Desai

An Educational Blog

Economic Development vis-à-vis Environment:

Economic Development vis-à-vis Environment:

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Prologue:

“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money,” Native American saying. A quote by Richard Wilkinson describes economic development as a development of more intensive ways to exploit the natural environment. We hurt the environment in more ways than you could possibly imagine. Misguided construction, irrigation and mining can deface the natural landscape and disrupt important ecological processes. Aggressive fishing and hunting can deplete entire stocks of species. Human migration can introduce alien competitors to native food chains. Greed can lead to catastrophic accidents and laziness to environmentally destructive practices. Will our children and grandchildren live in a better world, or will economic and social conditions decline? Every culture has worried over this question—often for good reason. One would think that modern man, living amid ever-rising material comforts and a security unimagined by his ancestors, would have moved beyond this fear. Environmentalists are often accused — not always unfairly — of overplaying the fear card. With apocalyptic references to melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and widespread species extinction, the driving message of environmentalism is that the future is doomed, unless we act now to save it.  Despite our growing prosperity there is a renewed fear in many quarters that we are living on borrowed time, because we’re running out of resources and endangering our very environment. The environment debate has made little progress in a significant amount of time. The common attitude is that we have to put either the environment above people, or people above the environment. Such narrow minded thinking has never advanced society. The first things the economic growth lobby will say if you criticize economic growth is that you are condemning the poor to eternal poverty.  Yes, people have to be allowed to benefit from economic development, but we also have to respect the environment. Without either, survival isn’t possible as we know it. 

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The two critical purposes of an economy are to produce and distribute goods. The production and distribution of goods require matter and energy, create waste and take up space. The latter four, matter, energy, waste and space are products of the environment. The wastes created by the economy are thrown back into the environment, hence degrading the environment. The environment is often described as the central pillar of sustainability; the economy exists within society and culture, and these three in turn, exist in the environment.  A healthy environment is the foundation on which a sound economy and a healthy society depend.  Communities cannot thrive without essentials such as clean air and water.

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Our world as we see it today has changed a lot in the past 100 years. Industrial revolution of the 19th century laid the foundation for the rise of a new culture ‘enriched’ by machines and money. By the end of the 19th century, the industrial development had attained a mind-boggling pace which was reflected in the changes that took place thereafter. The issue is not new to the society and it has its roots in the second and third industrial revolutions back in the early 20th century when the manufacturing sector skyrocketed establishing chimneys and letting out tones of effluents.  It is necessary to understand that the growth of economies across the world resulting from use of machines had a great impact on our environment. This kind of development had both positive and negative impacts on the environment. All these changes have led to people taking extreme views on the subject matter. Man’s scientific knowledge knew no bounds and to realize its full potential it encroached heavily upon nature; so much so that it was only in 1972 that global concern for environmental problems found itself on the agenda at the United Nations Convention on the Human Environment (UNCHE), held in Stockholm, Sweden. Deliberations over degrading environment have the capacity of attracting masses. Be it a television program or a public debate, one can see everyone around bickering as to how contaminated their surroundings are. This is amusing to note as about fifty percent of those detractors unconsciously contribute to the mess by not making use of garbage bins and not recycling & reusing items in their daily lives. But let us confront ourselves with the basic truth here: our environment is at a critical stage; and it would be wrong to put the blame on industries alone for this condition. Social aspects such as population explosion are equal violators of the environment. Environment vs. development can be called one of today’s dilemmas for thinkers. Humanity have fear that uncontrolled economic development will lead to environmental disaster such as global warming, greenhouse effect, air pollution, and so on – all these are the results of human activity. On the other hand, human activity is something that makes our society and world in general develop. The main problem is that our development harms nature and environment greatly. What is more important? Does development really damage the environment?  

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The figure above illustrates the direct and residual effects of physical goods flows between the economy and the environment.

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Economics Environment
Short time frame Long time frame of 100,000 of years
Resources valued according to output. Interconnections between species and the environment
Place is not important. Production can be moved. Place is critical
Measured in money Physical units (i.e. calories, rainfall, etc)

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The current debate concerning development versus environment is premised on the fatal assumption that the two are in contradiction with each other. The industrialized world’s emphasis on green issues holds back developing countries as this is seen as interference in their affairs. It also contributes to a greater divide between the First and Third worlds. Consider Kyoto Protocol for an example. The United States of America pushed other countries into ratifying the treaty but it never did the same and only signed it. Before the Protocol was agreed on, the US Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution unanimously disapproving of any international agreement that “would seriously harm the economy of the United States.” With developed nations shying away from such commitments it is confusing to note why developing countries should throw away the chance of securing a better future. In tribal areas where development has failed to reach, often the only means of survival is what they call ‘slash and burn agriculture’. This method involves burning down forests for fuel and food which is clearly not eco-friendly.

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Economic development vs. environment is a complex challenge of competing interests:

  • Developed vs. developing countries;
  • Present generation vs. future generations and;
  • Country vs. Country (from a nationalistic economic standpoint).

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Our natural environment includes all living and non living things like land, forests, minerals, water bodies, the atmosphere, etc.  Some of these resources are renewable and others are non renewable, which get depleted and ultimately exhausted with their continuous use. Even the renewable resources may get degraded or polluted. Economic development leads to increase in the rate of national income. Increase in national income would result only from increased production of goods and services. This is only possible with greater consumption of natural resources such as land, forest, fuels etc. Thus reckless and thoughtless use of these resources would cause their exhaustion and degradation, thereby reduce productivity and impede economic growth. As a result our future generations will not get enough resources for their use thus adversely affecting their output, income and living standards. So environmental degradation not only affects us but will also have repercussions on our future generations.

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The truth, of course, is that most of us care more about our standard of living than we do about the health of some species we seldom if ever see. And the truth, even harder to admit, is that most of us care more about our own welfare than we do about that of persons living three or four or five generations hence. If protecting the planet, for future generations and for other species, depended on changing these operational values, then we would be in deep trouble. And perhaps we are in deep trouble, but if we are, it is not because protecting the planet requires neglecting our own interests. Think whatever you wish about the moral standing of these operational values — this is the reality. It is a deeply held view that protecting the environment constitutes a net expense to our economy. To the extent that environmental concerns have faded in economic hard times, and they have, it is a reflection of the fact that most of the public and most of the leadership still believes that protecting the environment represents spending money rather than saving it, represents consumption rather than investment. Economic activity, both production and consumption, relates to the environment in two fundamental ways — we draw resources (both renewable and non-renewable) from the environment to produce goods and services, and we emit wastes into the environment in the process of both producing and consuming. In thinking about how environmental protection expenditures relate to future prosperity, we must first consider the yardsticks we use to measure how we are doing in economic terms.

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Man is an integral part of the environment, yet he is the arch-enemy of it. For centuries man has been thriving on its generosity. But in his quest to make life very simpler and more luxurious, he has turned a blind eye to the damage caused to the environment. Our greed to get the most out of everything has made us contemptuously neglect the environment, although we all know that our very existence depends on it. A careful analysis of why there are imbalances in the environment will highlight numerous mistakes and aberrations on our parts. It is the time man undid the damage done to his surroundings. In developed countries, environmental regulation and new technologies are reducing the environmental impact, but industrial activities and growing demand are still putting pressures on the environment and the natural resource base. In developing countries a double environmental effect is occurring: old environmental problems, such as deforestation and soil degradation, remain largely unsolved. At the same time, new problems linked to industrialization are emerging, such as rising greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution, growing volumes of waste, desertification and chemicals pollution. Since environment regulation tends to be weak in developing countries some of these countries have begun to specialize in pollution intensive manufacturing, particularly in products which have good export potential. However it is also extremely important for developing countries to achieve a high level of economic growth to mitigate their socio-economic problems. But the major challenge here is: how to ensure development by maintaining a balance between environment and development. Both the developed and the developing nations should come together to protect the environment. Instead of questioning each other’s duties, they should collectively strive for a solution and step up their efforts to save the environment. In fact, every county should do its bit.

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In contrast to the above view, some argue that these environmental problems will be addressed more or less automatically in the process of economic growth. However the national income or the GNP (Gross National Product) which is the commonly accepted measure of economic development of a nation fails to reflect the true cost of development. It excludes the cost of depletion of natural resources and other environmental costs. For example when we cut down trees for commercial use, its value is added to the GNP but the loss in the form of depletion of natural resources is not accounted for anywhere. So the fact remains that the more output we produce today by using greater amount of natural resources, the greater is the loss of our natural assets and consequently lower will be the output that the future generations will be able to produce from these depleted resources. More so the pace at which we are exploiting these resources is unmatchable by any solutions that economic growth may offer.

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Economic development to alleviate poverty:

Estimates show that about 1.1 billion live on less than a dollar per day; 2.7 billion on less than 2 dollars a day. A majority of these come from the sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America which are considered as one of the poorest regions on Earth. The main reason why these parts of the world are the poorest is because there was hardly any economic development there in the last few centuries when they were ruled by the colonial powers. These countries would be able to grow and compete economically with the developed countries only when they start producing large numbers of goods and services and engage in trade. Setting up of industries would not only bring more jobs in the developing countries but would also pump money into the economy. This is what the developed countries like the U.S, U.K etc did in the 20th century which in turn increased their income and improved the standard of living of the people. Experts are of the view that taking care of a million people who are starving is more important than saving the natural resources, most of which are renewable. The developing countries cannot share the green concerns of the developed countries which will put a cap on the emissions as it is fighting a constant battle with an enemy (poverty) that can be defeated only by industrialization.  

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Economic development is vital for meeting the basic needs of the growing economy. Economic development can pave the way to feeding the millions of under-nourished people of the world. The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. We cannot expect nations to share the green concerns when they are faced with dire poverty and a constant battle for survival. Taking care of millions of people who are starving is more important than saving natural resources, most of which are renewable anyway. While the importance of maintaining the environment at sustainable levels cannot be undermined, economic development can actually help to repair the damage that industrialization has brought to the earth’s fragile Eco-system. As our natural resources dwindle, innovative thinking in business, science and development will flourish to meet environmental challenges. For example, efficient new steelworks use much less water, raw materials and power, while producing much less pollution than traditional factories. Nuclear generating plants can provide more energy than coal while contributing far less to global warming. We are also exploring alternative, renewable types of energy such as solar, wind and hydro-power.

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Poverty and environmental degradation:

Awareness and concern about environmental degradation have grown around the world over the last few decades; these concerns are shared by people of different nations, cultures, religions and social classes. Poverty is considered as a great influence of environmental degradation. In many regions of the world, regional overgrazing has resulted in destruction of grazing lands, forest and soil. Air and water have been degraded. The carrying capacity of the natural environment has been reduced. As the people become poorer, they destroy the resources faster. They tend to overuse the natural resources because they don’t have anything to eat or any means of getting money except through the natural resources, they start to depend more on natural resources. Poor people harvest natural resources for their survival or in order to meet their basic needs such as firewood, agricultural productions (such as maize), and water and wild plants for their medicine.  Due to the lack of sufficient income people start to use and overuse every resource available to them when their survival is at stake. Most of the poor people use fire wood as their source of income by selling them, and also use them for cooking and heating. The roots of the trees are dug out for medicinal purpose. This leaves the soil exposed as the grasses are also grazed by animals and also collected for roofing the houses. When it rains the entire top and good soil are eroded which makes it difficult for that soil to produce better agricultural products. The poor do not willfully degrade the environment but poor families often lack the resources to avoid degrading their environment. The very poor, struggling at the edge of subsistence, are preoccupied with day to day survival. A hungry man will (likely) not think twice about using dynamite-fishing techniques on an endangered coral reef if it means a huge caloric return for minimal effort, although this is not at all an indication or indictment of laziness on the part of impoverished people. Poverty is said to be both cause and effect of environmental degradation. The circular link between poverty and environment is an extremely complex phenomenon. Inequality may foster unsustainability because the poor, who rely on natural resources more than the rich, deplete natural resources faster as they have no real prospects of gaining access to other types of resources. Moreover, degraded environment can accelerate the process of impoverishment, again because the poor depend directly on natural assets. On one hand alleviating poverty especially in tribal areas will help conserve environment and on other hand, industrialization to alleviate poverty harms environment.

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Environmental degradation worsening poverty:

In the future, the problem of declining living standards in poor countries is likely to be worsened by environmental degradation. Today, environmental problems already affect the health and livelihoods of hundreds of millions. If drastic steps are not taken, the coming century will see billions of people suffer the consequences of pollution and scarcity of natural resources, especially, agricultural land and water. Assuming that of the non-renewable minerals, non-discovered reserves will prove to be roughly equal to the supplies now known, and that consumption is maintained at current levels, oil supplies will run out in about 80 years, gas in 120, and coal in 230 years. The known reserves of copper, zinc, lead and tin have been estimated to run out in as little as 20 to 40 years. Scarcity of non-renewable minerals will stimulate the search for alternatives, but will also raise prices. Steep price increases mean the poor will be unable to afford either the scarce materials or their alternatives. Reduced industrial and agricultural output could lead to economic crises and large scale food scarcity – a risk greatly enhanced by population growth.  

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The herculean environmental issue:

About 1.3 billion live without clean drinking water; 2.6 billion without proper sanitation and 2 billion without electricity; 800 million are malnourished; 25 billion tons of topsoil is lost annually, yet the available food will need to double in the next 25 years or so due to population and economic growth. One third of the population live in water-stress areas and this is projected to double by 2025; 50% of Africans suffer from water-related diseases. In developing countries, about 220 million urban residents lack access to portable drinking water; 350 million have no access to basic sanitation and one billion have no solid waste collection service. With increasing population size, level of consumption and choice of technology, it is therefore a great challenge to meet these needs without adverse impact on the environment.

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Only 39% of the world is wilderness. A little over 1/3 of that is nothing but ice. This leaves all of the rainforests, deserts, and grasslands making up only 1/4 of the world, and it shrinks daily. The Amazon Rainforest alone is losing an area the size of Switzerland each year. A large percentage of our freshwater is located in the Amazon Rainforest. Many people, animals, and plants in that region depend on it. At the rate we’re destroying the rainforest, the water cycle of that region is going to be severely damaged. Without plants to hold the soil in place, the heavy rains are going to destroy the land and make it infertile and useless to not only the animals that lived there, but people as well. The ocean has become an easy solution to waste management, that is, when you aren’t the one living in the water. All of what we dump into the oceans is then in turn taken into the animals that are forced to live there, mainly through food. This does have a way of coming back and hurting humanity, however it typically doesn’t affect the person disposing of the waste. In many Asian countries that consume large amounts of ocean dwelling fish, this pollution is contaminating their food supply. Many problems such as these exist; we can’t continue like this if we want a functional future.

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Various institutional efforts have been carried out at global level in order to reduce the effect of development on the environment.

Club of Rome, 1968:

At the international level the Club of Rome advocated resource conservation in a systematic manner.

Brundland commission, 1987:

 It introduced the concept of sustainable development which was subsequently published in a book titled “Our Common Future”.

Rio de Janerio Earth Summit, 1992:

 In 1992 more than 100 heads of the state met in Rio de Janerio in Brazil, for the first International Earth Summit. This summit was convened for addressing urgent problems of environmental protection and socio – economic development at the global level. The Rio Convention endorsed the global forest principles and adopted Agenda 21for achieving Sustainable Development in the 21st century.

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Statistics on public opinion vis-à-vis economy vs. environment:

Protecting environment vs. economic growth: comparing public opinion:

When asked which was more important protecting the environment or economic growth the three common/significant answers were:

Protecting environment; coded as a 1

Economy growth and creating jobs; coded as a 2

And other answers (i.e. “not sure”); coded as a 3

Great Britain: United States: South Africa: Australia:    India: Peru: Viet Nam:
Mean Response: 1.41 1.46 1.74 1.34 1.60 1.36 1.55

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This ‘mean’ statistic can be deceptive though. By this stat, it seems that Viet Nam is torn almost evenly between a number 1 answer and number 2 answer, however a closure looks shows us that Viet Nam has the highest rate of number three response which are commonly a ‘not sure” response. What does this show? It could show a lack of understanding of the question in that culture, or perhaps a lack of education or information on this issue in Viet Nam. It is hard to say what this statistic shows exactly without further exploration but obviously there is some sort of third factor here given the large number of other responses here. An interesting thing to notice here is that, by far the poorest and least developed nation on the chart, South Africa, is also the only nation here that values economic growth above environmental protection. This can be an interesting insight into human necessities that makes sense. On an individual-by-individual basis, feeding and protecting your family would outweigh being careful about the environment. This could show a connection that for global environmental protection we must first focus on sustainable economic growth and combating global poverty.

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As economic conditions worsen, people asked to choose between protecting the environment or economic growth and development strongly favor economic growth, according to a June Harris Poll conducted in 2008 online among 2,454 adults aged 18+, MarketingCharts reports. More than three in five Americans (63 percent) say economic growth and development are more important to their region, whereas more than one in four (27 percent) say protecting the environment is more important.

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For the first time in Gallup’s 25-year history of asking Americans about the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth, a majority of Americans say economic growth should be given the priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent in by a 49% to 41% margin in 2009. Americans in 2012 are about as likely to say production of energy supplies (47%) should be prioritized as to say environmental protection (44%) should be, a closer division than previous year, when energy led by 50% to 41%. These views mark a shift compared with the early 2000s, when Americans consistently assigned a higher priority to environmental protection. 

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A Gallup poll conducted in 2011 found that in emerging markets China, India, and Brazil, a large percentage of citizens felt that the environment should be prioritized, even if it jeopardized economic growth.

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Economy vs. environment debate and politics:

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann calls the Environmental Protection Agency “job killing.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called for a moratorium on all federal regulations, especially those from the EPA. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has said he supports some of what the EPA does, but he opposes regulations relating to carbon pollution. As the economy slumps along, those positions may resonate with voters. After years of down economic news, anything that hits at the economy may be anathema.

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What is environment anyway?

Environment includes the physical factors of the surrounding of human beings including land, water atmosphere, climate, sound, odor, taste, the biological factors of living things, and the social factors of aesthetics, and includes both the natural and the built environment. It can be viewed as the totality of nature and its components.

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Environment may be broadly understood to mean our surroundings. It can be divided into non-living and living components. The Environment provides resources which support life on the earth and which also help in the growth of a relationship of interchange between living organisms and the environment in which they live. It is important to realize that humans enjoy a unique position in nature due to their exceptional ability to influence and mould the environment. In the recent past the term nature has been used as parallel to word environment. It has been generally believed that nature is what man has not made. In this discussion, the terms ‘environment’ and ‘nature’ are synonymous with each other, which incorporate most of the visible manifestation of geography. Raymond Williams defines nature as ‘the material world itself, taken as including or not including human beings.’ Tracing the history of the term he suggests that ‘nature’ has meant the ‘countryside, the unspoiled places, plants and creatures other than man.’(Keywords, London, 1988. p. 219-223). The industrial revolution heralded a completely new era in which the term ‘environment’ attained new dimensions. The present day concerns of environmental pollution, decay of bio-diversity and the green-house effect have necessitated a redefining of the concept of the man-nature relationship. Another corollary has been the problems related with the modern concept of development and resultant compulsions of conservation. In their attempt to conserve the dwindling bio-diversity, humans started demarcating fragile ecological zones ranging from forests, wet lands, bio-sphere reserves, mangroves, etc., as reserves to preserve not only the flora-fauna but also the physical attributes of ecological niche itself. It often led to conflicts with the communities sustaining on such resources, e.g. forest-dwellers. Similar kind of conflicts can be located on the sites for big-dams and ancillary activities which necessitated displacement.

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Natural capital:

Natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital (manufactured means of production) to goods and services relating to the natural environment. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future. For example, a stock of trees or fish provides a flow of new trees or fish, a flow which can be indefinitely sustainable. Natural capital may also provide services like recycling wastes or water catchment and erosion control. Since the flow of services from ecosystems requires that they function as whole systems, the structure and diversity of the system are important components of natural capital. Global bio-geo-chemical cycles critical for life include Nitrogen cycle, Water cycle, Carbon cycle, Oxygen cycle and Phosphorus cycle. In the natural world, life processes are cyclic so as to maintain the critical structure of the biosphere and of its constituent ecosystems. For example, because carbon dioxide and oxygen are constantly recycled by plants and animals, the correct atmospheric content of these gasses and the climatic conditions most favourable to life are maintained. Natural capital is described in the book Natural Capitalism as a metaphor for the mineral, plant, and animal formations of the Earth’s biosphere when viewed as a means of production of oxygen, water filter, erosion preventer, or provider of other ecosystem services. It is one approach to ecosystem valuation (which is a type of natural capital accounting), an alternative to the traditional view of all non-human life as passive natural resources, and to the idea of ecological health. However, human knowledge and understanding of the natural environment is never complete, and therefore the boundaries of natural capital expand or contract as knowledge is gained or lost. The concept of natural capital implies that the savings rate of an economy is an imperfect measure of what the country is actually saving, because it measures only investment in man-made capital. The World Bank now calculates the genuine savings rate of a country, taking into account the extraction of natural resources and the ecological damage caused by CO2 emissions.

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Natural resources are derived from the environment. Many natural resources are essential for human survival, while others are used for satisfying human desire. Natural resources may be further classified in different ways.

Resources can be categorized on the basis of origin:

1. Abiotic resources comprise non-living things (e.g., land, water, air and minerals such as gold, iron, copper, silver).

2. Biotic resources are obtained from the biosphere. Forests and their products, animals, birds and their products, fish and other marine organisms are important examples. Minerals such as coal and petroleum are sometimes included in this category because they were formed from fossilized organic matter, though over long periods of time.

Natural resources can be categorized on the basis of renewability:

1. Non-renewable Resources are formed over very long geological periods. Minerals and fossils are included in this category. Since their rate of formation is extremely slow, they cannot be replenished, once they are depleted. Out of these, the metallic minerals can be re-used by recycling them, but coal and petroleum cannot be recycled.

2. Renewable resources, such as forests and fisheries, can be replenished or reproduced relatively quickly. Some resources, like sunlight, air, and wind, are called perpetual resources because they are available continuously, though at a limited rate. Their quantity is not affected by human consumption. Many renewable resources can be depleted by human use, but may also be replenished, thus maintaining a flow. Some of these, like agricultural crops, take a short time for renewal; others, like water, take a comparatively longer time, while still others, like forests, take even longer. 

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The depletion of natural resources is caused by ‘direct drivers of change’ such as Mining, petroleum extraction, fishing and forestry as well as ‘indirect drivers of change’ such as demography, economy, society, politics and technology. The current practice of Agriculture is another factor causing depletion of natural resources.

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Major Global Environmental Issues:

Some of the major global environmental issues that the world is facing include the following:

 Climate change (Global Warming), ozone layer depletion, marine pollution, build-up of persistent organic pollutants, loss of biological diversity, desertification and land degradation, degradation of freshwater, deforestation and unsustainable use of forests.

 

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Millennium development goals vis-à-vis environment:

Major challenges for development (comprehensively summarized in the millennium development goals) include reducing poverty; providing energy services without environmental degradation; providing access to water to meet basics needs and developing healthy urban environments.

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What is development anyway?

Over the years, the word ‘development’ seems to have taken prominence in day-to-day usage of general public, students, diplomats, politicians and even with organizations like United Nations, WTO, etc. But with temperatures rising and melting of ice in Antarctica and transcendental effects of environment change on the world, environment has jumped in to strike a debate. The debate is not just confined development and environment, but also within the term Development. Is development just about economic growth? And then comes the question of a debate between development and environment. Can development really happen at the expense of environmental damage? Aren’t costs of disaster and disaster management increasing year on year and diminishing the effective growth rate itself? Several such questions needs to be answered before framing policies which could help both develop the world and save the planet.         

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The terms ‘development’, ‘economic development’ and ‘human development’ are correlated in figures below:

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Development:

Development is a term used with different connotations. In word and sense, development is not static, and this makes it difficult to gasp. In addition, the term development depends on value concepts, that is, what is seen as a favorable socio-economic situation and what is not. Development is a normative concept and is further complicated by the fact that different social actors have different and often conflicting objectives. The Brandt commission Report, for example, states: “the term development characterizes, in a broad sense, the desired social and economic progress- and there will always be different nations of what is desired” (Brandt commission Report, 1980). As an approximation, development can be defined as “The process for improving the living conditions of the whole population living in a certain area or country”.

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Various dimensions of Development:

Economic: more production and income

Social: equity, justice, less poverty

Human: education, health, gender equality

Cultural: indigenous cultural values versus foreign culture

Political: participation of various socio-economic groups in political decision making at different levels

Technological: environmental sustainability of development

All dimensions need to be seen as part of development, and must be aware of trade-offs and synergies between these dimensions. Economic, social, political, human and ecologically sustainable development are essential dimensions of development, that is the improvement of living conditions for the present and future generations of the whole population.

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Human development index:

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. It was created by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and the Indian economist Amartya Sen in 1990 and was published by the United Nations Development Program.

The HDI combined three dimensions:

1. Life expectancy at birth, as an index of population health and longevity

2. Knowledge and education, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weighting) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrollment ratio (with one-third weighting).

3.Standard of living, as indicated by the natural logarithm of gross domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity.

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HDI for a sample of 150 countries shows a very high correlation with logarithm of GDP per capita as shown in the figure above.  

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Is GDP growth synonymous with country’s developmental stage?

As can be seen in the image below, there is a good mixture of developed countries (green HDI ranking) with low GDP growth (red GDP ranking) and underdeveloped countries (red HDI rankings) with high GDP growth (green GDP ranking). At the same time, there are also numerous cases where HDI and GDP rankings were positively correlated. So GDP growth is not synonymous with a country’s development.  

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Economic growth:

 Growth is widely thought to be the panacea for all the major economic ills of the modern world.

Poverty? Just grow the economy (that is, increase the production of goods and services and spur consumer spending) and watch wealth trickle down. Don’t try to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, because that slows growth.

Unemployment? Increase demand for goods and services by lowering interest rates on loans and stimulating investment, which leads to more jobs as well as growth.

Overpopulation? Just push economic growth and rely on the resulting demographic transition to reduce birth rates, as it did in the industrial nations during the 20th century.

Environmental degradation? Trust in the environmental Kuznets curve (vide infra) to show that with ongoing growth in gross domestic product (GDP), pollution at first increases but then reaches a maximum and declines.

Relying on growth in this way might be fine if the global economy existed in a void, but it does not. Rather the economy is a subsystem of the finite biosphere that supports it. When the economy’s expansion encroaches too much on its surrounding ecosystem, we will begin to sacrifice natural capital (such as fish, minerals and fossil fuels) that is worth more than the man-made capital (such as roads, factories and appliances) added by the growth. We will then have uneconomic growth, producing “bads” faster than goods–making us poorer, not richer. Once we pass the optimal scale, growth becomes stupid in the short run and impossible to maintain in the long run. Evidence suggests that the U.S. may already have entered the uneconomic growth phase.

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Development assumes economic growth, and economic growth is impossible without industry, which needs energy resources. Nowadays, the range of goods, required by common people, has expanded significantly, compared to the old times. People feel the need, not only for some primary things, such as a piece of bread and a roof over their heads, but also, for various facilities and luxuries. Providing humanity with these things involves the exploitation of natural resources. In turn, the conventional sources of energy we use today cause pollution, so economic growth is almost inevitably associated with environmental damage. One of the aspects of economic growth which affects the environment most of all is that, in order to produce more goods and products, at a faster rate, the construction of large industrial plants is required. These enterprises generate a lot of waste in the form of liquid waste and gaseous fumes. The liquid waste is frequently dumped in fresh water bodies, while the gaseous fumes are released into the atmosphere.

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Economic growth involves the combination of different types of capital to produce goods and services. These include:

• produced capital, such as machinery, buildings and roads;

• human capital, such as skills and knowledge;

• natural capital, for example, raw materials we extract from the earth, carbon sequestration services provided by forests and soils; and

• social capital, including institutions and ties within communities.

Natural capital is different from other types of capital for a number of reasons (vide supra). Some elements of natural capital have critical thresholds beyond which sudden and dramatic changes may occur; some have finite limits; changes to natural capital are potentially irreversible; and impacts extend across many generations. Therefore, while natural capital is used to generate growth, it needs to be used sustainably and efficiently in order to secure growth in the long run. This is most obvious in the context of non-renewable resources such as oil and minerals, but the rate of consumption of renewable resources such as forests and fisheries and of ecosystem services such as biodiversity and carbon sequestration must also be considered relative to their rate of recharge and replenishment and any critical thresholds they exhibit.  

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Human- Environment Interaction:

Human beings are endowed by nature to be reflective and active. Their biological evolution gives them capacity to forge tools and establish an adaptive relationship with nature. In the beginning, human life was more biological than cultural and was somewhat similar to other animals where environmental considerations dictated the place of human residence. In the process of adaptive relationship man gradually evolved tools with the help of which the resources of the environment could be put to use. The tool making ability developed over a very long period of time as it began with the use of materials locally obtainable. The tools shaped human life such that we witness the emergence and growth of ‘cultures’. The different stages of human culture have been identified on the basis of the tools used by them. The earliest was the paleolithic age representing the beginning of the tool industry. In this age humans lived by gathering plant foods and hunting animals. It was inherent in the nature of the economy of the period that humans could not lead sedentary life and were forced to migrate to new places in search of plant foods and game. This kind of life-style restricted the size of the peregrinating human groups. It can be safely argued that during this phase of human history the environment dictated terms and humans had just started making an effort to modify their dependence on nature. Nonetheless, it is necessary to point out that mobility had led to greater interaction between numerous groups of humans spread over different parts of the world. It will be not out of place here to delineate the adaptive strategy of the early humans so as to explain his interaction with the environment. For this purpose we focus on southwest France. During the upper Palaeolithic phase (35000-12000 years ago), the climate of this region was strongly oceanic, with cool summers and mild winters (by Ice age standards) affecting the environment. Summer temperature may have been in the 53.6° to 59° F range, with winter readings around 32° F. The vegetation-growing season was longer on the open plains to the north and east, and snow cover had retreated considerably. Thus food resources for large herbivores were now more readily available, perhaps resulting in a much higher density of game animals as well as more plentiful edible foods. This region was marked as a region of diverse food resources. The people were mainly subsisted off Reindeer, but they took wild ox, red deer, bison, ibex, chamois, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth too. Many of these resources were relatively predictable. The large-scale salmon fishing during seasonal runs was a major factor in the evolution of complex hunter-gatherer societies in the region. Effective exploitation of salmon runs requires not only efficient fishing technology but the services of considerable numbers of people to dry and store the thousands of fresh fish before they spoil. These people extensively used fishhooks and harpoons. The people tended to choose many of their settlement sites with reference to plentiful water supply and good views of the surrounding landscape, so they could observe game. When the people occupied a rock shelter or cave, it invariably faced south, so they could benefit from the sun’s rays on cool days. Some of the largest cave and rock shelter sites lay close to river fords, places, perhaps, where migrating reindeer would cross each year. (Fagan B.M., People of the Earth: An introduction to World Prehistory, Illinois & Boston, 1989). The relationship between nature and man was redefined with the advent of agriculture. Till the beginning of agriculture, the sources of food had mostly been naturally available products and man had no control over their availability. An important contribution of agriculture has been the cultivation of cereals. The fact is that the shelf-life of cereals is unlimited whereas fruits and meat had very limited shelf-life. It has been a very significant factor as this property of cereals encouraged accumulation, which perhaps was one of the causes for the introduction and intensification of social stratification. In the beginning agriculture was a highly unreliable source of food, and transition from hunter-gatherer to peasant was not very smooth and was a long drawn process. The development of technology/tools to increase agricultural production was a continuing process in which development of irrigation technology too played an important role. Slowly but surely agriculture became the major source of subsistence and increased productivity contributed towards increase in population. Initially agriculture was confined to highly favourable locations with natural irrigation. With the growth in population, however, man was forced to migrate to less-favourable locations, necessitating irrigation. The development of irrigation facilities required larger social participation and better management resulting in a transition towards complex society. Furthermore better management of agriculture insured food security and provided humans with surplus time since agriculture was a seasonal activity. Likewise demand for improved tools and technology for better irrigation to ensure larger production led to depletion of locally available raw materials for tools (for example stone, as man moved away from foothills to open plains). This compelled man to look for other kinds of materials and other locations to augment the supply of raw material for tool making. Meanwhile, the introduction of the wheel had revolutionized movement and encouraged the emergence of wheel-based pottery, a highly specialized occupation. The gradual development in technology attained another stage as metallurgy developed. The discovery of metallic ores once again redefined the man-environment interaction. The major advantage of metal tools over stone was its reusable character: stone tools once broken could not be used again whereas metal tools could be remoulded. However, the relative scarcity of mineral ores together with the limited capabilities of processing, beginning from procurement to transportation and finally extraction made metal procurement a labour intensive and expensive proposition. The most important feature of metallurgy was the highly specialized knowledge required and expertise which made it a full-time occupation. The emergence of such professionals could be sustained only with the availability of agricultural surplus. This led to the emergence of a section of the population not directly involved with the food production. The parasitic character of this section of population gradually liberated from direct dependence on nature and heralded a new era where certain sections of the inhabitants survived solely on their professional knowledge. The character of agriculture based societies has been defined in terms of complex social stratification with specialization of craft. The growing ability of humans to make use of a variety of environmental resources opened up the possibilities of the exploitation of natural resources for self-benefit. The larger equity based and open community now witnessed a transition towards a rudimentary system of socio-politico- economic hierarchy. Still, we cannot say that humans were controlling the environment rather the nature of dependence on environment had changed drastically. The most defined form of control over nature became visible only in the Industrial Age. Unprecedented growth of technology during the Industrial Age (second half of the 18th century to the beginning of 20th century) liberated man from physical labour and an alienation with the natural world gradually set in. The Industrial Age introduced the exploitation of abiotic source of energy (which are not biologically procurable) and gradually replaced human and animal energy as the dominating forms. Since the ancient past thermal energy had been used in direct application, but during the Industrial Age it was used to mechanize tools. The Industrial Age witnessed the conversion of thermal energy to mechanical energy and thus enhanced the possibilities of greater exploitation of natural resources. The conversion of thermal energy to other forms of energy tremendously increased the overall demand for energy and resulted in a gradual depletion of the sources of energy. Consequently search for newer sources of thermal energy began: hydrocarbons, i.e., coal, petroleum products, etc., were explored and the magnitude of their exploitation widened. Unlike the earlier renewable source of energy like human and animal labour and wood, newer sources of energy i.e. hydrocarbons are non-renewable in character or have economically unviable extralong cycles of renewal. The introduction of non-renewable source of energy redefined the relationship between the environment and humans. In the modern age ever-growing demand for energy coupled with the steady depletion of sources of energy forced man to reconsider priorities and we see the beginning of the movement for ‘conservation.’ Better technology ensured greater agricultural production which contributed to a rise in life-expectancy and decline in the mortality rate. The resultant increase in the population in real terms was unprecedented. It is not that human civilization had never witnessed the growth of population in the past, but the magnitude has been very high in the modern age- the nineteenth century. Ferdinand Braudel has attempted to define it in terms of the ecological watershed, i.e., the end of the ‘Biological ancient regime’. He writes: ‘What was shattered … with the eighteenth century was a “Biological ancient regime”, a set of restrictions, obstacles, structures, proportions and numerical relationships that had hitherto been the norm. The chief constituents are: 1. Number of death roughly equivalent to the number of births; 2. Very high infant mortality; 3. Famine; 4. Chronic undernourishment; 5. Formidable epidemics. It is rather broader definition to explain the ecological watershed as it traces the causes in a very long-term perspective beginning with the middle ages and at-least the geographical explorations. (Braudel, Ferdinand, Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th century, Vol- I., The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, tr. Sian Reynolds, London, 1985.)  At this juncture it is necessary to point out that since the ancient past in Europe we could witness the prevalence of anthropocentric social attitudes. The clearest manifestation was seen in the concept of cosmology in ancient discourses. The earth, the abode of humans, was considered at the centre of the universe and was enveloped by seven strata. All the seven strata were supposed to have emanated from the earth. The growth of capitalism and the breakdown of the ‘biological regime’ led to an exponential growth in population. Another corollary of excessive exploitation of environmental resources during the Industrial Age has been the growth of democratic values and institutions. In the same era, scientific knowledge along with technological development provided a world vision where technology was portrayed as a solution to all human problems, especially the problem of hunger and poverty. Moreover, the growth of scientific and technological knowledge furthered the traditional anthropocentric view and the exploitation of the environment gained a fresh momentum that continues unabated till today. The greater use of energy led to major problem of environmental pollution. The greater consumption and generation of energy induced a ‘green house effect’. However, what has been a more bothersome fall-out of this process is the development of materials not naturally available in the world, i.e., polymers. The chemical revolution of the 1930’s & 1940’s developed an artificial material which was not biodegradable and was thus difficult to destroy and decompose. At the same time, the wider applications of the material in industrial and domestic use and low cost of production encouraged its wider circulation. However, the problem of decomposition of the material made it a major cause of concern for the scientific community. Similarly, the question of the viability of nuclear fuel as a source of energy has been a major issue of concern. The production of non-natural radioactive substance for energy production has been a major scientific and technological development, but again the decay or the proper and cost effective decomposition of the residue has been a major technological failure.

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The Link between Environment and Development:

Development and environmental management are inextricably linked. The Earth’s physical resources (land, atmosphere, oceans) and biological systems provide the humans with goods (food, timber, medicines) and essential services such as purification of air and water, soil generation, maintenance of soil fertility and pollination of crops, among others. The earth’s natural systems stabilize the Earth’s climate, offer protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, provide aesthetic beauty and support for the world’s diverse cultures. Global environmental problems and the ability to meet human needs are linked through a set of physical, chemical, and biological processes; when human activities affect one component of the earth system, there are often ramifications to other components as a well. For example, a change in the earth’s climate would likely reduce bio-diversity, change the distribution and productivity of forests, and increase the rate of loss of stratospheric ozone. Like the conversion of forests to other types of land cover can increase greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and thus contribute to change climate, reduce biological bio-diversity, and affect water resources.

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What would happen if a company has announced that it wishes to build a large factory near your community?

First, the pollutants released into the atmosphere are harmful to the residents living in your community. The release of poisonous gases such as Methane, Carbon Monoxide, Chlorine through the factory chimney or other outlets will affect the natural surroundings. For instance, no one can forget the disastrous impact of the Bhopal gas tragedy that took place in 1984 where a pesticide plant released poisonous methyl isocyanate gas which claimed the lives of  thousands of Bhopal residents living in the nearby area. Although there is no certainty that such an incident is bound to happen immediately after the development of the plant, but one can’t mar the self evident truth that it happens in almost all the cases. If factory’s waste water and effluents are not processed and treated properly, even they may be discharged in surrounding area contaminating ground water and spread diseases like jaundice, cholera, typhoid and vector borne diseases like malaria and dengue. Second, consumption of resources such as electricity and water by the factory will affect the nearby communities. For a factory of manufacture products, it needs continuous supply of electricity and water. This will reduce the rate of supply of these resources to the nearby communities. Thus one may observe frequent load shedding and scarcity of water in those areas thereby affecting the residents of these areas. Thus to sum up, building a factory nearby a residential community should be discouraged.

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How buying chicken and a pre-made salad from the market affect the environment?

Driving to and from the store contributed carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The electricity required to light the store was powered by coal, the mining of which ravaged an Appalachian ecosystem. The salad ingredients were grown on a farm treated with pesticides that washed into local streams, poisoning fish and aquatic plants (which help keep the air clean). The chicken was grown on a massive factory farm a long distance away, where animal waste produced toxic levels of atmospheric methane. Getting the goods to the store required trucks, trains and more trucks — all of which emitted carbon. Even the smallest human actions initiate environmental change. How we heat our homes and power our electronics, how we get around, what we do with our garbage, where our food comes from — all of these put a strain on the environment beyond what it’s designed to support. 

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Science, technology and environment:

In this time and age, science and technology are advancing at an alarming rate. It goes without saying that the rapid development of science and technology brings considerable benefits to human being. Thanks to science, we now live safer, more comfortable and convenient life. However, others argue that it also brings us environmental pollution and energy shortage. Firstly, science should be responsible for environmental issues. When we enjoy the comfort and convenience of modern traffic, a large amount of exhaust gas from automobiles leads to serious air pollution. In addition, owing to the development of modern agricultural technology, farmers tend to use lots of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase the yield. Nevertheless, we often neglect the adverse effect of these chemicals, which severely poison our arable soil and underground water. Besides environmental pollution, science also probably causes energy shortage. With advances in technology, we are able to use the modern technology to exploit more energy (including fossil fuel coal, natural gas and so on) to meet the demand for the growing population. The more population we have, the more energy we need. Finally it results in a vicious circle with the energy consumption and the population growth. Furthermore, with the expansion of industrialization, requirement for energy worldwide has an upward trend. We have a great need for energy because of the rapid growth of our economy.  Admittedly, some people hold that we can reduce environmental pollution by green technology, and explore renewable and clean energy such as wind energy or solar energy to solve energy crisis. But these new technologies need a large number of investments on research and development. Most countries cannot afford it. Therefore these methods are infeasible in the short term. To sum it up, the development of science and technology leads to the pollution of environment and shortage of energy.

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Industrialization & Environment:

Industrialization in the name of growth has loaded tremendous pressure on environment. Industrialization & environment in the developing countries tries to run hand to hand. But knowingly or unknowingly, industrialization ran faster without caring for environment to win the race. The pace of industrialization has increased several fold in last decade. Rapid industrialization to meet the public need has deteriorated the environment to its fullest extent during last two decade. Industrial effluents, polluted air, noise pollution, Green House gas effect etc are not only a concern for human habitat but also a concern for the forthcoming disasters. In order to lead a healthy life we are deteriorating the environment in shadow. Human comfort in one form for short duration causes discomfort in long run. Of the late, industries as well as human being at individual understood the basics & now concentrated on long run & durability. World over, the industries are becoming increasingly concerned about achieving and demonstrating their environmental performance because of the growing compulsions from tough legislations and mounting public pressures. Environmental disasters such as Bhopal tragedy, Rhine pollution , Chernobyl disaster, acid rain damage ,Ozone Layer Depletion has led to growing public pressures on governments all over the world which started imposing stringent legislation with severe penalties in environmental issues. These standards do not lay down specific environmental performance criteria but these are system standards which describe the management of environment based on company’s environmental policy, objectives and targets defined on the basis of their significant environmental effects. Industry is becoming increasingly concerned about achieving and demonstrating sound environmental performance because of growing compulsions from stringent legislation and Mounting public pressure. There was a time, not long ago, when the harm caused in environment due to human and industrial activities was no body’s concern. Pollutants affect not only living environment but also social, cultural, political and aesthetic values. In the recent years there is a growing alertness against this environmental pollution. On the one hand the advancements of science & Technology have added to the human comforts by giving us automobiles, electrical appliance better medicine, better chemical to control harmful insects and pest but on the other hand they gave us a very serious problem to face pollution. The continued increase in the pollution coupled with the industrial revolution has had the vital impact on natural resources. The resultant deterioration of environment and fast depletion of natural resources threaten the sustainability of economic development. One of the most pressing and complex challenges facing by our generation are to search out a workable synthesis between economic development and environmental behavior. So we need to compromise our needs to maintain a harmony between these two entities i.e. Industry & Environment. Industry has become vital to the way that society functions. Not only do we need the products produced by industries, but humanity needs the jobs that it offers. The economy wouldn’t be able to function without corporations or industries. It’s important to allow industry to continuously develop to improve the prosperity of not only governments, but the people living under those governments. We can’t protect the environment if the countries providing the protection have ceased to manufacture to do so; they would have no finances.

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Agricultural Problems:

Even more so than manufacturing industry, we truly could not survive without the products produced by agricultural industries. Food is a necessity, that won’t change. Environmentalists estimate that the Earth could efficiently and safely sustain 3 billion people. Our population is nearly 7 billion, so you can see why so much environmental damage is occurring due to the land loss to accommodate the farms needed to sustain this many people. Even with all of the crops we produce, people still starve on a daily basis. The problem isn’t that we need more farmland, it’s that we need to redistribute what we have. 80% of all the crops grown in the United States are used to feed livestock. Smaller meat consumption would result in more food to trade with poorer countries.  In Costa Rica, the government pays farmers to protect the rainforest. They receive money for allowing certain fields to regrow and become parts of the rainforest again. This has had a positive impact on the environment, resulting in the land area of Costa Rica’s rainforests to increase. However, how long can they afford these payments? Many people assume things like “Well they shouldn’t have to pay them to not destroy the environment! How selfish!” In reality, they aren’t all selfish. For many people, it comes down to allowing a tree to stand or feeding their children. Of course, given the opportunity to help the environment they would, but if they had to put their family in danger to do so they won’t. Can you blame them?

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Impact of Modern Agricultural Technology on environment:

The ever-increasing population gave rise to the need to produce more than what Nature had provided. Agriculture was the first sector to feel the impact of this development combined with the realization of man’s entrepreneurial abilities. Early man was a food-gatherer, dependent wholly on nature’s bounty. With growing population pressure, man used his ingenuity and began to produce food by clearing patches of forestland. Trees were also cut for firewood contributing to the further clearance of forest areas. When this practice became widespread, it precipitated soil degradation and soil erosion. As the demand for food and raw materials continued to grow exponentially, agricultural techniques changed and agricultural productivity increased phenomenally. The increased agricultural productivity was the outcome of several factors, viz. chemical inputs, artificial irrigation, mechanization of agriculture, and other modern agricultural practices. The entire focus of the new technology was on rising agricultural yield with no thought to preservation of the natural balance. Inorganic inputs used in farm operations to raise agricultural yield have been identified as harmful agents. The lack of proper techniques necessitated shifting to new and easily available lands rather than using areas already cultivated. This exploitation led to large-scale disequilibria in the environment. Nature retaliated by creating agricultural instability by way of reduced water supply, increased floods, spreading crop diseases resulting in high cost of production. Technological advancements have adversely affected the earth’s crust and useful bacteria have been destroyed. The increased use of chemical fertilizers has been hardening the upper layers of the soil and consequently, tractors are digging deeper and deeper. As this exercise continues, the depth of the hard, upper layer goes on increasing, which will make the soil barren in the future. Hardening of the upper layers of soil destroys the moisture retention quality of the soil. This not only reduces the potential for growth of vegetation, but the soil also loses the capacity to hold rainwater. When highland areas are unable to hold rainwater, it has two effects, firstly, these areas do not retain moisture which is essential for earthworms and bacteria that are conducive for agricultural growth and secondly, low lying areas get inundated. The risk of inundation of low-lying areas thus increases sharply. Inorganic farming has also adversely impacted upon crop genetics, with many new diseases, emerging in recent times. When pesticides are used, the chemical should fall only on the targeted organism, but this rarely happens. A large part of the chemicals get disseminated into the environment, contaminating air, water, soil and other ecosystems and causing health hazards. The correlation between the development of agriculture and environmental damage was not recognized in time. Consequently, there has been widespread deforestation, soil erosion and destruction, flood havoc, waterlogging, air and water pollution, etc. Irrigation projects are also considered to be a part of agricultural development. These projects result in several problems such as destruction of flora and fauna, clearing of forests, displacement of entire villages, depletion of groundwater resources, and many other problems. In order to assure irrigation facilities, digging of wells has taken place on a large scale. In the process, instead of optimal use of water, water was overutilised and wasted. This resulted in salinity problems and a falling water table. While irrigation projects are undoubtedly important, how high is the cost that we have to bear in terms of degradation of our environment? It should not happen that while enriching our present we mortgage our future. As with almost everything else, ecological disorders also impinge most harshly on the poor who are almost completely dependent upon the prosperity of agriculture in the countryside. It is true that the village poor are partly responsible for this deterioration. Practices such as overgrazing, clearing of forests, lighting forest fires, etc. have all contributed to environmental degradation. But this can be tackled through proper awareness and widespread education.

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Economy vs. Environment: The Conflicts:

There are pro-environment groups and also there are people who promote economic development. Striking a balance to bring these entities with extreme views on a common platform is the need of time.  I am trying to presents information on the seemingly conflicting subjects of economic development and environmental conservation.

First conflict:

 Economic progress is said to improve our standard of living. On the other hand, this very progress can lead to degradation of the environment. There is a common belief in our society that preserving the environment is somehow linked with compromising on economic terms. This very belief has fueled the economy vs. environment debate. However, the truth is exactly opposite to this perception of ours. In reality, there is enough that the planet earth can provide us to satisfy our needs. Our economy can prosper and sustain in the long run without putting undue stress on the natural resources. It is the greed to possess and enjoy as many luxuries as possible that has led to the state in which we find ourselves, today. The use of green technologies and renewable sources of energy should solve the energy crisis to a great extent without putting any burden on the existing natural resources. It means the economic growth of the country/region in question doesn’t get hampered owing to environmental concerns. There is another misconception that conservation efforts require you to spend a lot of money to be successful. In reality, it is the awareness and a bit of effort on our part that can save many trees and animals on this planet. Even a simple act of planting and nurturing a sapling holds great importance in the process of environmental conservation. Such kind of efforts needs to be concentrated in order to bring about a bigger and long-lasting change.

Second conflict:

Industrialists believe that economic progress gets hampered by putting restrictions on the way their operations are conducted. Environmentalists, on the other hand, demand for impractical rules and regulations to be put on working of industries. It is actually possible to keep the economy in good shape without harming the environment. More than relying on temporary solutions like issuing monetary packages to solve environmental problems, it is the conscientious approach towards sustainable development that can lead to a better and also an economically prosperous world. Merely imposing rules and setting guidelines won’t go a long way in the quest to conserve the environment. It requires a voluntary change in the mindset of people towards judicious use of natural resources. People should actually start thinking about the environment and surroundings as their own property. Only then, can a person truly care about nature. Following such ethics can definitely bring about a positive change. Few of our environmentalists take an extreme view on the subject of conservation and oppose any and every developmental activity. Such kind of attitude not only blocks the economic progress, but also prevents a reasoned dialog on environmental issues from taking place. No matter how hard we try, there is little possibility that we can completely repair the damage caused to our environment. It is therefore, necessary to become a little more pragmatic. You cannot change the established economic policies and systems overnight. It is however, possible to change our outlook towards the way we go about economic development. The developmental policies should be all-encompassing. Merely human-centric development won’t help much in the long run and which is why we have to question the prevalent economic policies that revolve only around human welfare.  

Third conflict:

There is a section of people who believe that natural resources of this planet are meant for human use. Environmentalists oppose this view and demand for keeping human intrusion out of the working of nature’s laws. The theory of anthropocentrism considers human beings as the most important entity of the world. It is true that humans are placed at a higher intellectual level than other organisms of the planet; however, this intelligence also acts as a double-edged sword. If used properly, the intellect of humans can allow economic progress while still preserving the environment. On the other hand, it can also cause uncontrolled economic development to take place at the cost of precious natural resources. Considering ourselves (humans) as a part of the ecosystem and not the masters can help in bringing about a positive change. With this approach, one can think about caring more for the environment. Humans are not here to rule this planet, but to live in harmony with the environment and all its constituents. It is only with this belief that we can think of maintaining a balance in terms of utilizing and also replenishing (at least to some extent) the natural resources. Our knowledge about the environment, nature’s phenomena and their effect on human life has increased manifold in the past few years. This very knowledge has also made us aware that we have earlier caused some irreparable damage to our natural surroundings. For instance: by introducing hybrid crop varieties in our attempt to increase crop production, we have allowed the gene pool of crops (and other plants) to erode. Thousands of wild animals are used in the testing of cosmetic products; a large number of wild animal species have become extinct due to poaching. Many more are on the verge of extinction. Thus, it is very much important to take steps for economic development, considering its impact on the environment. Uncontrolled economic development neither benefits the humans nor does it serve any purpose in the conservation of environment. It is therefore, important to design systems that are self-sustaining. Proper planning on economic fronts can help utilize resources in a better manner; such carefully devised policies won’t hamper economic development as well. In the end, it all comes down to maintaining a balance between economic growth and preserving natural resources. By maintaining the balance between consuming and replenishing back the natural resources, we can create a self-sustaining system. However, it would be a continual process that requires monitoring in order to function properly. It is said that the way you spend your money matters more than the amount you earn. Similarly, in the case of environmental conservation, you should refrain as much as possible from misuse or abuse of the scarce natural resources. You can plant hundred new trees and nurture them; however, once a species becomes extinct, nothing can bring it back. It is therefore, necessary to set up gene banks for conserving the different varieties of plants. This would make it possible to use them when required.

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The economy vs. environment debate has gained media attention mainly due to emergence of the phenomenon of global warming. This phenomenon has acted as a catalyst and influenced various campaigns undertaken by environmentalists. It has also helped in drawing attention towards related problems like poaching, deforestation, genetic erosion, etc. Pressing on the issue of ‘Global Warming’ through a reasoned debate should prove to be useful for the cause of saving the environment while still allowing economic progress. There is no magic wand at our disposal to carry on the monumental task of environmental conservation. It is only through constant vigilance and use of green technologies that we can keep up with the needs of economic progress without further damaging our environment.  

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The Environment versus the Economy: A Losing Battle?

We do not know whether we would see the vanishing of the arctic ice sheet in our lifetimes. Well, in less than two years we are already seeing a very rapid decline, and the record thinning this year is suggesting that the Arctic could be ice-free by the end of the decade. We’ve also discovered that the Great Barrier Reef is half dead, with two-thirds of the loss since 1998. Climate related disasters are on the increase, with some significant enough to dent government budgets, cause migraines for insurers and kill people. A recent study Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that climate change is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP. Climate change is no longer a long-term problem. It is clear that the battle is one that we are losing – on both fronts. While the evidence is obvious and scientific alarm high on the link between environmental damage and economic impact, the temptation to hitch our wagons to the economic growth engine seems to be too high and too easy. Sadly, the likely future to environmental action now rests on seeing the evidence of our ignorance, sometimes catastrophically and irreversibly.

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Environmental concerns:

In the name of Development what not are humans doing. Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites. Today what we are living in is a fast paced world where everybody is stuck up in the never ending rat race. Losing even one minute of this time allowing one to enter into eternity without providing any contribution to this world is indeed a peccadillo. Unfortunately, in the present scenario, development that has taken up a new meaning has seriously altered the environment both locally and worldwide.
Cities are clogged with traffic causing pollution that is detrimental to our health.
New buildings are being built on the green emerald carpeted sites ornamented adroitly by the dew drops.
Each year the list of endangered spices seems to be augmented enormously.
Acid rain is damaging the celestial tranquility – the rain forests
Millions of tons of waste is being land filled every day
CFCs and other chemicals are depleting the ozone layer that protects us from harmful radiation.
Today’s world is one in which the age-old risks of humankind – the drought, floods, communicable diseases are less of a problem than ever before. They have been replaced by risks of humanity’s own making – the unintended side-effects of beneficial technologies and the intended effects of the technologies of war. Society must hope that the world’s ability to assess and manage risks will keep pace with its ability to create them. This is a beautiful planet and not at all fragile. Earth can withstand significant volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages. But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature had proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself…. We’ve got to be stopped. An equitable distribution of resources is essential for sustained quality of life and global peace. Resources are vital for any developmental activity. But irrational consumption and over – utilization of resources may lead to socio – economic and environmental problems. To overcome these problems, resource conservation is highly essential.

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Development harms the environment in several ways. When new areas are developed, destruction of wildlife habitat is obvious. Also replacing trees and vegetation with concrete prevents water absorption, reflecting the sun’s heat back into our atmosphere. This reduces the land’s ability to convert excess carbon dioxide into oxygen. Further harm is done when waterways and estuaries are diverted or destroyed. These are vital resources used by wildlife as breeding grounds and growth for species that later populate saltwater, freshwater, and even land ecosystems. Development also brings concerns with waste management. Handling of sewage is of great importance as it can have extremely negative impacts on the surrounding environment, especially if it finds its way into nearby waterways. Last, unnatural amounts of freshwater through irrigation and storm drainage concentrate in the local ecosystem and can be very harmful, especially near marine environments. Make no mistake, in a world grossly overpopulated with humans, development is not going to stop completely. Development of natural areas, as well as modifications to existing structures such as buildings, parks, roads, and complexes continues, and it is vital that sustainable, eco-friendly solutions are found when possible.

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The figure below shows cost of poor environment in terms of % of GDP:

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The most important issues facing our environment right now are the depletion of ozone layer, global warming and the subsequent rising sea levels caused by the rapid melting of glaciers in the Antarctica, pollution, land degradation, extinction of species etc. Industrialization is directly responsible for pollution and increase in the global warming. Factories worldwide are responsible for releasing pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides etc into the atmosphere which is the prime reason why the ozone layer is depleting. With the rise in the income levels across the world, more and more people are buying vehicles which are adding up to the pollution in the atmosphere. The soil is getting degraded by chemicals like chlorinated hydrocarbons and metals like cadmium (found in the batteries), lead & benzene. Large scale use of fertilizers are also making the land unfit for agriculture. Trees are being cut either for wood or for making roads and buildings. The rate of cutting of trees is more in the developing countries. Environmentalists are of the view that in order to preserve the earth for our children and grandchildren, the developing world will have to start practicing sustainable development which will put a cap on their emissions on a yearly basis. The earth cannot support the kind of unrestricted growth which is being seen in the developing world today.  

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Humans Caused $6.6 Trillion in Environmental Damage in 2008:

According to a recent analysis by Trucost, the estimated cost of environmental damage caused by human activity reached $6.6 trillion in 2008, or 11 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To put the loss in perspective, it was 20 percent larger than the $5.4 trillion loss in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. The findings of Trucost are included in a new report from the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the UNEP Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), “Universal Ownership: Why environmental externalities matter to institutional investors.” By 2050, the report continues, “global environmental costs are projected to reach $28.6 trillion, equivalent to 18 percent of GDP,” in a business-as-usual scenario.  Furthermore, according to the report, “environmental costs are likely to be incurred earlier,” because “values do not account for growing ecosystem sensitivity, increased natural capital scarcity and potential breaches of thresholds.” On the other hand, if renewable and resource-efficient technologies are introduced on a global scale, the cost of environmental externalities could be reduced by 23 percent by 2050. In a footnote, Trucost states, “Actual values are likely to be higher, since this study takes a global view that simplifies many economic and environmental complexities.” Due to a lack of data, the report excludes most natural resources used, “as well as many environmental impacts including water pollution, most heavy metals, land use change and waste in non-OECD countries.”  Citing a 2005 study entitled “A Tale of Two Market Failures: Technology and Environmental Policy (PDF),” the report asserts, “The costs of addressing environmental damage after it has occurred are usually higher than the costs of preventing pollution or using natural resources in a more sustainable way.”

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Cost of environmental degradation (coed) in various countries:

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Economic development systematically annihilates the natural world:

Indeed, everywhere today, forests are being overlogged, croplands overcropped, pasturelands overgrazed, wetlands overdrained, groundwater overtapped and rivers and seas overfished. Economic development, of whatever variety, can only mean further increasing the impact of our activities on each of these already overexploited ecosystems; and hence further accelerating the process that is already rapidly making our planet uninhabitable. At the same time, as economic development systematically annihilates the natural world, so does it replace it with a very different man-made or artificial world—the world of houses, factories, office blocks, warehouses, gas containers, power stations, and parking lots, i.e. the physical infrastructure of economic development. As this process continues the physical infrastructure must necessarily expand. So has it expanded in mainland China, since economic development has got under way some ten years ago, as a result of which some ten percent of that grossly overpopulated country’s agricultural land has already been paved-over. In the UK, according to Alice Coleman’s Second Land Utilization Survey, by the year 2157, the last acre of agricultural land will have been paved over, reduced to wasteland, or so broken up by different development schemes as to become virtually unusable for agricultural purposes. It is not just the man-made world or the technosphere, as it is often referred to, that, must be substituted for the natural world or the biosphere, but the environment also has to cope with the even more voluminous and toxic waste products. In the natural world, life processes are cyclic. They must be for two reasons. The first is that though the natural world is an open system from the point of view of energy, it is, to all extents and purposes, a closed system from the point of view of materials. This means that to avoid resource shortages, they must continually be recycled, the waste products of one process serving as the raw materials of the next. They must be recycled too in order to avoid the accumulation of un-recycled materials that would interfere with the processes. In more general terms, they must be recycled so as to maintain the critical structure of the biosphere and of its constituent ecosystems. Thus, because carbon dioxide and oxygen are constantly recycled by plants and animals, the correct atmospheric content of these gasses and the climatic conditions most favourable to life are maintained. If, on the other hand, carbon dioxide levels are allowed to fall below the optimum, the climate will, in general, become too cold; while if the levels are allowed to become too high, as is occurring today, it will become too hot. Traditional man felt morally committed to returning all organic wastes to the soil from which they were derived. It was an essential part of his religious commitment to maintaining the harmony and balance of the natural world—so this essential ecological principle was closely adhered to. With the breakdown of traditional cultural patterns, this principle was rapidly lost sight of—as indeed it had to be if economic development was to take precedence over all other considerations. Thus, if the produce of the land is to be systematically exported, as it must be in a market economy, it cannot be returned to the soil from which it was derived. The soil is thus deprived of its mineral nutrients and organic matter, as is occurring wherever modern agriculture is practiced today. This process that can only be exacerbated if human excreta is to be flushed into the nearest waterway or consigned to the nearest landfill, rather than being religiously returned to the soil as in tribal and peasant societies. The recycling of materials, as economic development proceeds, becomes impossible, in any case, because an increasingly degraded biosphere becomes incapable of coping with the ever more massive throughput of materials. Consider the fact that modern man now coops for his own purposes some 40% of the net biological product of photosynthesis occurring in terrestrial ecosystems—a truly horrifying thought. In addition he now produces massive amounts of synthetic organic chemicals such as PCBs, CFCs and nearly all modern pesticides which, being totally foreign to the natural world (xenobiotic), cannot be recycled within it and can only accumulate—or break down into decayed products that are often equally un-recyclable—and that more often than not must interfere particularly drastically with its normal functioning. It will be argued that our present runaway economic activities can be brought under control by the State, assisted by the specialized agencies of the United Nations. But this thesis is irreconcilable with our experience of the last fifty years. In no country has the State shown any serious concern towards the increasingly daunting environmental problems that confront us. The international agencies, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), are part of the problem and not of the solution. Thus though the world is losing some 20 million hectares of forest every year, nothing whatsoever is being done to bring this intolerable destruction to an end. FAOs Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) is an eight billion dollar economic development project that involves planting vast plantations of fast growing exotics for the benefit of the papermills and the rayon factories. Though our agricultural lands are losing some 26 billion tones of topsoil every year, nothing is being done to reduce the impact of our activities on soil ecosystems. On the contrary, on the basis of FAOs current plans for “developing” agriculture in the Third World, this impact must just about double within the next decade or so. In addition, though it is now accepted that our destructive economic activities are leading to the rapid destabilisation of world climate to the point that we are already condemned to living in climatic conditions in which man has never yet lived, and which could well render much of this planet uninhabitable, neither governments nor international agencies are doing anything about it. In each case the reason is the same. To do so would mean taking measures that would reduce the rate of economic development -something that in the modern corporation-based market economy is not remotely acceptable. In other words, the measures required to assure our survival on this planet cannot, in the aberrant society we have created, be undertaken because they are not “economic”. This implies that if we are to survive on this planet we shall have to create a very different sort of society; one in which economic activities can once again be brought under social control.

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I earlier discussed human-environmental interaction and now I will discuss how humans are destroying environment in the name of development:

1. Overpopulation:

Overpopulation is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Unless we reduce the human population humanely through family planning, nature will do it for us through violence, epidemics or starvation. The world’s population has grown from 3 billion to 6.7 billion in the past 40 years. Seventy-five million people — the equivalent of the population of Germany — are added to the planet every year, or more than 200,000 people every day. The Earth’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion by the year 2050. In that same time period, the population of the U.S. grew from 200 million to more than 303 million. By 2050, it is projected to be 420 million. More people means more waste, more demand for food, more production of consumer goods, more need for electricity, cars and everything. In other words, all the factors that contribute to global warming will be exacerbated. Increased demand for food will force farmers and fishermen to exploit already-fragile ecosystems. Forests will be cleared as cities and suburbs expand, and to make room for more farmland. Strains on endangered species will increase. In rapidly developing countries such as China and India, increasing energy demands are expected to accelerate carbon emissions. In short, more people mean more problems.

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 2. Global Warming (vide infra):

The average surface temperature of the Earth has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the last 130 years, and by 1 F (0.56 C) since 1975. Global ice caps are melting at an alarming rate – since 1979, more than 20 percent of the global ice cap has disappeared. Sea levels are rising, causing flooding and, according to a bevy of scientists, influencing catastrophic natural disasters around the globe. Global warming is caused by the greenhouse effect, in which certain gases trap heat from the sun in the atmosphere. Since 1990, yearly emissions of greenhouse gases have gone up by about 6 billion metric tons (6.61 billion tons) worldwide, an increase of more than 20 percent. The gas most responsible for global warming is carbon dioxide, which accounts for 82 percent of all greenhouse gases in the United States. Carbon dioxide is produced through combustion of fossil fuels, mostly in cars and coal-powered factories. In 2005, global atmospheric concentrations of the gas were 35 percent higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution. America’s transportation and industrial sectors each account for around 30 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming could lead to natural disasters, large-scale food and water shortages and devastating outcomes for wildlife. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the sea level could rise between 7 and 23 inches (17.8 and 58.4 centimeters) by the end of the century. Rise of just 4 inches (0.9 meters) of sea level would submerge much of the world’s population living near coastal areas. More than a million species face extinction from disappearing habitat, changing ecosystems and acid rain.

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3. Deforestation:

There was a time, not that long ago, when the majority of the land on this planet — almost half of the United States, three-quarters of Canada and nearly all of Europe — was covered in forests. Today, the world’s forests are disappearing before our eyes. 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute. The United Nations estimates that more than 32 million acres (12,949,941 hectares) of forest are lost each year, including 14.8 million acres (5,989,348 hectares) of primary forest — lands not occupied or affected by human beings. Deforestation is typically done to make more land available for housing and urbanization, timber, large scale cash crops such as soy and palm oil, and cattle ranching. The World Wildlife Fund reports that much of the logging industry that contributes to deforestation is done illegally (about half of it used for firewood). Common methods of deforestation are burning trees and clear cutting, which is the controversial practice of complete removal of a given tract of forest. Seventy percent of the planet’s land animals and plants live in forests, and the loss of their homes threatens the existence of an untold number of species. The problem is particularly acute in tropical forests, especially rainforests. Rainforests cover 7 percent of the Earth’s land area and provide a home to half of all the species on the planet. At the current rate of deforestation, scientists estimate that the world’s rainforests could disappear in 100 years. Deforestation contributes to global warming. Trees absorb greenhouse gases — so fewer trees means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. Deforestation causes 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. They also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Without trees, former forests can quickly become barren deserts, leading to more extreme temperature swings. When forests are burned down, carbon in the trees is released, contributing to global warming. Scientists estimate that Amazonian trees contain the equivalent of 10 years worth of greenhouse gases produced by humans. Poverty is a root cause of deforestation — most tropical forests are in Third World countries — as are policies to encourage economic development in undeveloped areas. Loggers and farmers drive deforestation. In most cases, a subsistence farmer, crowded into pioneer lands by overpopulation, will cut down trees for a farm plot. The farmer typically burns the trees and vegetation to create a fertilizing layer of ash. This is called slash-and-burn farming. The risks of erosion and flooding are increased. Soil nutrients are lost, and in a few years, the land often proves unable to support the very crops for which the trees were cut down.  

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4. Unsustainable Agriculture:

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, current farming practices are responsible for 70 percent of the pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams. Runoff of chemicals, contaminated soil and animal waste from farms has polluted more than 173,000 miles (278,417 kilometers) of waterways. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides increase nitrogen levels and decrease oxygen in the water supply. Even before the BP Oil Spill, the Gulf of Mexico suffered a “dead zone” the size of New Jersey from industrial run-off from factories and farms along the Mississippi River. Pesticides used to protect crops from predators endanger bird and insect populations. For example, the number of honeybee colonies on U.S. farmland dropped from 4.4 million in 1985 to less than 2 million in 1997. Exposure to pesticides weakened the bees’ immune systems, making them more vulnerable to natural enemies. Large scale industrial agriculture also contributes to global warming. The vast majority of meat in the world comes from industrial farms. On any given farm, tens of thousands of livestock are concentrated in small areas for economy of scale. Factory farms emit harmful gases from unprocessed animal waste, including methane, which contributes to global warming. Livestock literally wade in pools of their own waste, which ravages the soil and nearby forests — not to mention creating a ghastly odor.  

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5. Cars:

America has long been considered the land of the automobile, so it should come as no surprise that one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. comes from cars. There are more than 232 million vehicles on the roads in this country — only a tiny portion of which are electric-powered or hybrid. And an average American car consumes 600 gallons (2271 liters) of gasoline a year. A single car emits 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (or 5443 kilograms) every year in the form of exhaust. It would take 250 trees to offset that amount. In America, cars emit around the same amount of carbon dioxide as the country’s coal-burning power plants. In 2004, U.S. cars and light trucks emitted 314 million metric tons (346 million tons) of carbon, which is one third of the nation’s total carbon dioxide output. It would take a 50,000-mile-long (80,467-kilometer-long) coal train — equal to 17 times the distance between New York and San Francisco — to match the amount of carbon released into the environment by American cars every year. Combustion in the car’s engine produces fine particles of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and sulfur dioxide. In high quantities, these chemicals interfere with the human respiratory system, causing coughing, choking and reduced lung capacity. Cars also generate carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas formed by combustion of fossil fuels that blocks the transport of oxygen to the brain, heart and other vital organs. And then there’s all the oil required to keep our cars moving. Drilling for oil has significant environmental consequences in its own right. Land-based drilling displaces local species and, in remote regions, requires that roads be built out of dense forest. Marine drilling and shipping not uncommonly results in spills like the BP Gulf of Mexico catastrophe — there have been a dozen spills of more than 40 million gallons (151,416,471 liters) across the world since 1978. Dispersants used to mitigate the effects can also kill marine life.  

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6. Coal Mining:

The greatest risk to the environment presented by coal is climate change, but mining for the valuable resource endangers local ecosystems as well. Market realities create grave risks to mountains in coal — heavy regions, especially in the United States. Coal is a cheap source of energy – one megawatt of energy produced by coal costs $20 to $30, versus $45 to $60 for one megawatt of energy produced from natural gas. And one-quarter of the world’s coal reserves are in the U.S. Two of the most environmentally destructive forms of mining are mountain top removal and strip mining. In mountain-top removal mining, up to 1,000 feet (305 meters) might be shaved off the peak in order to scoop out the coal inside. The mountain is hollowed out as minerals are extracted. Strip mining is used when the coal is closer to the surface of the mountain. The top layers of the mountain face — including trees and any creatures living in them — are scraped away to extract valuable minerals. Each practice lays waste to everything in its path. Vast swaths of old-growth forest are removed and dumped in nearby valleys. It’s estimated that more than 300,000 acres (121,405 hectares) of hardwood forest in West Virginia have already been destroyed by mining. By 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an additional 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) of Appalachian forest will disappear through mountain top removal and strip mining. The question of what to do with the refuse compounds the environmental consequences. Usually the mining company simply dumps the rocks, trees and wildlife in a nearby valley. In West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, more than 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) of streams have been buried by strip mine refuse. Not only does this destroy the natural ecosystem of the mountain and stream, it also dries up larger rivers and strangles ecosystems that feed on the higher-elevation streams. Industrial waste from the mine washes into river beds. In West Virginia, more than 75 percent of streams and rivers are polluted by mining and related industries.

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7. Overfishing:

“There are plenty of fish in the sea” might not be so true anymore. Mankind’s appetite for seafood has emptied our oceans to such a degree that experts worry many species can’t replenish themselves. According to the World Wildlife Federation, the global fishing fleet is 2.5 times larger than what our oceans can support. More than half of the world’s fisheries are already gone, and one-quarter are “overexploited, depleted or recovering from collapse.” Ninety percent of the ocean’s large fish — tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate and flounder — have been fished out of their natural habitats. It’s estimated that unless something changes, stocks of these fish will disappear by 2048. Advances in fishing technology are the main culprit. Today’s commercial fishing boats are basically floating factories equipped with fish-finding sonar. They drop massive nets the size of three football fields that can sweep up an entire school of fish in minutes. Once a commercial fishing boat stakes a claim on an area, it’s estimated that the fish population will decline by 80 percent within 10 to 15 years.

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8. Dam Follies:

Sometimes public works projects don’t work out so well for the public. Meant to generate clean energy, dam projects in China have ravaged their surroundings by flooding cities and environmental waste sites and increasing the risk of natural disasters. The re-routed river has also greatly increased the risk of landslides along its banks, home to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s estimated that another half-million people might be displaced by landslides along the Yangtze by the year 2020. And landslides choke rivers with silt, further depleting the ecosystem. Scientists have recently linked dams to earthquakes. The Three Gorges reservoir is built atop two major fault lines, and hundreds of small tremors have occurred since it opened. Scientists have suggested that the catastrophic 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, which left 80,000 people dead, was exacerbated by water build-up at the Zipingpu Dam, less than half a mile from the earthquake’s primary fault line. The phenomenon of dams causing earthquakes, known as reservoir-induced seismicity, is caused by water pressure building up underneath the reservoir, which in turn increases pressure in the rocks and acts to lubricate fault lines already under strain. An earthquake caused by Three Gorges Dam would present a humanitarian disaster of untold proportions.  

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Environmental distress:

There are three related types of what Samuelson calls “environmental distress”.

First, at world level, the most basic natural resources, air, water and soil, are increasingly contaminated. Moreover, large areas of agricultural soil are degrading so rapidly that the capacity to feed the world is threatened.

Second, natural ecosystems, especially rainforests and wetlands, are rapidly disappearing. Not only are these areas home to many plant and animal species, they are also climate regulators and sources of clean air and water.

Third, many raw materials upon which modern society depends, notably oil and various metals are being consumed so quickly that within a few generations there will be nothing left.

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The toll of “environmental distress” is much larger. The disruption of natural ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, for example, causes the disruption of water cycles and natural drainage systems. Each year, the resulting floods take hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Moreover, the disappearance of forests contributes to prolonged droughts. Both flooding and drought cause the losses of crops and livestock, which can lead to famines. Even if people do not die from hunger, lack of food makes them more susceptible to disease. Again, it is especially the children who suffer: their physical and mental development is impaired, and child mortality rises. Another serious problem is soil degradation. It threatens the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people who depend on small scale farming. Lower yields make for less food and lower incomes; and that results in a higher susceptibility to disease and thus, higher death rates, particularly among infants. When agricultural production falls to levels where the family can no longer feed itself, people move to urban areas in search of a better life. There, they face new health risks, posed by the often appalling sanitary conditions in city slums. A third form of “environmental distress” that takes a heavy toll is exposure to chemicals. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate that, worldwide, each year tens of thousands die of direct contact with agricultural and industrial chemicals. Some disasters make the press, such as the 1984 accident in a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. It resulted in an estimated 5,000 deaths; many more people were impaired for life. Yet accidents like Bhopal form only the tip of the iceberg. To give an impression of the extent of the problem, consider this: in 1994 the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported that in 1993 alone, 500,000 Chinese workers had been exposed to toxic substances leaking from industrial installations. The above figures apply to the incidental exposure to chemicals, usually through accidents. Much more widespread, however, are the deaths and impairments resulting from the long term, continuous exposure to dangerous substances. The Russian academy of medical sciences has estimated that half the Russian drinking water supply and a tenth of the food supply is to some extent contaminated by chemicals. As a result, 11% of newborn children suffer birth defects, and 55% of school age youths have exposure-related health problems. A lesser known form of pollution is the burning of wood. In the developing world, hundreds of millions of people depend on it for cooking. The World Bank estimates that 300 to 700 million women and children are affected by the indoor air pollution caused by wood-fires. Especially in towns and cities, industrial fumes also take their toll. All in all, worldwide, 1.3 billion people are exposed to dangerous quantities of particles and smoke. Again, the consequences are illness and, in many cases, premature death. It is difficult to make an estimate of the total number of victims of “environmental distress”. It would perhaps be possible to calculate the number of “direct” deaths: those occurring shortly after exposure. But it is almost impossible to count the non-fatal and fatal illnesses (including cancer), the premature deaths, the stillbirths and the miscarriages that appear months, years or even decades after exposure has taken place. Still, the above given estimates point to the likelihood that each year, millions of people die as a direct or indirect consequence of environmental degradation, whereas hundreds of millions see their health affected. The overwhelming majority of the direct victims of environmental degradation live in the poor countries. Thus, at first sight Samuelson’s “featherweight” contention would appear to gain in strength when applied to the rich nations. He may be right when he states that in the rich countries the number of “direct” deaths from environmental causes is relatively small. Still, we don’t really know how many deaths from diseases such as cancer are caused, partly or entirely, by environmental factors.

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How government and media harm environment:

Government causes more Harm to the Environment than Businesses or Individual Citizens:

The zeal with which our legal system handles alleged enemies of the environment grows ever stronger. Individuals are imprisoned for dumping dirt on their own land. Entrepreneurs-even with local and state permits in hand-are brought to trial for violating the decrees of the Army Corps of Engineers by creating new lakes and wildlife preserves. Private forestland is declared off-limits to individuals seeking to retire to and build on their own property; selling their own trees will land them in jail. In their efforts to protect the ecology, government agents prohibit development along certain seashores; seek to limit usage of private property that is home to endangered species, to forbid lumber harvesting on “public” lands harboring spotted owls, and to bring more and more wilderness under the protective wing of our dedicated public servants. Yet, as in many other areas of our society, government reveals its contradictions by doing things that harm our environment far more than anything attributable to business or individual citizens. Amazingly, though, the ecological headaches engendered by these darker policies do not dim the luster of governmental activism. Indeed, as is typical of the harm engendered by the state’s ignorance, ineptitude, and intolerance, the resultant problems lead to even more strident calls for further intervention. This seemingly endless cycle only increases the costs we all pay for such bad programs, not only monetarily but in diminished personal freedom and erosion of respect for our legal and governing system. Most of the damage the state does to our environment comes when it seeks to help a particular segment of the population at the expense of the rest. With concentrated benefits and diffused costs masquerading under the mask of “the public good,” these efforts have created many of the most egregious examples of abuse.

•Water usage has proven to be a favorite excuse offered for state intervention. Farmers benefit from subsidies designed to lower their costs for irrigating their crops. As a result, areas of marginal agricultural potential (especially in the west) are brought under production. Fragile lands are exploited that might otherwise lie fallow. Not only does the resultant overproduction of some commodities lower the prices farmers get for them, but the increased acreage put into crops leads to an acceleration of soil erosion. Subsidized crop insurance further exacerbates the situation.

•Nonfarm citizens also have their water costs subsidized by people in other parts of the country. Dam construction and artificial waterways designed to transport that water enable people to populate such arid regions as Arizona and southern California. Not only does that lead to an explosion in population in those and other areas, natural lands are flooded for reservoirs, water tables are lowered to quench the thirst of newcomers, and water shortages occur during times of lowered rainfall. Rather than letting supply and demand determine the proper usage of water, the government decides how this resource will be distributed. Those dams also provide hydroelectricity below cost, again encouraging settlement of these areas at a higher level than would otherwise occur.

•Where there is too much water the government again intervenes. Swamps have been drained (in Florida, for example) to encourage development. Now those same areas suffer a dearth of water, endangering the habitat of alligators and various species of birds.

•Even while prohibiting the cutting of trees in some forests, the government subsidizes the construction of access roads into other so-called public lands. This leads to an increase in the harvesting of lumber from areas many environmentalists would like to preserve. Wildlife habitat is also threatened.

•In a similar vein, state-owned rangelands are overgrazed by cattlemen enjoying lower-than-market rates to rent the land. In another example of the “tragedy of the commons” (the overuse of a resource because of the denial of individual ownership), overgrazing also strains local water supplies and contributes to environmental degradation.

•While the government is lauded by some and condemned by others for reintroducing wolves into the west, few mention that it was government bounties on these predators (as well as others) that contributed to their decline in the first place.

•Though it prohibits development of some “sensitive” rivers, seashores, and islands, the government encourages building in other such places. On flood plains and along coastlines, homeowners proliferate despite the dangers of recurrent flooding or storm damage. Why? Either they purchase below-market flood insurance or have their property losses covered by a “compassionate” government’s disaster relief that diminishes the cost of choosing to settle in such risky environments. Many of these homeowners rebuild repeatedly, all at the expense of their fellow citizens.

•Zoning and land-use regulations designed to preserve wetlands and other wildlife habitat diminish the incentive of landowners to convert portions of their property to such uses. Rather than lose control of their property to stifling edicts, many citizens will choose instead to “sterilize” their land and not convert it to recreational or conservational use.

•Highway construction paid for by the government places roads through woodlands and other habitat regardless of the wishes of the property owners (who are confronted by the use of eminent domain) and regardless of whether it makes economic sense. By also paying for infrastructure costs, the state encourages development in places where it might not otherwise occur. In Brazil, tax incentives and state-subsidized road construction have contributed to the very rain forest destruction so many environmentalists decry–even as they call for more governmental controls.

•Subsidized freeways contribute to overuse that leads to massive traffic jams and more car exhaust in the atmosphere as autos creep along toward their destinations.

•Through excessive regulation and the prohibition of such technology as breeder reactors, the government has effectively killed new nuclear-power plant construction in this country, although nuclear power is safer and pollutes less than many traditional power sources, including coal and natural gas.

•By reducing the wealth of its citizens through taxation, inflation, and regulation, the government makes it more difficult to deal with the legitimate environmental problems we do face. Wealthier societies have the resources to handle such difficulties while poorer ones do not.

Ultimately, it is the state’s violation of property rights that leads to many of the environmental ills laid at the feet of private citizens and businesses. The greatest ecological disasters in the world have occurred in those countries where property rights did not exist. (In the former Soviet Union and East Germany, for example, the devastation reached horrific heights.) Through subsidies, regulations, zoning, and eminent domain, the state encourages behavior that increases pressures on the environment.

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Media’s role:

Environmental journalists run from issue to issue, harried, dealing with environmental impacts more than causes. They’re too busy chasing stories to talk about context. It’s an approach that makes money for the media but isn’t so great for environmental protection. But journalists are obliged to tell the truth. Here we’re concerned with the “whole” truth. We have a society – a readership – that considers economic growth the top priority. This unhealthy obsession has led to all kinds of problems: biodiversity loss, climate change, and ocean acidification to name a few. Yet society is just not making the connection. Growing the gross domestic product seems like the answer to all problems, not the cause. Try to remember the last article you read about an environmental problem in which economic growth was even mentioned, much less explored with nuance. Journalists covering climate negotiations sometimes identify economic growth as the goal in the way of progress. As they’ve noted, China and India aren’t about to give up on growth now, and for that matter neither is the United States. But that’s about it for coverage. There’s little exploration of the nuances: of how in a 90 percent fossil-fueled economy, economic growth means climate change; of how “green” energy can’t substitute for fossil fueling of the economy; of how a stabilized climate amounts to a steady state economy. And that’s just the context of one environmental problem: climate change. When, in reading about biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, depletion of aquifers, fisheries decline and so on, do we read about the linkage to economic growth?  All environmental problems track with GDP growth, and it’s no coincidence. The relationship between economic growth and environmental impact is causal, just as gaining weight is causal of bad knees.  Let’s be clear on this: Growth as we know it today doesn’t happen without environmental impact.  It’s ironic that environmental journalists don’t tap into the big picture of economic growth. After all, the best, most relevant journalism connects events and problems to society’s concerns. What is more relevant today than economic growth? What is more covered in the broader media? What gets more attention from politicians? Environmental journalists don’t have an obligation to environmental protection. But they do have a unique opportunity. They have the opportunity to raise awareness of the whole truth, however inconvenient, that environmental protection doesn’t square with economic growth.  

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Global warming and climate change:

One of the biggest issues facing us right now is global warming. Its effects on animals and on agriculture are indeed frightening, and the effects on the human population are even scarier. The facts about global warming are often debated in politics and the media, but, unfortunately, even if we disagree about the causes, global warming effects are real, global, and measurable. The causes are mainly from us, the human race, and the effects on us will be severe.

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As discussed earlier, the average surface temperature of the Earth has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the last 130 years, and by 1 F (0.56 C) since 1975. Global ice caps are melting at an alarming rate – since 1979, more than 20 percent of the global ice cap has disappeared. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and scientists are more than 90% certain that it is primarily caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations.  Over the last three decades of the 20th century, gross domestic product per capita and population growth were the main drivers of increases in greenhouse gas emissions. CO2 emissions are continuing to rise due to the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change.

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Greenhouse Gases (GHG):

99 per cent of our atmosphere is made up of only two gases: 78 per cent nitrogen and 21 per cent oxygen. They do not really affect the climate regulation on the planet. Greenhouse gases are those that can absorb and emit infrared radiation, but not radiation in or near the visible spectrum. In order, the most abundant greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are:

Water vapor (H20)

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Methane (CH4)

Nitrous oxide (N20)

Ozone (03)

CFCs

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The six trace gases that are blamed for global warming make up only 1 per cent of gases in the atmosphere. The gases created mainly by human activities are:

•Carbon dioxide

•Methane

•Nitrous oxide

•Sulphur hexafluoride

•Hydrofluorocarbons

•Perfluorocarbons

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Note: Even though water vapor is a greenhouse gas, it is not seen in the list of gases created mainly by human activities.

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Most scientists blame industrialization for global warming. Since the 19th century, the richer countries of the Northern Hemisphere have been pumping out ever-increasing volumes of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Industrial societies burn fossil fuels in their power plants, homes, factories and cars. They clear forests (trees absorb carbon dioxide) and they build big cities. Greenhouse gases allow solar radiation to pass through the earth’s atmosphere. But after the earth absorbs part of that radiation, it reflects the rest back. That’s where the problem lies. Particles of greenhouse gas absorb the radiation, heating up, and warming the atmosphere. The increasing levels of greenhouse gases are causing too much energy to be trapped – the so-called greenhouse effect.

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The Greenhouse Effect:

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The energy from the sun that reaches the top of the earth’s atmosphere consists mainly of infrared (IR) and visible light, with a small amount of ultraviolet light (UV). Of all the sunlight that reaches the earth’s atmosphere about 50% is absorbed by water bodies, soil, vegetation, buildings, etc. 20% is absorbed by water droplets in the air and molecular gases such as: the UV component of sunlight is absorbed by ozone (O3) and diatomic oxygen (O2) and the IR component by carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NOx) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The remaining incoming sunlight is reflected back into space. The energy emitted by the earth must equal the energy absorbed for the temperature to remain constant. Currently, the planet is absorbing more than it emits. Some molecular gases, such as CO2 have the ability to absorb IR light. Not only can they absorb incoming light, but they can also absorb light that is being re-emitted. Once this IR energy has been absorbed, it can be re-emitted as IR light, can be transferred to a neighboring gas molecule, or can be converted into heat, causing the Earth’s temperatures to rise. This absorption of IR causes the air temperature around the molecules to increase. The absorption of IR by gases causing a rise in the atmospheric temperature is known as the greenhouse effect. Some of these greenhouse gases are present naturally; however, humans have caused additional warming by emitting the above mentioned greenhouse gases.  Figure below illustrates the greenhouse effect.

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Why is CO2 most effective at raising the Earth’s temperatures?

When comparing one molecule of CH4 to one molecule of CO2, the CH4 molecule is much more likely to absorb IR energy than a CO2 molecule. Therefore, if the CH4 concentration in air is increased, it will cause much greater warming than increasing the concentration of CO2. Since methane has a residence time of one century after its emission, through this time, “one kilogram of methane is still about 23 times more effective in raising air temperature than the same mass of carbon dioxide.” More strikingly, during the first 20 years of methane emission, methane is about 69 times more effective than CO2. So why is CO2 considered to be more effective than methane at raising the Earth’s temperature and why does everybody stress that we reduce our CO2 emissions rather than our CH4 emissions? The reason is because CO2 concentrations have increased 80 times more than methane concentrations partly due to the temporary sinks and re-emission of CO2. So, for short term consideration, CH4 is much more effective than CO2 due to its ability to absorb IR energy so efficiently; but, for long term consideration, due to such high concentrations, CO2 is more effective. Data supports this because thus far, it has been estimated that methane only produces about one-third as much warming as CO2.

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A time scale for CO2 warming potential out as far as 500 years is entirely reasonable:

It is true that an individual molecule of CO2 has a short residence time in the atmosphere. However, in most cases when a molecule of CO2 leaves the atmosphere it is simply swapping places with one in the ocean. Thus, the warming potential of CO2 has very little to do with the residence time of CO2. What really governs the warming potential is how long the extra CO2 remains in the atmosphere. CO2 is essentially chemically inert in the atmosphere and is only removed by biological uptake and by dissolving into the ocean. Biological uptake (with the exception of fossil fuel formation) is carbon neutral: Every tree that grows will eventually die and decompose, thereby releasing CO2. (Yes, there are maybe some gains to be made from reforestation but they are probably minor compared to fossil fuel releases).  Dissolution of CO2 into the oceans is fast but the problem is that the top of the ocean is “getting full” and the bottleneck is thus the transfer of carbon from surface waters to the deep ocean. This transfer largely occurs by the slow ocean basin circulation and turn over. This turnover takes 500-1000 years. Therefore a time scale for CO2 warming potential out as far as 500 years is entirely reasonable.

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Global warming is a long-term problem. One of the most important greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide. Around 20% of carbon dioxide which is emitted due to human activities can remain in the atmosphere for many thousands of years. The long time-scales and uncertainty associated with global warming has led analysts to develop “scenarios” of future environmental, social and economic changes. These scenarios can help governments understand the potential consequences of their decisions. The impacts of climate change include the loss of biodiversity, sea level rise, increased frequency and severity of some extreme weather events, and acidification of the oceans. Economists have attempted to quantify these impacts in monetary terms, but these assessments can be controversial.

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Emissions of GHG are one of the greatest threats to our future prosperity. World emissions (flows) are currently around 50 billion tones of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2) per annum and are growing rapidly. As the terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems are unable to absorb all of the world‘s annual emissions, concentrations (stocks) of GHG emissions in the atmosphere have increased, to over 400ppm of CO2 today (even after taking the offsetting radiative effects of aerosols into account) and increasing at a rate of around 2.5ppm per year. Under the business as usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 parts per million (ppm) in the year 2100. Thus we have a flow-stock problem. Without strong action to reduce emissions, over the course of this century we would likely add at least 300 ppm CO2, taking concentrations to around 750 ppm CO2 or higher at the end of the century or early in the next. The world‘s current commitments to reduce emissions are consistent with at least a 3 degree C rise (50-50 chance) in temperature: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 3 million years, with serious risks of 5 degree C rise: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 30 million years. Given there are some uncertainties present in all steps of the scientific chain (flows to stocks to temperatures to climate change and impacts), this is a problem of risk management and public action on a great scale. 

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The Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2007 the primary sources of energy consisted of petroleum 36.0%, coal 27.4%, and natural gas 23.0%, amounting to an 86.4% share for fossil fuels in primary energy consumption in the world. Non-fossil sources in 2006 included hydroelectric 6.3%, nuclear 8.5%, and others (geothermal, solar, tidal, wind, wood, waste) amounting to 0.9%. World energy consumption was growing about 2.3% per year. The burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline, coal, oil, natural gas in combustion reactions results in the production of carbon dioxide. The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tons (21.3 gigatons) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, but it is estimated that natural processes can only absorb about half of that amount, so there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year (one ton of atmospheric carbon is equivalent to 44/12 or 3.7 tons of carbon dioxide). 

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The bubble diagram above shows the share of global cumulative energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for major emitters between 1890-2007. Since 2006, China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial processes (cement production) have been larger than the emissions of the USA. With approximately 8% higher emissions than those of the USA, China now tops the list of CO2 emitting countries. In 2008, china produced 23.5 % of world CO2 emissions while the USA 18.27%, EU 13.98%, India 5.83%, Russia 5.72%, and Japan 4.04%.

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Energy intensity:

The energy intensity (E/GDP) of the economy is the amount of energy required to generate one unit of GDP measured in tons of oil equivalent per thousand dollars.

In the United States and other industrialized countries the energy intensity increased as the infrastructure and heavy industry developed, going through a peak and then a steady decline. Latecomers in the industrialization process, in other industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany as well as India peaked later and at lower energy intensities than their predecessors, indicating early adoption of modern, more energy-efficient industrial processes and technologies: China and Russia industrialized very rapidly in the last century basically in a ―brute force‖ pattern based on the use of less efficient technologies. The observed decline of the energy intensity in countries is due to the decoupling of energy consumption (E) – mostly originating in fossil fuels use – and GDP resulting from energy efficiency measures and shifts in the economic structure of these countries, from manufacturing sectors to services.

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Energy efficiency:

Measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per unit of energy use, energy efficiency in Russia is more than 5 times lower than in the United States and more than 12 times lower than in Japan. Only four countries are less energy efficient than Russia—and all are former members of the Soviet Union.

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Carbon intensity: CO2 per GDP:

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The over-reliance on fossil fuel energy (coal, oil and gas) and inefficient end-use technologies has significantly increased the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We are currently putting one million years worth of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere each year. Recent efforts to reduce the carbon intensity (CO2/GDP) were made in a large number of countries, particularly in China and Russia where the carbon content has declined significantly in the last 30 years albeit from very high levels as seen in the figure above. However the carbon intensities of India, South Africa and Brazil (including deforestation) have not declined significantly in that period. It is therefore clear that all countries have to take serious measures to reduce their CO2 emissions in the next few decades, recognizing the principle of differentiated responsibilities. OECD countries alone, despite their efforts to reduce their carbon intensity (and carbon emissions), will not be able to avoid the world‘s growth of carbon emissions.

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Carbon dioxide emission by various countries:

The amount of carbon dioxide a country emits into the atmosphere depends mainly on the size of its economy, the level of its industrialization, and the efficiency of its energy use. Even though developing countries contain most of the world’s population, their industrial production and energy consumption per capita are relatively low. Thus until recently there has been little doubt that the primary responsibility for creating the risk of global warming lies with developed countries. The United States is the largest contributor to global warming. Although it contains just 4 percent of the world’s population, it produces almost 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Russia was recently replaced by China as the second largest emitter, but on a per capita basis it is still far ahead of China as seen in the figure below. Russia’s high per capita carbon dioxide emissions are explained not only by its high level of industrialization: it is also because many Russian enterprises use technologies that are older and “dirtier” than those normally used in developed countries. Extremely inefficient energy use is one of Russia’s biggest economic problems.

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The figure below shows annual carbon emission by region:

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Is the climate changing?

The United Nations certainly thinks so. And so do most (but not all) scientists who study climate. In February 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that said global warming was “very likely” – meaning an at least 90 per cent certainty – caused by human activity. The report has some telling predictions. The document forecasts that the average temperature will rise 1.8 C to 4 C by the year 2100 and sea levels will creep up by 17.8 centimeters to 58.4 centimeters by the end of the century. If polar sheets continue to melt, another rise of 9.9 centimeters to 19.8 centimeters is possible. Past reports from the organization have examined the changes in the previous century. In a 2001 report, the IPCC said the average global surface temperature had risen by about 0.6 C degrees since 1900, with much of that rise coming in the 1990s – likely the warmest decade in 1,000 years. The IPCC also found that snow cover since the late 1960s has decreased by about 10 per cent and lakes and rivers in the Northern Hemisphere are frozen over about two weeks less each year than they were in the late 1960s. Mountain glaciers in non-polar regions have also been in “noticeable retreat” in the 20th century, and the average global sea level has risen between 0.1 and 0.2 meters since 1900. Simply put, the world is getting warmer and the temperature is rising faster than ever.

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It is sometimes claimed that global warming results from changes in energy from the sun. Since 1750, the average amount of energy coming from the sun has either remained constant or increased slightly. However, if warming had been caused by a more active sun, then scientists would expect to see warmer temperatures in all layers of the atmosphere. Instead, they have observed a cooling in the upper atmosphere, and a warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere. This is because greenhouse gases are trapping heat in the lower atmosphere before it can reach the stratosphere. Climate models that include only changes in solar irradiance are unable to reproduce the observed temperature trend over the past century or more without including a rise in greenhouse gases.   

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While scientists tend to agree that the earth is warming, not all agree that rising greenhouse gas emissions are the culprits. A vocal minority say the earth’s climate warms and cools in long cycles that have nothing to do with greenhouse gases. Some dispute the data concerning rising sea levels and rising temperatures. Others dispute the projections, which are based on computer models. But again, those views are those of a minority. Most climatologists agree that global warming is causing unprecedented climate change and that things will get worse unless something is done.

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All the studies that shows global warming is caused by economic growth are depicted below:

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The figure below shows that as global GDP increases, atmospheric CO2 increases.

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The figure above shows annual growth of the world economic output and annual change of estimated CO2 emissions.

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To slow down global warming, we’ll either have to put the brakes on economic growth or transform the way the world’s economies work. That’s the implication of an innovative University of Michigan study examining the most likely causes of global warming. The study, conducted by José Tapia Granados and Edward Ionides of UM and Óscar Carpintero of the University of Valladolid in Spain, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Policy. It is the first analysis to use measurable levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to assess fluctuations in the gas, rather than estimates of CO2 emissions, which are less accurate. “If ‘business as usual’ conditions continue, economic contractions the size of the Great Recession or even bigger will be needed to reduce atmospheric levels of CO2,” said Tapia Granados, who is a researcher at the UM Institute for Social Research. For the study, the researchers assessed the impact of four factors on short-run, year-to-year changes in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, widely considered the most important greenhouse gas.  Those factors included two natural phenomena believed to affect CO2 levels – volcanic eruptions and the El Niño Southern oscillation – and also world population and the world economy, as measured by worldwide gross domestic product. Tapia Granados and colleagues found no observable relation between short-term growth of world population and CO2 concentrations, and they show that recent incidents of volcanic activity coincided with global recessions, which brings into question the reductions in atmospheric CO2 previously ascribed to these volcanic eruptions. In years of above-trend world GDP, from 1958 to 2010, the researchers found greater increases in CO2 concentrations.  For each trillion US dollars that the world GDP deviates from trend, CO2 levels deviate from trend about half a part per million (ppm), they found.  Concentrations of CO2are estimated to have been between 200 and 300 ppm during preindustrial times. They are presently close to 400 ppm, and levels around 300 ppm are considered safe to keep a stable climate. To break the economic habits contributing to a rise in atmospheric CO2 levels and global warming, Tapia Granados points out; societies around the world would need to make enormous changes.

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Economic growth driving Global Warming towards 6 degrees C:

The earth’s climate system is facing a global meltdown with carbon emissions steadily increasing and business as usual emissions projections on a path of 4 degrees C (7.2°F) of global warming by about the 2060s and 6 degrees C (10.8°F) of warming by the turn of the century, just 88 years hence, according to a scientific report – Turn Down the Heat – by the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) done on behalf of the World Bank. Some say the World Bank’s call for slowing global warming ignores their own role.

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The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that greenhouse gas emissions gap is widening as Nations head to crucial Climate talks in Doha, while the European Environment Agency has warned in a new report Climate change evident across Europe, confirming urgent need for adaptation. A recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report warned that business as usual Carbon emissions is heading towards 6°C (10.8°F) of global warming this century. So there is widespread agreement from science and scientists, energy experts and experts in global economics and accounting that we are facing a climate meltdown.

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The International Energy Agency warned in their 2011 World Energy Outlook report that we are on a 4 to 6 degree Celsius trajectory and that 80 percent of carbon emissions infrastructure has already been built and is in operation. We cannot afford to add any new carbon intensive infrastructure that will continue to pollute for 30 to 50 years, yet the World Resources Institute reveals that nearly 1,200 Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants are in the making, the majority in India and China.

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Are the increases and decreases in global CO2 emissions simply an indicator of economic growth (or lack thereof)?

New figures suggest global carbon dioxide emissions increase with economic growth and decrease in economic recessions. Global carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 1.3 percent in 2009 due to economic recession that  “helped stave off climate change.” Increases in CO2 emissions in 2010 suggest the global economy is back on track. The 38 countries that pledged to restrain their emissions of climate change–inducing greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide (CO2), are failing, according to new figures. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body charged with overseeing global emission reduction efforts, says that, overall, greenhouse emissions—measured in terms of the most ubiquitous: carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)—dropped by 894 million metric tons between 1990 and 2006 (the latest year for which figures are available). But the UNFCCC found that emissions had grown by 2.3 percent—403 million metric tons of CO2e—from 2000 to 2006, and that the 16-year dip was due entirely to the drop in economic activity (factory and power plant shutdowns) in former Eastern bloc countries such as Russia after the 1989 fall of communist governments, which led to a decline of more than two billion metric tons of CO2e emissions. Those countries’ economies have recovered since 2000, leading to an increase in CO2e emissions of some 258 million metric tons, according to UNFCCC.

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Why is global warming such a big deal?

 

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Global warming is considered to be our most crucial worldwide environmental problem. It is currently a critical problem for many species of plants and animals around the globe and could soon pose a threat to humans. Plants and animals are adapted to a specific climate, and can only survive in that particular climate. You may not notice it because you can throw on a jacket or adjust your thermostat, but there have been fluctuations in the weather due to global warming. As the temperature changes, animals must migrate to adapt. The migration of species to more suitable climates upsets the balance of interdependence among species in their ecosystems. A few examples are flower and pollinator, hunter and hunted, grazers and plant life. Urbanization and agriculture also block the migration routes of many species. Some ecosystems have flourished from the migration changes, but the rate of climate change due to human behavior is now much greater than any natural rates of change. According to Jim Hansen of the Goddard Space Institute, “Studies of more than one thousand species charted by members of the public, found an average migration rate toward the North and South Poles of about four miles per decade in the second half of the twentieth century.” This is an issue because, “during the past thirty years the lines marking the regions in which a given average temperature prevails (“isotherms”) have been moving pole-ward at a rate of about thirty-five miles per decade. Each decade the range of a given species is moving one row of counties northward.” If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the rate of isotherm movement will double in this century to at least seventy miles per decade, which could leave as much as 50 percent or more of the species on Earth extinct.
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Climate Change also poses a threat to humans as the massive ice sheets in Greenland and Antartica begin to melt as the Earth’s temperature rises. As these ice masses melt, they will cause sea levels to rise, which will decrease the levels of fresh water on the planet. A five degree increase in the Earth’s temperature would cause sea levels to rise eighty feet. If this were to happen, the United States would lose most of its coastal cities such as: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Miami, and the whole state of Florida would practically be underwater.
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Scientists have come up with the firmest evidence so far that global warming will significantly increase the intensity of the most extreme storms worldwide. The maximum wind speeds of the strongest tropical cyclones have increased significantly since 1981, according to research published in Nature. And the upward trend, thought to be driven by rising ocean temperatures, is unlikely to stop at any time soon. Climate change is expected to have the most severe impact on water supplies. Shortages in future are likely to threaten food production, reduce sanitation, hinder economic development and damage ecosystems. It causes more violent swings between floods and droughts. According to research published in Nature, by 2050, rising temperatures could lead to the extinction of more than a million species. And because we can’t exist without a diverse population of species on Earth, this is scary news for humans.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the sea level has risen 5 to 6 inches in the last century. The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that the sea level will rise between 0.6 and 2 feet in the next century. This poses a great threat to coastal wetland ecosystems. Wetlands are a thriving habitat for thousands of species and also serve to protect nearby areas from flooding. The EPA has estimated that a two foot rise in sea level would result in the loss of 17-43 percent of wetlands in the United States.
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Global Warming has the potential to change the human environment in several different ways:
Agriculture –

Today almost all humans have a direct impact on agriculture as many of us harvest and plant crops, while the rest of us consume them at incredible rates. Agriculture is one of the main determining factors of human life and global warming has the potential to severely disrupt that. Although many plants depend on the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there are plenty of other determining factors global warming effects on agriculture. It’s believed that many high altitude cities will actually benefit agriculturally due to the slightly higher temperatures, but in comparison, the well of agriculture is formed in areas that have the perfect ingredients for the perfect crop. Slightly higher temperature will yield less crop. Scientists believe that this will cause an increase in global hunger since plant crops are the most efficient to produce. Studies show a rise in wild fires due to the slight increase in temperature. Wildfires have the potential to demolish dozens of square miles of both agricultural land and natural habitat of thousands of species of wildlife.
Health –

Surely the rise in temperature will decrease the amount of cold/winter related deaths that happen every year. Yes, but the amount of heat related deaths are suppose to trump the amount saved by the weather five-time fold. And although there are plenty of scientific reasons for this such as a plethora of different things that can go wrong when you are hot as opposed to when you are cold, but scientists believe there’s one determining factor to this. It’s easier to get warmer than it is to get colder. Think about a year in the United States. Energy costs to cool a house down are much heavier than those to keep a house warm. When summers are unbearable you turn on the air conditioner. Not everybody has that luxury. When winter is unbearable many people today use the same method as hundreds of years ago. Fire, a staple of society and a relatively cheap resource. Another major health risk is the migration of disease carrying insects throughout the world. Mosquitoes carry many major health science related problems like malaria and they are already showing up in places they’ve haven’t been before.
Ocean Acidification –

Although it is impossible to determine just what will happen when all the excess carbon dioxide is absorbed into the ocean, little can be seen positively of the effects of the acidification of the oceanic water supply. This acidification will have the ability to change the entire oceanic food change. This inevitably comes back to humans in several ways. If the ocean is not safe to swim in because of the acidification not only will it stop ocean lover’s fun, it will stop our ability to kill the heat on a hot day.
Economic –

The economy is the number one thing to change as global warming occurs. And the results are catastrophic. The Stern Report (www.scienceskeptic.com) is an overall economic report on the stark effects of global warming. Their main point although unhelpful as it is, is that the cost of fixing global warming far outweighs the cost that could have been put forth to prevent it as a whole. Another main issue reflected in the Stern Report is one of repetitive nature. The poorest of countries will be hit not only the hardest, the fastest. That is why the fastest mode of prevention is the best for everyone on the planet. The Stern Report foresees some major changes in governmental economic policy. For one the addition of a carbon dioxide tax is one that seems close to be putting in place. The Stern Report also has a view on issues for the future such as immigration. The current idea is that people of poorer countries who get hit hard will migrate to other countries in which life is more comfortable. This directly affects the economy of neighboring countries as well as social issues. Eventually wars could be fought over the issues of global warming and mass migrations of hurting populations.

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Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme weather events, including high rainfall. A study by the prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that with one degree Celsius global warming, daily variability in monsoon rainfall over India will increase by four to 12 percent and by as much as 13 to 50 percent if global greenhouse gas emissions rise unabated.

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The economic cost of increased temperatures:

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Even temporary rises in local temperatures significantly damage long-term economic growth in the world’s developing nations, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT economist. Looking at weather data over the last half-century, the study finds that every 1-degree-Celsius increase in a poor country, over the course of a given year, reduces its economic growth by about 1.3 percentage points. However, this only applies to the world’s developing nations; wealthier countries do not appear to be affected by the variations in temperature. “Higher temperatures lead to substantially lower economic growth in poor countries,” says Ben Olken, a professor of economics at MIT, who helped conduct the research. And while it’s relatively straightforward to see how droughts and hot weather might hurt agriculture, the study indicates that hot spells have much wider economic effects. “What we’re suggesting is that it’s much broader than agriculture,” Olken adds. “It affects investment, political stability and industrial output.”

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World Bank chief says global warming threatens the planet and the poorest:

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said climate change was a “fundamental threat” to global economic development as he called for a major new push to reduce extreme poverty over the next 17 years. “If we do not act to curb climate change immediately, we will leave our children and grandchildren on an unrecognizable planet,” Kim said. “It is the poor, those least responsible for climate change and least able to afford adaptation, who would suffer the most.” His comments are part of an emerging push by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to focus on climate change — something that IMF managing director Christine Lagarde already said puts global financial stability “clearly at stake.” The IMF published a report arguing that fossil fuels are subsidized to the tune of $1.9 trillion annually by governments around the world and should be more heavily taxed. Both the IMF and the World Resources Institute hosted a speech by British economist Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a controversial climate report for the British government and an advocate of fast and deep carbon emissions cuts. “We have to go zero carbon more or less where we can” to meet the goal of limiting planetary warming to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 90 years, Stern said. The joint effort by the IMF and World Bank to elevate thinking about the economics of climate change has accelerated under Kim and Lagarde, pushed by evidence that the effects of a warming planet are already being felt in agricultural yields in some nations and the severity of weather events around the globe. Both organizations often tout the power of advocacy and research in shaping countries’ policies, but their more direct influence may relate to their power over loans and financing. In the bank’s case, that power has declined as the flow of private money has increased around the globe.

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What is the Kyoto treaty?

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The Kyoto Treaty commits industrialised nations to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, principally Carbon Dioxide, by around 5.2% below their 1990 levels over the next decade. Drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, the agreement needs to be ratified by countries who were responsible for at least 55% of the world’s carbon emissions in 1990 to come into force. The agreement was dealt a severe blow in March 2001 when President George W Bush announced that the United States would never sign it. The US produced 36% of emissions in 1990, making it the world’s biggest polluter. The revised Kyoto agreement, widely credited to the European Union, made considerable compromises allowing countries like Russia to offset their targets with carbon sinks – areas of forest and farmland which absorb carbon through photosynthesis. The Bonn agreement also reduced cuts to be made to emissions of six gases believed to be exacerbating global warming – from the original treaty’s 5.2% to 2%. It was hoped that these slightly watered down provisions would allow the US to take up the Kyoto principles – but this has not proved to be the case. As part of the Kyoto Protocol, many developed countries have agreed to legally binding limitations/reductions in their emissions of greenhouse gases in two commitments periods. The first commitment period applies to emissions between 2008-2012, and the second commitment period applies to emissions between 2013-2020. The protocol was amended in 2012 to accommodate the second commitment period,  but this amendment has (as of January 2013) not entered into legal force. Developing countries do not have binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol, but are still committed under the treaty to reduce their emissions. Actions taken by developed and developing countries to reduce emissions include support for renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and reducing deforestation. Under the Protocol, emissions of developing countries are allowed to grow in accordance with their development needs. One criticism of the Kyoto Protocol is that it does not require developing countries to lower their carbon emissions. China, now the largest emitter of carbon, is not bound by the Kyoto Protocol to reduce production of carbon dioxide. They are, however, able to take advantage of the funding provision, which states that the group of developed countries must economically help developing countries tackle climate change. India, also a large contributor to global carbon emissions, is under no legal agreement to reduce their levels of emissions.

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Policies to cope with the threat of Global Warming:

In response to the threat of global warming, a wide variety of responses are available.

A first option, taking steps to slow or prevent greenhouse warming, has received the greatest public attention. Most policy discussion has focused on reducing energy consumption or switching to nonfossil fuels, while some have suggested reforestation to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. One important goal of policy should be cost-effectiveness–structuring policies to get the maximal reduction in harmful climatic change for a given level of expenditure.

A second option is to offset greenhouse warming through climatic engineering. Measures in this category include changing the albedo (reflectivity) of the earth, increasing the rate of removal of greenhouse gases, or changing water flows to cool the earth.

A final option is to adapt to the warmer climate. Adaptation could take place gradually on a decentralized basis through the automatic response of people and institutions or through markets as the climate warms and the oceans rise. In addition, governments could prevent harmful climatic impacts by land-use regulations or investments in research on living in a warmer climate.

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Common sense strategies:

Often-discussed strategies for slowing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming include increased energy efficiency, reduced population growth and a switch to power sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide, including nuclear, wind and solar energy and underground storage of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. Another strategy is rarely mentioned: a decreased standard of living, which would occur if energy supplies ran short and the economy collapsed.

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Is Global Warming Unstoppable? Shifting to non-CO2 emitting power source:

A provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions — the major cause of global warming — cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. Garrett treats civilization like a “heat engine” that “consumes energy and does ‘work’ in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy,” he says. “If society consumed no energy, civilization would be worthless,” he adds. “It is only by consuming energy that civilization is able to maintain the activities that give it economic value. This means that if we ever start to run out of energy, then the value of civilization is going to fall and even collapse absent discovery of new energy sources.” Garrett says his study’s key finding “is that accumulated economic production over the course of history has been tied to the rate of energy consumption at a global level through a constant factor.” That “constant” is 9.7 (plus or minus 0.3) mill watts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. So if you look at economic and energy production at any specific time in history, “each inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar would be supported by 9.7 mill watts of primary energy consumption,” Garrett says. The study — which is based on the concept that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of civilization — indicates:

* Energy conservation or efficiency doesn’t really save energy, but instead spurs economic growth and accelerated energy consumption.

* Throughout history, a simple physical “constant” — an unchanging mathematical value — links global energy use to the world’s accumulated economic productivity, adjusted for inflation. So it isn’t necessary to consider population growth and standard of living in predicting society’s future energy consumption and resulting carbon dioxide emissions.

* “Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually — approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day, physically, there are no other options without killing the economy.   

Is meaningful energy conservation Impossible?

Perhaps the most provocative implication of Garrett’s theory is that conserving energy doesn’t reduce energy use, but spurs economic growth and more energy use. “Making civilization more energy efficient simply allows it to grow faster and consume more energy,” says Garrett. He says the idea that resource conservation accelerates resource consumption — known as Jevons paradox — was proposed in the 1865 book “The Coal Question” by William Stanley Jevons, who noted that coal prices fell and coal consumption soared after improvements in steam engine efficiency. Changes in population and standard of living are only a function of the current energy efficiency. That leaves only switching to a non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power source as an available option.” “The problem is that, in order to stabilize emissions, not even reduce them, we have to switch to non-carbonized energy sources at a rate about 2.1 percent per year. That comes out to almost one new nuclear power plant per day.” “If society invests sufficient resources into alternative and new, non-carbon energy supplies, then perhaps it can continue growing without increasing global warming,” Garrett says.

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Curbing consumer habits could slow global warming:

Virtually every economist and politician, from the right to the left, believes that economic growth is good, even necessary, to maintain jobs, production, tax revenues, the stock market and our standing in the world. It is so deeply embedded in our psyches and our system that it is almost forbidden to challenge the growth-is-necessary paradigm. But there are economists and thinkers who do challenge it. They are small in number but growing: Tim Jackson, in “Prosperity Without Growth,” claims that increasing consumption adds little to happiness and that it increases the stress on environmental systems; Andrew Simms and Victoria Johnson, in “Growth Isn’t Possible,” believe that continued growth is unsustainable, restricted by the limits of our resources; Peter Victor, in his article “Nothing Grows Forever,” sees the continued release of pollutants, forest clearing and greenhouse gas emissions of the last eight generations of humans out of 125,000 generations as devastating; Charles Eisenstein, in his video “Living Without Economic Growth,” sees the present growth paradigm as not working but is optimistic that a no-growth system with less consumption will be difficult but will lead to better lives over time. The commonality in these views is that our water, soil, air and mineral resources are finite and that our current rate of use of these resources cannot be maintained over a length of time. None sees significant progress worldwide in limiting this usage. Additionally, there is an elephant in this room that few people are aware of. And that is the climate emergency. There is a very powerful connection between economic growth and global warming. Everything that is manufactured requires energy to run the equipment that leads to the product. That energy almost always comes from burning coal, oil or natural gas. Burning these fossil fuels produces large quantities of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming. Every bit of clothing, every car, every book, every electronic device, every movie, every piece of furniture, every hamburger that is produced leads to greenhouse gas emissions. On every front we are encouraged to buy more stuff. Television, newspapers and magazines are the leaders in rushing us to purchase stuff. Of course there is lots of employment and abundant profits as a result of our purchases that keep our growth economies on their path to ultimate failure. And this growth in production that takes place worldwide has this terrible downside of increasing the threat of reaching the tipping point of global warming. It is imperative that our nation, as well as the other industrialized countries, change the dominating view of growth as a necessity and adopt nongrowth economies. The consequence of a failure to change our consuming habits will be runaway global warming.

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Encourage Responsible Consumerism:

Convincing people to buy more stuff is one of the classic methods of stimulating an economy. Of course, this kind of consumerism generates waste and uses lots of energy and resources. “Buy less,” in fact, is a common refrain among environmentalists. That said there is room for consumers to buy green by selecting environmentally-responsible products. Through responsible shopping, green consumers can do their part to stimulate the economy, without sacrificing their eco-principles.

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Population control and global warming:

A report by the London School of Economics actually performed a “cost-benefit analysis” on the various methods for reducing carbon emissions around the world, and they found that the “cheapest” way to reduce carbon emissions by far was to increase funding for “family planning”. According to the report, each birth results not only in the emissions attributable to that person in his or her lifetime, but also the emissions of all his or her descendents. Hence, the emissions savings from intended or planned births multiply with time. No human is genuinely “carbon neutral,” especially when all greenhouse gases are figured into the equation. Therefore, everyone is part of the problem, so everyone must be part of the solution in some way. Strong family planning programs are in the interests of all countries for greenhouse-gas concerns as well as for broader welfare concerns. However, eighty percent of the current consumption of the Earth’s resources is accounted for by the 20% of the world’s population that resides in the North. While overall population growth is a danger to the health of the planet, it must be recognized that population growth in the North, due to extremely high levels of per capital consumption, is a far greater threat than population growth in the South.

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A cure worse than the disease? Global Economic Impact of Global Warming Policy:

Warming of the world may have economic costs that exceed benefits, but cutting CO2 emissions will not necessarily improve matters. Warming alone may have net negative impacts. However, warming caused by human activity cannot be divorced from the benefits that human activity generates. Cutting CO2 emissions will have clear economic costs. The question for policymakers is how the costs of cutting CO2 compare with the benefits. Researchers find that the costs vastly exceed the benefits. In particular, researchers analyzed a regime to reduce CO2 emissions of the magnitude found in the Boxer–Sanders carbon-tax bill and the Lieberman–Warner and Waxman–Markey cap-and-trade bills. These reductions would have a decidedly negative economic impact on both the U.S. and the world as a whole, with net losses reaching hundreds of trillions of dollars by the century’s end. On the other hand, faster growth could insulate the economy from the impacts of global warming.

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Developing country and environment:

The world is environmentally interdependent, whether borne by air or water, is quickly transmitted from one state to another. The effect of soil erosion on agricultural production in one part of the world reverberates to other parts very quickly. All countries share the atmosphere, as air recognizes no national boundaries. The mutual dependence of the peoples of the world on a single common planetary biosphere means that environmental decline of one country or region is a problem for the entire community of region. A growing number have become vulnerable to trans-boundary global environmental degradation, which did not originate in the area in which they live. The population explosion in the modernization has made poor countries more vulnerable to the impact of environmental damage. In these countries, the effects of environmental destruction pushes more and more people towards the sustainable margin, and it leads to social unrest. The high population growth in the developing countries has multiplied pressure on all renewable resources namely fresh water, soil, forests, air, atmosphere, climate, oceans and biodiversity. Social degradation and deforestation do complement each other. Due to environmental destruction, there may be reduction in the availability of cultivatable land, green forest, fresh water, clear air and fish resources for the consumption of the human kind. Environmental change can lead to dramatic reduction in agricultural output of affected area. In the developing countries, where the agriculture is the most important source of subsistence, its decreased production might result in the loss of livelihood of millions people. Environmental destruction leads to social conflicts.

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Is the economic development of developing countries more important than protecting the environment?

The issue of economic growth versus environmental conservation can be seen as developed countries vs. developing ones. Industrial countries such as the USA and Germany have depended upon polluting industries for their wealth. Now they fear that uncontrolled economic development in the Third World will lead to environmental disaster. They point out that massive clearing of tropical rainforest for farming threatens biodiversity and may affect the global climate. At the same time relying upon heavy industry adds more pollution to the air, soil and water sources, while a richer population demands more energy, often produced from burning dirty fossil fuels such as coal. Developing countries such as China and Brazil point out that they must make industrialization and economic development a priority because they have to support their growing populations. Developing countries must address current problems; they cannot afford to worry about the distant future. They also point out that as First World countries are most to blame for current environmental damage since they originally created some of the environmental problems. Please go through the table below and see where you stand on the debate economy vs. environment vis-à-vis developing countries:

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Is the economic development of developing countries more important than protecting the environment? A debate:

Yes because No because
Taking care of millions of people who are starving is more important than saving natural resources, most of which are renewable anyway. We cannot expect developing nations to share the green concerns of developed countries when they are faced with dire poverty and a constant battle for survival. We have already wasted and destroyed vast amounts of natural resources, and in so doing have put earth at risk. We must preserve the earth for our children and grandchildren. In any case, poverty and environmental damage are often linked. Destroying the rainforest gives native peoples nowhere to go except urban slums. Polluted water can lead to crop failures. Climate change will turn fertile fields into desert and flood coastal areas where hundreds of millions live. Developing countries have to choose sustainable development if they want a future for their people.
The industrialized world’s emphasis on green issues holds back developing countries. Because this is seen as interference in their affairs, it also contributes to a greater divide between the First and Third worlds. Many also believe it is a deliberate attempt to stop possible economic competitors. After all, the USA and EU already put high tariffs (import taxes) on products made cheaply in developing countries (e.g. canned tomatoes, shoes) which could be sold in America or Europe. By limiting the development of profitable but polluting industries like steel or oil refineries we are forcing nations to remain economically backward. No one wants to stop economic progress that could give millions better lives. But we must insist on sustainable development that combines environmental care, social justice and economic growth. Earth cannot support unrestricted growth. Companies in developed countries already have higher costs of production because of rules to protect the environment. It is unfair if they then see their prices undercut by goods produced cheaply in developing countries at the cost of great pollution
Economic development is vital for meeting the basic needs of the growing populations of developing countries. If we do not allow them to industrialize, these nations will have to bring in measures to limit population growth just to preserve vital resources such as water. Unchecked population growth has a negative impact on any nation, as well as on the whole planet. Both the poverty and the environmental problems of sub-Saharan Africa are largely the result of rapid population growth putting pressure on limited resources. At the same time China has become wealthy while following a “one-child” per couple policy. Limiting population growth will result in a higher standard of living and will preserve the environment.
Obviously the world would be better if all nations stuck to strict environmental rules. The reality is that for many nations such rules are not in their interests. For example, closing China’s huge Capital Iron and Steelworks, a major source of pollution, would cost 40 000 jobs. The equal application of strict environmental policies would create huge barriers to economic progress, at a risk to political stability. Nations are losing more from pollution than they are gaining from industrialization. China is a perfect example. Twenty years of uncontrolled economic development have created serious, chronic air and water pollution. This has increased health problems and resulted in annual losses to farmers of crops worth billions of dollars. So uncontrolled growth is not only bad for the environment, it is also makes no economic sense.
Rapid industrialization does not have to put more pressure on the environment. Scientific advances have made industries much less polluting. And developing countries can learn from the environmental mistakes of the developed world’s industrial revolution, and from more recent disasters in communist countries such as China and the USSR. For example, efficient new steelworks use much less water, raw materials and power, while producing much less pollution than traditional factories. And nuclear generating plants can provide more energy than coal while contributing far less to global warming. We are also exploring alternative, renewable types of energy such as solar, wind and hydro-power. Scientific progress has made people too confident in their abilities to control their environment. In just half a century the world’s nuclear industry has had at least three serious accidents: Windscale (UK, 1957), Three Mile Island (USA, 1979), and Chernobyl (USSR, 1986). In addition, the nuclear power industry still cannot store its waste safely. Hydro-power sounds great but damming rivers is itself damaging to the environment. It also forces huge numbers of people off their land – as in China’s 3 Gorges project.
It is hypocritical (two-faced and unfair) for rich developed countries to demand that poorer nations make conservation their priority. After all, they became rich in the first place by destroying their environment in the industrial revolution. Now that they have cut down their own trees, polluted their water sources and poured billions of tons of carbon into the air, they are in no position to tell others to behave differently. In any case, as countries become richer they become more concerned about the environment, and can afford to do something about it. For developing countries conservation can therefore wait until they are richer. Looking after our fragile world has to be a partnership. Climate change will affect the whole planet, not just the developed world. In fact it is likely to have particularly terrible effects on developing countries as sea levels rise, deserts advance, and natural disasters become more common. It is no use Europe trying to cut its emissions into the atmosphere if unchecked growth in China and India leads to much greater overall pollution. Instead, developed countries need to transfer greener technologies to the developing world, paying for environmental protection and making sustainability a condition for aid.
The “Green Revolution” has doubled the size of grain harvests. Thus, cutting down more forests to provide more space for crops is no longer necessary. We now have the knowledge to feed the world’s increasing population without harming the environment. Genetically modified crops can also benefit the developing world by requiring much less water, fertiliser or pesticide use while giving better yields. This is another example of economic development leading to environmental benefits. The Green Revolution is threatening the biodiversity of the Third World by replacing native seeds with hybrids. We do not know what the long-term environmental or economic consequences will be. We do know that in the short run, such hybrid crops can cause environmental problems by crowding out native plants and the wildlife which relies on them. The farmer growing hybrid crops must buy costly new seed every year because it cannot be saved to plant the following year’s crops. Farmers using hybrid seeds in what was the richest part of India went bankrupt. As a result, fertile lands lay idle and unploughed, resulting in droughts and desertification.
Our fellow man is our most important resource. Allowing people to suffer and die in the name of “protecting the planet” is self-centered and racist. If you were the guy trying to plough the field to plant crops and feed your starving family and friends, only to be stopped by people from a country whose 35% of the population are obese, you’d be pretty angry at the folks who are fighting the technology and methods that could feed your children all in the name of “being green”. You can complain about needing a good economy because your nation has to prosper and be maintained financially, but though the countries that need a better economy are struggling, it won’t compare to the world wide damage that will be done if nothing is done to improve the environmental state. Bad economy means people may lose jobs, and live in poverty. But bad environment means we lose crops to polluted water, we limit livable areas, and eventually have no natural resources left. Rather than focusing on progressing countries and the issues that have been around for hundreds of years regardless, it’s time to start focusing on the environment, before it’s unsavable, and we have to start controlling population growth to sustain our resources. You would rather be poor and be able to breathe in an undeveloped country now, than push climate change and end up hurting the economy even worse in the future trying to cope with all the challenges and disasters it’ll bring.

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Double injustice to developing nations:

India and many developing countries actually suffer “a double injustice”: environmental degradation and climate change will impinge on the poor countries hardest, but at the same time, they are required to be “part of the solution” by cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the expense of their economic development. Environmental degradation can only intensify these existing development problems. For example, increased maximum temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are already exerting negative impacts on the agriculture and food security of many low-income communities, while several coastal states in India are suffering from damage to our ocean – fauna and flora brought on by ocean acidification due to rapid industrial pollution. However, an economic slowdown in India can jeopardize their ability to address pressing problems such as poverty, lack of adequate health care, high unemployment and gender inequality. If growth continues on what has been called the “business as usual” development path, it is likely to exaggerate existing development problems and compromise the well-being of present and future generations.

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Conflict between Developing Economy and Protecting Environment:

Whether is the developing economy and protecting environment a pair of contradiction? The answer depends on the economy development stage. In the developed country, the developing economy and protecting environment is not a pair of contradiction because of environment improved along with the economic structure changed. But in the developing country, it is a pair of contradiction because of environment worsens with a high speed economy increasing. The choice of the industrial structure is a factor affecting the environmental pollution. Generally speaking by agricultural and light industry, pollution level is low; and when the manufacturing industry proportion is high in the country, the pollution degree can be high inevitably. Technology also is an important indicator to affect the environment. The country of using low technical expertise can consume more resources and more pollution. In economic development low stage, the economic activity is low. In the economy launching phase, the manufacture is developed greatly. The result is the resource consumption surpasses the resource generation. The environment worsens in an economical development higher stage. When economic structure changes, the pollution industry stops producing or is shifted. The environmental condition starts to improve. Along with economic development people will pay more attention to the environmental protection. The environmental protection fund also will be increased. The protecting environment meant the fund invested because a lot of environmental protection equipments are very expensive. In the long term, the disbursement and effect of protecting environment is an important factor affecting environment Kuznets curve (vide infra).

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Pollution heaven hypothesis:

Based on the view that “developing countries may be acting as pollution havens, places where firms can move and operate without the strict environmental controls of the developed country”.  Stringent Environment Standards in industrialized countries are causing some firms especially ‘pollution intensive’ ones to flee to countries with less stringent standards. Most developing countries do have regulations regarding levels of pollution, but these are not enforced. Developing countries have tried with some success to attract pollution intensive firms with the promise of lower pollution control standards in the hope of bolstering their rate of economic growth.  

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Why and how rich nations should pay poor nations for disturbing weather?

In 2012, the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP-18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sputtered to its conclusion in Doha, Qatar. The first big item on the Doha agenda was keeping the Kyoto Protocol on some sort of life support. Adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol required 35 rich countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5.2 percent below what they emitted in back in 1990. The original Kyoto Protocol would have obliged the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 7 percent below its 1990 levels. However, the U.S. never ratified the treaty and now Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia have pulled out. At Doha, in what amounts to a mostly symbolic gesture, only the European Union, Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland, and Norway agreed to remain in the treaty that, in any case, covers only 15 percent of the world’s GHG emissions. And instead of binding commitments, each country gets to pick its own emissions targets for 2020. The countries that remain in the rump Kyoto Protocol promised to let the U.N. know what their new emissions reduction commitments (if any) will be next year. As noted, a largely symbolic act. At the Doha climate change conference the delegates from 194 countries spent most of their time squabbling over how much money the rich countries purportedly owe to the poor countries in what amounts to climate change reparations. In addition to the Green Climate Fund, the poor countries want even more money from the rich countries to compensate them for the “loss and damage” caused by climate change. The idea is that the rich countries have loaded up the atmosphere with GHGs that are dangerously warming the atmosphere and provoking all sorts of weather disasters, floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges, and so forth. Since the rich countries grew wealthy by destroying the world’s weather, they should pay off the poor whom they have harmed. How much? Another $100 billion annually on top of the $100 billion slated for the Green Climate Fund. For comparison, in 2010 development aid from rich countries to poor countries totaled $128 billion. How to tell if a particular storm or a drought is the result of man-made global warming or would have happened anyway? After all, deadly storms killed hundreds of thousands, floods drowned millions, and tens of millions died in famines caused by drought well before humanity began to boost significantly the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies researcher James Hansen and his colleagues argued earlier in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that increasing GHG levels have loaded the “climate dice” so that the chances of weather extremes are now much higher now than they were back in the halcyon era between 1951 and 1980. Maybe so. But if a particular heat wave is, say, a degree warmer than a particular region’s average heat wave (whatever that may signify), does that mean that the “loss and damage” attributed to global warming is confined to just that additional one degree above average temperature? And what about the converse case; how might the benefits of extra warming be accounted for? Recent winters in the U.S. have been warmer on average, slashing the home heating bills faced by consumers. Would consumers be obligated to pay the oil, natural gas, and coal companies for beneficent weather and compensate them as well for the loss of business?

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Is West responsible for environmental degradation of the East?

Are developed country policies leading to environmental degradation in developing countries?

The proponents of the weak sustainability model argue that the demand for environmental currency is elastic with high-income. In their opinion, environment is a luxury goods which people demand for improvements in their quality of lives once their other needs are met.  (Pearce and Atkinson, 1993). In other words, environmental entitlements for each individual are better guaranteed in countries with high per-capita incomes. From the visual reality, this seems to be true. Developed countries have clean air, cleaner technology and safer sanitation and waste-disposal systems.  Developing countries, on the other hand, are marked by polluted air, open waste disposal systems, non-existent effluent treatment plants and polluting technology. Developed countries therefore have emerged to be at the vanguard of environment protection whereas poor countries seem to be lagging behind as squanderers of environmental resources. The verdict seems to be loud and clear that it is the developing countries themselves to be blamed for their environmental unsustainability conditions. Developed countries on the other hand have managed their environment well and have also sustained their economic growth. The reality however, is different from what appears to the eye. Some argue that the developed countries are to be significantly blamed for causing environmental unsustainability in developing countries. Developed countries used up a considerable proportion of their environmental resources for their national economic growth processes and are now building up their environmental currency reserves at the cost of their depletion in developing countries.  Ecological footprints of nations are the biologically productive areas necessary to continuously provide their resource supplies and absorb their wastes under the prevailing technology. The available biologically productive area is however not a variable quantity but has an upper value -which is the carrying capacity of the earth.  In other words, the average per-capita productive land area available for human use is limited and is around 1.7 hectare today. The average ecological footprint of the world in 1995 was 2.5 hectare. In comparison, the ecological footprint of US was 9.6 ha (as against its available capacity of 5.5 ha), Japan was 4.2 ha (as against its available capacity of 0.7 ha), and Germany was 4.6 ha (as against its available capacity of 1.9 ha). Developed countries account for much larger footprints as compared to developing countries. Ecological footprint of India is 1 ha (as against its available capacity of 0.5 ha), Argentina has a footprint of 3 ha (as against its available capacity of 4 ha.), and China has an ecological footprint of 1.4 ha (as against its ecological capacity of 0.6 ha). The figures indicate that developed countries have been using up a higher proportion of the earth’s carrying capacity and are also using the carrying capacity available with developing countries to boost their domestic growth. Interdependence of nations, specifically trade, is one of the mechanisms by which the developed countries appropriate carrying capacity from developing countries and are able to increase their own ecological footprints. The case of environmental currency transfer therefore builds up. Over-consumption is one of the key reasons behind the large footprints of developed countries. For example, in 1790 the estimated average daily energy consumption by Americans was 11,000 kcal. By 1980, this increased almost twenty-fold to 210,000 kcal/day (Catton, 1986). The high growth in energy and material consumption in rich countries is reducing the ecological space available to poor countries and is causing transboundary externalities, which are borne by developing countries. For instance, industrial countries produce most of the global warming gases that cause climatic change, and yet, it is the developing countries that are likely to feel the most environmental damaging effects. The densely populated nations of South Asia, East Asia, and West Africa, where millions of people live on vast deltas at or below sea-levels are most vulnerable to rising sea-levels. Further, due to high population and low economic growth, developing countries are not able to effectively soften these detrimental environmental impacts and it leads to cascade form of environmental destruction. Developed countries have always found it much easier to change the policies of the developing countries to make way for their externalities rather than change their own domestic policies to cause less environmental damage. Changing their domestic policies would entail change in production and consumption patterns which is no-debate area. Countries like U.S. would rather have Amazon rainforest cut down to make way for cattle ranches to provide beef in Mc. Donald’s burgers rather than bring about a change in their domestic policies. This positioning of developed countries to look outside their national borders for solution is rigid and has been taken as the starting point for many of the instruments and treaties to protect the environment. For instance, the traditional aid donor concludes that investment in pollution abatement in a developing country is more efficient than undertaking investments for this purpose at home. The analysis of the current patterns of aid and the meek Kyoto Protocol substantiates this. It is an irony that one of the most valuable resource- Environment – essential for human survival continues to be exploited and appropriated by the west even beyond their national borders. Allowing over-consumption and non-payment of environmental debts has become a rigid element of their policies. The world does not lack the financial resources to establish a healthy environment on planet Earth. Over 745 billion dollars gets spent on military costs annually in the world whereas all the environmental problems such as global warming, providing safe and cleaner energy could be provided at 20% of this cost. What is lacking is the attitude and the need to change the resource flow equations and bring about policy changes in domestic arena. National benefits and immediate benefits supersede the need for equitable and inter-temporal sharing of benefits, and developing countries and its future generations are on the receiving end of the short-sighted policies of the west. As premium on environmental resources increase, the developed countries would be at a much powerful position to divest developing countries of all their environmental currency to add to their own reserves.  Eco-imperialism will then get embedded as yet another powerful means to wield global control.  

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Japan is the classical example of how ecological stability is purchased by rich industrialized developed nations:

Japan’s ecological relationship to the Southeast Asian region is a case in point. If there is any country whose population might be said to have outstripped its carrying capacity, it is Japan, a land with scarce natural resources and agricultural endowments. Japan depends on the outside for close to 100% of the key raw materials consumed by its industry. Yet its nearly 130 million people enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living and an environment more stable than that of many other countries. It is, however, prosperity and ecological stability that has been purchased by displacing the Japanese economy’s resource and environmental costs to Japan’s less prosperous and less powerful neighbors. Japan is the world’s largest consumer of tropical forest products, and it is its insatiable demand rather than local population growth that has been the main cause of rapid deforestation in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. To take one example, the area of the Philippines covered by forests dropped from 50% in 1950 to less than 20% by 1990; and 70% of the timber logged in that country is said to have found its way to Japan. Apart from devouring Southeast Asia’s forests, the Japanese economic machine is now exporting industrial pollution on a massive scale to the region. Highly-polluting resource-processing plants like copper smelters were relocated from Japan to the Philippines and Malaysia in the 1970s. This was followed in the mid-1980s by the large-scale migration of labour-intensive car and electronics assembly plants, along with their components suppliers, to Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. A third phase of industrial relocation began, with the transfer of pollution-intensive heavy and chemical industries to the region. So Japan has made its environment stable at the cost of degrading environment & depleting natural resources of its neighbors. 

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The figure below shows problems of global environment vis-à-vis developed and developing countries:

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Is environment protection more important than economic growth?

The stem of your question contains a false assumption, i.e. that environmental protection is more important than economic growth. In fact, not only are both important, but they are interdependent. Environmental protection is made possible by the revenues generated by economic growth. Environmental protections must be weighed against the economic costs. This seems unpleasant, but in fact a failure to do so results in less protection than could otherwise be achieved. Resources are finite, and it is best for man and the environment that those resources are concentrated on those measures which provide the maximum benefit for the cost (direct and indirect). The EPA places the value of a human life at about $7.9 million. Macroeconomics tells us that $1 removed from the economy will reduce overall economic activity by about $5. Thus, an environmental measure that costs (direct and indirect) $160 million dollars will likely reduce economic activity by $800 million, and cost approximately 100 human lives. When resources are finite (which is always), we must choose between competing measures. If we fail to take into account the human cost induced by the economic impact, we will choose to implement measures which are more costly than others which might provide as much or more benefit but with a lower human cost. To separate environmental (or other safety measures) from their economic costs results in poor choices, and less overall environmental protection than that which could have been attained with proper economic prioritization.

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Let me begin with largest democracy India vis-à-vis economy environment debate:

The Indian experience:

In the first flush of Independence, the top-most priority of the nation was bringing the light of knowledge and promise of two square meals a day to the ignorant and the starving millions of India. It was necessary to provide water for drinking and irrigation as well as electricity to run the engines of development. Ambitious schemes of hydroelectric power and irrigation dams were launched to obtain affordable power and irrigation for the masses. In the process, the mountainous and forest regions underwent massive upheavals to give way to underground tunnels, huge water reservoirs and long roads. While a very large number of people benefited from the irrigation, drinking water and electricity, substantial population of hill and tribal people, who drew their sustenance from their immediate hilly and forest environment, were displaced and underwent considerable hardship.

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In 57 years, at least 50 million people in India have been displaced by dams, mines, thermal power plants, corridor projects, field firing ranges, express highways, airports, national parks, sanctuaries, industrial townships, even poultry farms. They continue to pay the price for India’s ‘development’. The story of the displaced & suffering of the villagers is shocking and should lead to a comprehensive review of people whose lives have been destroyed in the name of development. Often, the government acquires land for say, a thermal power plant, in the public interest and later hands it over to a private company to build a cement factory. Or it constructs a dam for irrigation but diverts the water of the dam to private industrial zones when the project gets completed. In Maharashtra, a study done by a legislative committee in 2001 found that only about 18% of the water from irrigation projects actually gets used for agriculture. As things stand today, there’s no region in the country where people haven’t been displaced by development projects. And there’s no region in the country where you would find people rehabilitated according to their aspirations and priorities. This is India’s 21’st century catastrophe. A planning and development apocalypse. Where millions pay a price for the benefits of the political and economic elite. Where victims are still, oddly, described as ‘beneficiaries’. Where laws that throw people out are cruel, colonial and arbitrary. Where the policies of rehabilitation give little or no respite to those evicted. Where terms like ‘national’ or ‘public interest’ at once put these laws and policies beyond question.

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Many of these dams, constructed in ecologically fragile areas caused considerable damage to the soil and also created salinity and ravines. Moved by the pitiable plight of the hill and tribal people, some people took up their cause. They launched movements for protecting the interests of these vulnerable people and by implication the cause of protection of the environment .Two of the better known movements are ‘Chipko Andolan’ – preventing cutting of forest trees – and the Narmada Bachao Andolan – the movement to save the people living in the valley of river Narmada from displacement due to the construction of a massive dam. Environmentalists are not opposed to development per-se. They, however, oppose development at any cost. They favour sustainable development, which according to them can be achieved only by preservation and protection of ecological balance, the conservation of forests and the water bodies and the preservation of the flora and the fauna of the country. India is very rich in bio-diversity, which is its potential strength. Environmentalists want it to be preserved. Millions of plant and animal species of the Indian sub-continent should be zealously preserved and protected against extinction. Hybridization may increase the productivity of foodgrains in the short run. It should, however, be monitored and chocked if it is likely to lead to long term fall in overall productivity of soil.

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While the first three decades after independence have been characterised by an unrelenting demand for expansion of irrigation facilities, water supply, chemical fertilizers and electricity for developing agriculture, industry and thereby the general living standards of the masses, the last two decade have witnessed a growing stridency on the part of environmentalists seeking preservation of the flora and fauna and the protection of the ecologically fragile habitations of the hill and tribal people of the mountainous and forest regions. The protagonists of development can naturally depend on the political support and the pressure group of industry and business selling machines and material needed for lining the irrigation channels, energising the tubewells and improving the productivity of agriculture, the environmentalists derive their strength from the poor hill and tribal folk living in a symbiotic relationship with their immediate environment and to some extent from the unorganised and silent citizenry frightened by the hazy but certain prospects of environmental degradation due to denudation of hills, erosion of land and salinity of river basins.

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While many environmentalists hailed the government’s rejection of London-listed Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills, saying the decision was in favour of the poor tribal communities residing there; others contented that, had Vedanta succeeded in making aluminum close to a bauxite source, as it had planned in Orissa, world prices of aluminum could have fallen by half and India could have become an important aluminum producer. The Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment welcomed the environment ministry’s decision, saying that it was appalled at the way that Vedanta had been violating all laws. “This is certainly a decision which goes in favour of the poor and marginalised people of Orissa — a manifestation of ‘environmentalism of the poor’,” it said in a statement. Describing the decision a “great victory for India”, environmentalist Bittu Sehgal said, “This is a victory of common sense as these forests would have been badly affected by the mining, not just the people, but all the lions, elephants, everything.” In contradiction, Tavleen Singh wrote in her column in the Indian Express: “As someone who has actually been to Kalahandi, I would like to state clearly that the Adivasis (tribals) live in such horrible poverty and deprivation that such exalted ideas as cultural heritage are irrelevant. If Vedanta had succeeded in bringing schools, hospitals and employment to Kalahandi, it would have transformed the bleak, hopeless lives of those who live here.” That we need economic development to meet our most pressing challenge of bringing 400-500 million citizens out of poverty and deprivation are unarguable. Take a poll anywhere in India today and if asked to choose, a vast majority of Indians would choose economic development over environmental protection. It’s not necessarily right, but it reflects the priorities as people see it. Wallets will win over the environment for a vast majority.  

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But there is however a school of thought that believes that if we are genuinely concerned about preserving the environment, we must begin by ensuring that India does not make the same mistakes that other countries did when they were developing. The main cause of environmental degradation in India is extreme poverty. It reduces people like the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri to living conditions that are not much better than if they were still living in hunter-gatherer times. In tribal areas where development has failed to reach, often the only means of survival is what they call ‘slash and burn agriculture’. This method involves burning down forests for fuel and food. Only when development brings schools, hospitals, roads and public services, does this horrible practice stop. If the adivasis who live in the Niyamgiri hills were to discover that the bauxite that lies buried under their ‘sacred’ mountain could help them become rich and prosperous, they might not want Vedanta to leave. Tavleen Singh says that instead of banning projects essential to development, perhaps more focus should be spend on developing an environmental policy that would allow development and yet improve the environment. If Vedanta, for instance, needs to cut down trees to mine the bauxite reserves under the Niyamgiri hills, then it must take responsibility for reforestation elsewhere.

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The environment /climate change crisis and development needs of the India’s poor require us to acknowledge the necessity and urgency for both continued growth at the current pace, and rapid greening of this growth strategy. The threat of human-induced climate change poses a serious question to humanity: how can India achieve an all-rounded human development in the future without degrading our environment but are the aims of growth and environmental protection irredeemably incompatible? Thus serious environmental problems such as ecosystem disturbance, climate change, water and air pollution, and rising sea levels can be seen as the unintended consequences of the development process. The recent history of Indian economic growth has largely been achieved at the expense of the environment. Growth enables human development that includes non-income dimensions such as education, health, gender equality and freedom of expression, which are essential for human well-being.  Compared to developed nations, India is much more vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to their low capacity to adapt and their disproportionate dependency on natural resources for welfare. At first glance, it looks like whichever path India chooses it will not be able to attain over all development goals taken-up in our India’s 11th five year plan (2008 – 2013). The resource-intensive model of growth of the past fails not only because of the lack of cheap raw materials, but also because of the earth’s limited capacity to absorb carbon emissions and waste. Since environmental degradation will harm human productivity and welfare, the traditional economic growth pattern cannot be sustainable, and will eventually be self-defeating.

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It is clear that the devastation caused by the flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand was at least in part due to environmental degradation of fragile mountain slopes and reckless commercialization. It is for this reason that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) summoned the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the state government, to give details of upcoming projects pending clearance in the state and their ecological and environmental impact. On the other hand Bhutan, which is at the eastern end of Himalayas, has a carefully calibrated index of development, where economic needs, culture and environment are all taken into account and it can evidently serve as a role model for India. Dr. Manmohan Singh, the incumbent Prime Minister of India, emphatically stated that environmental concerns must not be taken so far that they end development. Environmental governance shall keep a check on economic development and vice versa. The idea is to strike a perfect balance. There shall emerge no single victor. Developing countries might never advance if environment is given the edge. There shall be equal opportunities for all while ensuring that we do not compromise our future existence. India as a developing country shall accede to implement the policy of sustainable development in all its schemes. Economic growth does entail some degree of environmental damage and India cannot afford to ban exploitation of minerals if it wishes to develop, the only limitation being utilization of natural resources to sustainable levels.  

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Was priority of development over environment caused Uttarakhand tragedy in India in 2013?

On June 16-17, Uttarakhand experienced heavy rainfall of 340-370 millimeters within 24 hours, leading to flash floods. But this was not unprecedented. In recent years, Uttarakhand has recorded single-day rainfall exceeding 400 mm several times, including 450 mm in 1995, and 900 mm in 1965. Cloudbursts, floods and rapid swelling of rivers too are not uncommon.  This time, however, the floodwaters, laden with many tones of silt, boulders and construction debris, found no other outlet than hundreds of villages and towns, and submerged some of their buildings under several feet of mud.  It will take years to roll back the ecological, social, economic and psychological damage including thousands of deaths that wrought by the terrible floods in Uttarakhand, India’s north Himalayan state. The deeper causes of this epic tragedy were man-made, not natural. They include official policies and governance failures: aggressive promotion and runaway growth of tourism; unchecked, unplanned development of roads, hotels, shops, mines and multi-storeyed housing in ecologically fragile areas; and above all, the planned development of scores of environmentally destructive hydroelectricity dams. These ensured that cloudbursts and heavy rainfall, which routinely occur in Uttarakhand, turned into a catastrophe. The worst culprits are hydroelectric dams, which have spread like a rash on Rivers Alaknanda, Mandakini and Bhagirathi and their tributaries. Seventy dams have already been built, including 23 mega-projects generating 100 MW-plus. According to the NGO People’s Science Institute, another 680 dams are in various stages of commissioning, construction or planning. Dams involve drilling huge tunnels in the hills by blasting rocks, placing enormous turbines in the tunnels, cutting forests to build water channels, roads and other infrastructure, and laying transmission lines. Many dams are built on the same river so close to one another that they leave no scope for the river’s regeneration. Hydroelectric dams steal water from people. They cause enormous destruction throughout their lifecycle by mining building materials, dumping debris, and altering the natural course of rivers. Uttarakhand’s 70 dams have led to interference with 640 kilometers of river flows, equivalent to half the length of the state’s major rivers.

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The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath:

On December 3, 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to dissociate itself from legal responsibility. Eventually it reached a settlement with the Indian Government through mediation of that country’s Supreme Court and accepted moral responsibility. It paid $470 million in compensation, a relatively small amount of based on significant underestimations of the long-term health consequences of exposure and the number of people exposed. The disaster indicated a need for enforceable international standards for environmental safety, preventative strategies to avoid similar accidents and industrial disaster preparedness.  Since the disaster, India has experienced rapid industrialization. While some positive changes in government policy and behavior of a few industries have taken place, major threats to the environment from rapid and poorly regulated industrial growth remain. Widespread environmental degradation with significant adverse human health consequences continues to occur throughout India.

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How Dahanu epitomizes environment vs. development debate:

A fierce environmental struggle won Dahanu the status of a protected, environmentally-sensitive region in 1991. Situated in the picturesque Sahyadari mountain range in western Maharastra, merely 125 km north of Mumbai, is the serene and sleepy region of Dahanu. Sandwiched between the chemical corridor of Vapi, Gujarat, to the north and the industrialised zones of Palghar-Boisar to the south, Dahanu remains one of the last surviving green zones in this region. Dahanu may have been saved from becoming a toxic hotspot like its neighbour Vapi. Additionally, the legal restrictions on industrialisation may have played some role in protecting the cultural identity and livelihoods of the diverse communities of Dahanu. However, for environmental justice and equitable growth to happen in tandem, much more would need to be done. Efforts to create a parallel economy based on rural tourism are options that need to be urgently explored. The need of the hour is to demonstrate alternative and sustainable forms of development that are economically and ecologically viable. Whether the battle for ecological equity inevitably compromises opportunities for economic development is a question the communities of Dahanu have grappled with for over a decade. While there may be no simple answer, Dahanu’s communities live in a paradoxical reality. Even as the environmental movement has sheltered them from the hazards of unregulated industrialisation, it has been unable to provide an alternative viable reality, while restricting many of the benefits of the modern economy. In other words, when you singularly protect your environment, your economic development suffers and your people remain in lower standard of living.

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Dahanu Thermal Power Station (DTPS):

The ISO certification has been awarded to DTPS (Dahanu Thermal Power Station) for its energy management systems, commitment and endeavors in the field of energy use and environment conservation. ISO 50001:2011 is the new global standard for Energy Management developed by the International Standard Organization. Effective energy management is a priority focus because of the significant potential to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. The ISO 50001:2011 is awarded to all the organizations and their activities; if they can demonstrate and showcase commitment towards environment, conservation, social accountability and energy management. DTPS is the first power station in India that has received certifications in quality, environment, occupational health & safety, social accountability, IT security and energy management. This 500-MW power plant supplies electricity to Mumbai.  

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How casteism affects environment in India?

India has deeply entrenched caste lines. People of superior castes believe that certain activities should be carried out only by those from the lower strata of the society. Cleaning drains and toilets and picking rags from the streets are expected to be carried out by these people. If these workers go on leave, no individual from the upper echelons of the society would engage himself in such work. Young individuals from lower castes no longer wants to continue with this petty work and want to pursue something that is socially more acceptable. It has widened the demand-and-supply gap resulting in squalid surroundings. If people understand their duties and change their outlook a bit, the problem can be readily solved. As has been practiced in the developed countries for years now, home owners should themselves collect and dump the garbage at the local collection point. They should not look down upon this because keeping’s one’s surroundings clean is not disrespectable. They should also not expect someone else to do this on their behalf just because that person stands lower on the social ladder.

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India is burning–and, in a similar way, it is eroding, melting, drying, silting up, and suffocating. Across the country, rivers and lakes and glaciers are disappearing, underground aquifers being depleted, air quality declining, beaches being swept away. The numbers are astounding. According to a government report, almost half of India’s land suffered from some kind of erosion. Seventy percent of its surface water was polluted. Earlier this year, a study conducted by Yale and Columbia universities concluded that India had the worst air quality in the world. Experts estimate that, if it were quantified, the cost of environmental damage in India would shave anywhere from 2.5 to 4 percent of GDP. The nation’s emerging environmental calamity threatens to overshadow–and undermine–its phenomenal growth.

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India must look at green growth: World Bank report:

According to the assessment done by the authors of the report, the annual cost of environmental degradation in India amounts to about Rs 3.75 trillion ($80 billion) equivalent to 5.7% of GDP. It focuses on particle pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, which has serious health consequences amounting to up to three per cent of India’s GDP along with losses due to lack of access to clean water supply, sanitation and hygiene and natural resources depletion. India can make green growth a reality by putting in place strategies to reduce environmental degradation at the minimal cost of 0.02% to 0.04% of average annual GDP growth rate. According to another World Bank report, this will allow India to maintain a high pace of economic growth without jeopardizing future environmental sustainability.

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From India let me go to China on the same subject:

Is Environmentally Sustainable Economic Growth possible in China?

Ask Chinese officials why their nation’s environment is so toxic; you’ll get a list of scientific-sounding explanations. The population is huge and dense. Arable land per capita is alarmingly sparse. Despite stunning rates of economic growth, many Chinese remain poor and rural, prone to ungreen behaviors such as tossing pollutants and trash into the rivers. But the real question is why China fares poorly in Yale and Columbia’s Environmental Performance Index (it ranks 101st overall, but dead last in its income category). Its weaknesses are legion: air pollution, stifling levels of industrial ozone, poor fishing practices, bad water quality and other ills. The problem is not a lack of good intentions. For years then President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have been reciting the mantra of sustainable development (and, for good measure, “Green Olympics”). They’ve set serious goals but have yet to institute the tough regulatory reforms needed to achieve them. Enforcement lags and market mechanisms aren’t in place to give industry incentives to adopt green practices. Groundbreaking initiatives—most recently an effort to establish a “Green GDP” to measure the environmental progressiveness of each province—have languished due to lack of cooperation within the government.

China’s environmental headaches run the gamut, but most can be linked to the scorching pace of economic growth. Factories that emit copious amounts of smog, soot and carbon have sprouted quickly and cheaply. Polluting, unsafe coal mines are so busy (and lucrative) that coal czars are loath to curb China’s overriding dependence on coal as an energy source. As a result, China scores poorly on key categories such as water pollution, industrial CO2 emissions and indoor air pollution (which in some cases is linked to the prevalent use of burning coal bricks for warmth during winter). One third of China’s rivers and three quarters of its major lakes are “highly polluted,” according to the OECD, which late last year reported that up to 300 million people drink contaminated water. Some argue that China is able to contain, and to some extent improve, air and water quality for the urban population at the local level. The situation is uneven when it comes to problems at the regional level. On the one hand, surface water quality in the South is improving and particle emissions are stable. On the other hand, nitrogen oxide emissions are increasing rapidly and sulfur oxide emissions have been on the rise until very recently, despite intense official pressure to bring sulfur emissions down. China’s CO2 emissions have grown rapidly in recent years, causing global concern. We hope that future growth in CO2 emissions is likely to be slower and also hope that China shall follow a path similar to the one taken by more industrialized countries.

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Pollute First, Control Later: China follows the west:

Throughout history, no nation has emerged as a major industrial and economic power without inflicting substantial environmental damage.  “Pollute first, control later,” model of economic development has been followed in the past by other countries such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, but each of these countries was able to effectively address the consequent environmental degradation after their respective economies matured. In recent years China has also followed this trend, but on an entirely unparalleled scale.  As mentioned below, however, China’s situation is unique in that the nation faces the consequences of severe environmental degradation well before economic maturation and as it continues to strive for maximum economic growth. Over the past two decades China has experienced unprecedented economic growth; unfortunately, this torrid growth has also been accompanied by unprecedented environmental degradation. Unlike previous nations that caused environmental damage at a more modest rate on their marches toward economic strength, China has incurred severe environmental costs well before the maturation of its economic development. As such, China is essentially “a teenage smoker with emphysema.” The deterioration of China’s environment has been severe, pervasive, and unrelenting. China is commonly considered to have the worst urban air pollution in the world, and a 2005 World Bank study found that sixteen of the world’s most polluted cities are in China. Only one percent of China’s 560 million urban residents breathe air considered safe by the European Union, and the Chinese Ministry of Health says that pollution has made cancer the leading cause of death in the country. Additionally, 300 million Chinese citizens, approximately the population of the United States, lack access to safe drinking water. Desertification in China has been severe and has led to increased sand and dust storms that travel to South Korea and Japan. Additionally, a significant amount of pollution in the United States can be attributed to China, including more than a quarter of the atmospheric pollution over Los Angeles, California. In fact, environmental experts predict that China will eventually account for one-third of the air pollution in the entire state of California. Environmental accidents have also directly impacted other countries. In the Songhua River case, because the Songhua flows into the Heilong River that eventually becomes Russia’s Amur River, the toxic chemicals ultimately contaminated Russian waters. As China continues to face severe environmental degradation as a side effect of torrid economic growth and rise in population, the Chinese government has promulgated numerous environmental laws over the past few decades to address this critical issue. The efficacy of these laws, however, has been highly questionable. Although the laws themselves—modeled substantially on United States and European environmental laws—are relatively complete and comprehensive, difficulties in implementation and particularly enforcement have led to the continued deterioration of China’s environment. These failures in implementation and enforcement of environmental laws emerge from numerous factors, most notably from the decentralized structure of China’s environmental protection agency, from china’s underdeveloped legal system, and from the country’s insistent prioritization of continued economic growth over environmental protection.

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The relationship between Economic Growth and the Environment:

Will the world be able to sustain economic growth indefinitely without running into resource constraints or despoiling the environment beyond repair? What is the relationship between steadily increasing incomes and environmental quality? Can we sustain economic growth while the environment is continually degraded? Is the environment at the terminal stage? Is salvation just round the bend? We must attend these pertinent and urgent questions, lest we reach the terminal, blind and unwitting.  Scholars are divided on this issue.

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For some social and physical scientists such as Georgescu-Roegen (1971), Meadows et al. (1972), Ehrlich and Holdren (1971), (1974), and Cleveland (1984), higher levels of economic activity (production and consumption) require larger inputs of energy and material, and generate larger quantities of waste byproducts. Increased extraction of natural resources, accumulation of waste, and concentration of pollutants would overwhelm the carrying capacity of the biosphere and result in the degradation of environmental quality and decline in human welfare, despite rising incomes (Daly 1977). Furthermore, it is argued that degradation of the resource base would eventually put economic activity itself at risk (Jansson et al. 1994). To save the environment and even economic activity from itself, economic growth must cease and the world must make a transition to a steady-state economy. At the other extreme, are those who argue that the fastest road to environmental improvement is along the path of economic growth: with higher incomes comes an increased demand for goods and services that are less material-intensive, and for improved environmental quality that leads to the adoption of environmental protection measures. As Beckerman (1992) puts it, “The strong correlation between incomes, and the extent to which environmental protection measures are adopted, demonstrates that in the longer run, the surest way to improve your environment is to become rich,” (quoted by Rothman 1998, pp. 178). Some went as far as claiming that environmental regulation, by reducing economic growth, may actually be reducing environmental quality (Barlett1994). Yet, others (e.g., Shafik and Bandyopadhyay (1992), Panayotou (1993), Grossman and Krueger (1993) and Selden and Song (1994)) have hypothesized that the relationship between economic growth and environmental quality, whether positive or negative, is not fixed along a country’s development path; indeed it may change sign from positive to negative as a country reaches a level of income at which people demand and afford more efficient infrastructure and a cleaner environment. The implied inverted-U relationship between environmental degradation and economic growth came to be known as the “Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC),” by analogy with the income-inequality relationship postulated by Kuznets (1965, 1966) [vide infra]. At low levels of development, both the quantity and the intensity of environmental degradation are limited to the impacts of subsistence economic activity on the resource base and to limited quantities of biodegradable wastes. As agriculture and resource extraction intensifies and industrialization takes off, both resource depletion and waste generation accelerate. At higher levels of development, structural change towards information-based industries and services, more efficient technologies, and increased demand for environmental quality result in leveling-off and a steady decline of environmental degradation (Panayotou1993). The issue of whether environmental degradation (a) increases monotonically, (b) decreases monotonically, or (c) first increases and then declines along a country’s development path, has critical implications for policy. A monotonic increase of environmental degradation with economic growth calls for strict environmental regulations and even limits on economic growth to ensure a sustainable scale of economic activity within the ecological life-support system (Arrow et al. 1995). A monotonic decrease of environmental degradation along a country’s development path suggests that policies that accelerate economic growth lead also to rapid environmental improvements and no explicit environmental policies are needed; indeed, they may be counterproductive if they slow down economic growth and thereby delay environmental improvement. Finally, if the Environmental Kuznets Curve hypothesis is supported by evidence, development policies have the potential of being environmentally benign over the long run, (at high incomes), but they are also capable of significant environmental damage in the short-to-medium run (at low-to-medium-level incomes). In this case, several issues arise: (1) At what level of per capita income is the turning point? (2) How much damage would have taken place by then and can it be reduced? (3) Would any ecological thresholds be violated and irreversible damages take place before environmental degradation turns down, and how can they be avoided? (4) Is environmental improvement at higher income levels automatic, or does it require conscious institutional and policy reforms? and (5) How to accelerate the development process so that poor countries can experience the same improved economic and environmental conditions enjoyed by developed countries?

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There are plenty of studies that suggest that the relationship between economic growth and environmental quality – whether inverse or direct — is not fixed along a country’s development path. Indeed, it may change as a country reaches a level of income at which people can demand and afford a more efficient infrastructure and a cleaner environment. This implied inverted-U relationship between environmental degradation and economic growth came to be known as the “Environmental Kuznets Curve, (EKC)” by analogy with the income-inequality relationship postulated by Kuznets (1965, 1966). The EKC takes after the name of Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets who had famously hypothesized an inverted ‘U’ income-inequality relationship (Kuznets, 1955). Later economists found this hypothesis analogous to the income-pollution relationship and popularized the phrase Environmental Kuznets Curve.

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Kuznets curve:

Kuznets was a USA economist of Russian extraction. In 1955 he advanced the hypothesis that during the process of industrialization of presently developed nations, income inequality in society initially increased, later ceased to increase and eventually began to decrease (Kuznets, 1955). This sequence was tied up with the gradual process of urbanization. A Kuznets curve is the graphical representation of Simon Kuznets’ hypothesis that as a country develops, there is a natural cycle of economic inequality driven by market forces which at first increases inequality, and then decreases it after a certain average income is attained. Overall then, Kuznets postulated that over time during the development of modern industrial economies, income inequality first rose, then leveled off and subsequently declined. However, this change must be viewed against the background of overall economic growth and the fact that average per capita income rose over time (except during catastrophic periods such as wars). So that if one plots income inequality against per capita income one gets a bell shaped, or inverted U-shaped curve.

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Original kuznets curve:

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Transition from income inequality to environmental degradation vis-à-vis economic growth:

In 1991, the Kuznets Curve took on a new existence. It became a vehicle for describing the relationship between measured levels of environmental quality, such as the concentration of sulfur dioxide emissions, and related measures of per capita income, across time. During the 1990s several workers found evidence suggesting that with some indicators of environmental degradation (mainly indicators of atmospheric pollution), in the early stages of economic growth (with average income rising from a low level) environmental degradation increases, but at some stage in economic growth (at some income level) pollution ceases to increase and subsequently decreases. As economists were able to marshal data on the environment for larger samples of countries and income levels, evidence began to mount that as countries develop, certain measures of the quality of life might initially deteriorate but then improve. Specifically, there is evidence that the level of environmental degradation and conventionally measured per capita income follows the same inverted-U-shaped relationship as does income inequality and per capita income in the original Kuznets curve. Graphically, this relationship shows an inverted U-shaped curve when degradation per capita (y axis) is plotted against GDP per capita (x axis). The resemblance of this relationship to the one studied by Kuznets led to the curve being named the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). Generalizing to total environmental degradation, the hypothesis was born that environmental quality deteriorates in the early stages of economic growth but improves at later stages; further, there is a causal connection between economic growth (usually measured by income per capita) and this pathway of change of environmental quality. The hypothesis was named the EKC hypothesis.

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At low levels of development, both the quantity and the intensity of environmental degradation are limited to the impacts of subsistence economic activity on the resource base and to limited quantities of biodegradable wastes. As agriculture and resource extraction intensifies and industrialization takes off, both resource depletion and waste generation accelerate. At higher levels of development, structural change towards information-based industries and services, more efficient technologies, and increased demand for environmental quality result in leveling-off and a steady decline of environmental degradation, as seen in the figure below.

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The Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) hypothesis postulates an inverted-U-shaped relationship between different pollutants and per capita income, i.e., environmental pressure increases up to a certain level as income goes up; after that, it decreases. An EKC actually reveals how a technically specified measurement of environmental quality changes as the fortunes of a country change. A sizeable literature on EKC has grown in recent period. The common point of all the studies is the assertion that the environmental quality deteriorates at the early stages of economic development/growth and subsequently improves at the later stages. In other words, environmental pressure increases faster than income at early stages of development and slows down relative to GDP growth at higher income levels.

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Researchers in a study examined various environmental indicators and level of country’s per capita income. The study covered 4 types of indicators:

1. Concentration of urban air pollution

2. Measures of the state of oxygen regime in regime in river basins

3. Concentrations of fecal contaminants in river basins

4. Concentration of heavy metals in river basins

Researchers found no evidence that environmental quality deteriorates steadily with economic growth. Rather, for most indicators, economic growth brings an initial phase of environmental deterioration followed by a subsequent phase of improvement.  The turning points of different pollutants vary, but in most cases they come before a country reaches per capita income of 8000 $. 

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The logic of EKC relation is intuitively appealing. In the first stage of industrialization, pollution grows rapidly because high priority is given to increase material output, and people are more interested in jobs and income than clean air and water (Dasgupta et al., 2002). The rapid growth inevitably results in greater use of natural resources and emission of pollutants, which in turn put more pressure on environment. People are too poor to pay for abatement, and/or disregard environmental consequences of growth. In later stage of industrialization, as income rises, people value the environment more, regulatory institutions become more effective and pollution level declines. Thus, EKC hypothesis posits a well-defined relationship between level of economic activity and environmental pressure (defined as the level of concentration of pollution or flow of emissions, depletion of resources, etc.). An Environmental Kuznets Curve reveals how a technically specified measurement of environmental quality changes as the fortunes of a country or a large human community change. In brief, Environmental Kuznets Curves are statistical artifacts that summarize a few important aspects of collective human behavior in two-dimensional space.

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Panayotou (2003) suggests the following 3 reasons for the inversion of pollution.

1. The turning point for pollution is the result of more affluent and progressive communities placing greater value on the cleaner environment and thus putting into place institutional and non-institutional measures to affect this.

2. Pollution increases at the early phase of a country’s industrialization due to the setting up of rudimentary, inefficient and polluting industries. When industrialization is sufficiently advanced, service industries will gain prominence. This will reduce pollution further.

3. When a country begins industrialization, the scale effect will take place and pollution increases. Further along the trajectory, firms switching to less-polluting industries results in the composition effect, which levels the rate of pollution. Finally, the technique effect comes into play when mature companies invest in pollution abatement equipment and technology, which reduces pollution.

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The figure below depicts various stages of economic development vis-à-vis environmental degradation:

 

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The EKC results have shown that economic growth could be compatible with environmental improvement if appropriate policies are taken. It is a significant condition that only when income grows, the effective environmental policies can be implemented.

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Criticisms of kuznets curve:

Despite concerns over adequacy of data sources and criticisms of methodology, it is generally agreed that an inverted U-shaped relationship (the EKC) between economic growth, usually measured as per capita GDP, and some indicators of environmental quality has been found. And the causes of this EKC have been largely unraveled. To some extent, technological improvements, and shifts in relative importance of sectors of the economy, especially the movement away from energy intensive manufacturing industries to service industries (composition effects), which have been normal elements of economic growth, have been causal factors. Economic growth then has been a causal factor of the EKC. But economic growth per se does not alone produce the EKC. Combinations of other factors seem to be essential for the EKC to develop. These include various aspects of a country’s environmental regulatory system, including standards, implementation and enforcement mechanisms, and associated institutions. Property rights also are important. A high general administrative, political, scientific and technical capability seems also to be a hallmark of countries where the EKC relationship has developed. The impact of economic development on the environment is clearly complex in nature. It is important to note, however, that whilst economic growth may facilitate some environmental improvements, this is not an automatic process and will only result from investment and policy initiatives.  On the other hand, and although the evidence is somewhat conflicting, corruption, a high degree of income inequality, low level of literacy, lack of political rights and civil liberties, may impede the development of the EKC relationship.

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Environmental indicators that have shown the EKC relationship are primarily pollutants, especially air quality indicators. And these are primarily pollutants which have a direct effect on human health rather than pollutants that have little direct impact on health. Some water quality indicators have shown the EKC, but for some others an N-shaped rather than an inverted U-shaped relationship has been detected. Leaving aside pollutants and water quality indicators, a wide variety of other environmental indicators do not show evidence of the EKC. Environmental problems having a direct impact on human health, such as access to urban sanitation and clean water, usually tend to improve steadily with economic growth, according to Dinda (2004), who also observes however, that when environmental problems can be externalized, as with municipal solid wastes, improvement may not occur even at high income levels. It is when we come to look at indicators of resource use that we especially find a dearth of evidence for the EKC. Perhaps the most studied resource is forests, and here the evidence on deforestation is conflicting, although it seems likely that the EKC relationship may have been found in some parts of the world. If we are interested in the global significance of EKCs, it is worth remembering that the existence of an EKC demonstrated on data from individual countries, does not necessarily mean that the beneficial effect for the particular indicator concerned applies to global levels of environmental degradation, i.e. does not necessarily imply global benefit. For it does seem to be generally agreed that there is at least some truth in the Pollution Haven Hypothesis (PHH). However, since opinions seem still to be divided on the significance of the PHH, one should perhaps not stress its possible significance.

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Studies contradicting EKC:

The evidence presented in a paper show that the statistical analysis on which the environmental Kuznets curve is based is not robust. There is little evidence for a common inverted U-shaped pathway that countries follow as their income rises. There may be an inverted U shaped relation between urban ambient concentrations of some pollutants and income though this should be tested with more rigorous time-series or panel data methods. It seems unlikely that the EKC is an adequate model of emissions or concentrations. The researcher concurs with Copeland and Taylor (2004), who state that: ‘‘our review of both the theoretical and empirical work on the EKC leads us to be skeptical about the existence of a simple and predictable relationship between pollution and per capita income.’’ The EKC proposes that indicators of environmental degradation first rise, and then fall with increasing income per capita. Recent evidence shows however, that developing countries are addressing environmental issues, sometimes adopting developed country standards with a short time lag and sometimes performing better than some wealthy countries, and that the EKC results have a very flimsy statistical foundation.

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Another study revealed that while income appears to have a beneficial effect on pollution measures, it has a detrimental effect on most eco-efficiency measures of environmental sustainability, ceteris paribus. This suggests that the Environmental Kuznets Curve needs to be renamed as the “Pollution” Kuznets Curve in order to give correct impression that not all environmental measures but only pollution measures may improve with income. This also suggests that while conventional policies focus more on pollution control, they need to be combined with policy options focusing on eco-efficiency aspects of environmental sustainability in the process of economic development. Otherwise, economic growth will continue to degrade environmental sustainability in most countries.

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Limit to economical growth approach:

Global economic growth – in its current form – cannot continue if nations are serious about curbing climate change, says Andrew Simms. He warns that the consumer society cannot “have its planet and eat it”. From birth until it reaches sexual maturity at about six weeks, a hamster doubles its weight each week. If, instead of leveling-off in maturity, it carried on growing – continuing to double its weight each week – we would be facing a nine-billion-tone hamster on its first birthday. If it kept eating at the same ratio of food to bodyweight, the hamster’s daily intake would be greater than the total, annual amount of maize produced worldwide. In nature, there is a reason why things do not grow indefinitely. Yet the entire canon of mainstream contemporary economics seems to believe that economics exists independent of the laws of biology, chemistry and physics. It assumes, without exception, that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is both desirable and possible. For example, a group of researchers in 1972 used an early computer model to compare available natural resources with rates of human consumption. Their “world model” was published as the famous Limits to Growth report. Back then, much less data and processing power were available. As a result, for some it acted as a wake-up call, but many others mocked it and used the report to brand the wider environmental movement as alarmist. In 2008, a physicist called Graham Turner decided to look again at the controversial report. He compared its original projections with 30 years’ worth of subsequent observed trends. Amazingly, given the available technology and data, he concluded that they “compared favourably”. The authors of Limits to Growth had been broadly right all along.  We shouldn’t be surprised. At what point, and on what basis, did consumer society ever truly believe that it could have its planet and eat it? Jared Diamond’s book Collapse tells the history of societies throughout history that fell by overshooting their environmental life support systems. He charts how wealth too often comes at the expense of liquidating natural capital and how, in environmental terms, “an impressive-looking bank account may conceal a negative cash flow”. Based on the leading models for climate change and the global economy’s use of fossil fuels, the report – called Growth Isn’t Possible – comes to a seemingly inescapable and self-explanatory conclusion. In a unique study, published in the science journal Nature in September 2009, a group of 29 leading international scientists identified nine processes in the biosphere for which they considered it necessary to “define planetary boundaries”.  Of the nine, three boundaries had already been transgressed: climate change, interference in the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss. Assuming that humanity does not deliberately wish to destroy its own foundations, and with so much science and sophisticated monitoring available, why is this happening?  For all the promise of magic bullet technologies, continual growth drowns out energy and natural resource efficiency gains.  Even efficiency gains themselves do not necessarily reduce consumption. Counter-intuitively, greater energy efficiency tends to reduce costs and drive up overall consumption. There is a growing awareness too that, at least where rich countries are concerned, the downside of growth comes with very little or no upside.  For most of these nations, the link between rising GDP and higher life satisfaction broke down decades ago. Lord Adair Turner, chairman of both the UK Financial Services Authority and the UK Climate Change Committee, recently described the pursuit of endless rich country growth a “false god”.  Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said GDP growth was “proving to be an extremely harmful way of measuring economic progress”.

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Environmentalists Winin Pereira and Jeremy Seabrook (1991) also dispute the idea that high living standards, which they define as ‘the widespread consumption of large volumes of goods and services,’ can be sustained. No matter how much recycling and reuse occurs, the energy component in all manufactured goods and services cannot be recycled and inevitably creates pollution. They say: ‘Economic growth can be made compatible with environmental enhancement only if the emission of pollution is less than that which can be assimilated and transformed by the natural environment. In order that resources may be conserved, all articles must be manufactured so as to be fully recyclable. Further, they must be manufactured, transported, used, and recycled with energy from renewable sources only.’  However, complete recycling is not possible, since some materials are always lost through wear and tear, and corrosion. Moreover, Trainer claims that even if pollution generated by manufacturing could be cut by 30 percent, while manufacturing grew at 3 percent per year, the gains would be lost in 13 years — and there would be twice as much pollution as we started with in 23 years’ time. At this rate of growth (3 percent), Australia would be producing eight times as many goods in 2050 as it is now. Limits to growth advocates argued that economic growth in general needed to be curbed whilst sustainable developers argue that economic growth should continue everywhere. What neither advocates nor opponents of economic growth seem to recognise is that economic growth in a particular country can be beneficial up to a point, beyond which the disadvantages begin outweighing the advantages.

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But critics argued that even if notional limits were identifiable they could be extended through scientific and technological innovation and that economic growth was necessary to finance and motivate such innovation. The focus of early limits to growth writings on the depletion of resources such as oil and minerals, left them particularly open to this criticism and the lack of global shortages in subsequent years served more than anything else to discredit their arguments. Also the limits to growth advocates neglected to consider the social implications of no-growth policies and the social imperatives behind economic growth. Economic growth provided increasing living standards for many people in affluent countries and it was seen to be necessary to provide similar benefits for the remaining poor in those countries and for the populations of developing nations. Those who argued for limits to growth were accused of being elitist and of emphasizing the environment at the expense of the quality of human life. Many did not differentiate between economic growth in affluent countries and economic growth in developing countries. Nor did they recognise that population growth in affluent countries could be far more environmentally damaging than population growth in poorer countries where resource use per person was low. 

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Contrary to the concept of limit to growth approach is the concept of sustainable development. The limits-to-growth model has been replaced with the sustainable development model, and the ’gloom and doom’ scenario has been replaced with ‘win-win’ solutions. Sustainable development seeks to make the competing goals of economic growth and environmental protection compatible. Is this possible? And does it represent an eclipse of the ethical and political dimensions of environmental problems by economic interests and priorities?

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Environmental sustainability: 

Environmental sustainability is the process of making sure current processes of interaction with the environment are pursued with the idea of keeping the environment as pristine as naturally possible based on ideal-seeking behavior. Thus, environmental sustainability demands that society designs activities to meet human needs while indefinitely preserving the life support systems of the planet. This, for example, entails using water sustainably, only utilizing renewable energy, and sustainable material supplies (e.g. harvesting wood from forests at a rate that maintains the biomass and biodiversity). An “unsustainable situation” occurs when natural capital (the sum total of nature’s resources) is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity only uses nature’s resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. Inherently the concept of sustainable development is intertwined with the concept of carrying capacity. Theoretically, the long-term result of environmental degradation is the inability to sustain human life. Such degradation on a global scale should imply extinction for humanity.

Consumption of renewable resources State of environment Sustainability
Moe than nature’s ability to replenish Environmental degradation Not sustainable
Equal to nature’s ability to replenish Environmental equilibrium Steady state economy
Less than nature’s ability to replenish Environmental renewal Environmentally sustainable

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Sustainable development (SD):

Sustainable development is defined as a development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of nature generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development includes: The idea of cost effective development which neither impairs the environment nor restrains productivity in the long run; Reducing the exploitation of non- renewable resource and expanding the use of renewable ones; Shifting to a greater local control over resources and their use by providing for greater decentralization and more local decision making and directing economic activities to the micro-level in order to reach indigenous and poor social groups. Sustainable development does not mean stopping economic growth. Ecological concepts can be combined with economic progress.

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Sustainable development refers to a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while ensuring the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come. The term ‘sustainable development’ was used by the Brundtland Commission, which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It has two key concepts:

1. The concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

2. The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.  

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Sustainable development has become one of the “buzz words” and strongest leitmotivs of modern politics, economics and media; it’s seen as the way that we simultaneously promote economical growth and technological progress while safeguarding our planets natural resources. And the reason the concept has gained so much traction within organizations that traditionally wouldn’t buy-in to the economic space is because nations (particularly the likes of the US and the EU) have started to understand the economic opportunity sustainable development (in the form of green technology and environmental services) present for future economic growth and, simultaneously, the economic cost of inaction in the form of the growing cost of correcting negative externalities from traditional development methods.

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In 1982, the British Government began using the term ‘sustainability’ to refer to sustainable economic expansion rather than the sustainable use of resources. In the mid-1980s the World Commission on Environment and Development popularized the term ‘sustainable development’ in its Brundtland Report (1990). The Commission defined sustainable development as: ‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ In October 1987, the goal of sustainable development was largely accepted by the governments of 100 nations and approved by the UN General Assembly.  Sustainable development recognizes that economic growth can harm the environment but argues that it does not need to. This new formulation of the term ‘sustainability’ still offends more radical environmentalists. The term ‘sustainable’ from the ecological point of view means the maintenance of the integrity of the ecology. It means a harmonious relation between humanity and nature, that is, harmony in the interaction between individual human beings and in their interaction with natural resources.  ‘The term ‘sustainable’ from the point of view of non-ecological elites means ‘how to continue to sustain the supply of raw materials when the existing sources of raw materials run out’. (1990, p. 16) However, for more conservative environmentalists and for economists, politicians, business people and others, the concept of sustainable development offers the opportunity to overcome previous differences and conflicts, and to work together towards achieving common goals rather than confronting each other over whether economic growth should be encouraged or discouraged.

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Sustainable development means that the needs of the present generation should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability is the key to preventing or reducing the effect of environmental issues. Environmental sustainability is the process of making sure current processes of interaction with the environment are pursued with the idea of keeping the environment as pristine as naturally possible based on ideal-seeking behavior. Ecosystems are dynamic interactions between plants, animals, and microorganisms and their environment working together as a functional unit. Ecosystems will fail if they do not remain in balance. No community can carry more organisms than its food, water, and shelter can accommodate. Food and territory are often balanced by natural phenomena such as fire, disease, and the number of predators. Each organism has its own niche, or role, to play. The environment of our planet is degrading at an alarming rate because of non-sustainable urbanization, industrialization and agriculture. Our air, water, land and food are polluted. Pollution rate has exceeded the manageable capacity of nature at many places. Almost 50% of the land is eroded and robbed of its fertility. The extent of damage done to the world’s biological diversity and ecosystem cannot be assessed. Our renewable and non-renewable resources are being alarmingly exhausted due to increasing population pressure posing difficulty to manage threat to future generation. Environmental issues are receiving utmost attention and have been debated at various international forums e.g. the first Earth Summit held in Stockholm, Sweden in June 1972; the second one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. The European Council in Göteborg (2001) adopted the first EU Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS). This was complemented by an external dimension in 2002 by the European Council in Barcelona in view of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (2002), the Montreal and Kyoto Protocols etc. The European Council of June 2006 adopted an ambitious and comprehensive renewed Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) for an enlarged EU. The European Commission adopted in October 2007 the first progress report on the Sustainable Development Strategy and in July 2009 reviews of EU SDS. Declarations of far reaching consequences were made at these summits. But current approaches in environmental protection have shifted from the end of pipe mitigation to zero emission strategies and to 3 R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle waste. Every nation desires economic growth, and at the same time it craves for eco-conservation and sustainable development. Administrative authorities are required to frame plans, programs and policies for a better scientific and technological development of production, distribution and consumption processes with sustainability. Green technology concepts are emerging as the future strategy for environmental management. It has become a challenge for scientists to devise remedial measures to control pollution levels and safeguard the future.

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Sustainable development is not about giving priority to environmental concerns: it is about incorporating environmental assets into the economic system to ensure its reproduction. Sustainable development encompasses the idea that the loss of environmental values can be compensated for by wealth creation; that putting a price on the environment will help us protect it unless degrading it is more profitable; that the “free” market is the best way of allocating environmental resources; that businesses should base their decisions about polluting behaviour on economic considerations and the quest for profit; that economic growth is necessary for environmental protection and therefore should take priority over it. “Sustainable development” involves a cooption of the term “sustainability” which once represented ideas of stability, equilibrium and harmony with nature.

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Economic growth will remain the basis for human development, but it must change and become less environmentally destructive. The challenge of sustainable development is to put this understanding into practice, changing our unsustainable ways into more sustainable ones. The aim of sustainable development is to balance our economic, environmental and social needs, allowing prosperity for now and future generations. Sustainable development consists of a long-term, integrated approach to developing and achieving a healthy community by jointly addressing economic, environmental, and social issues, whilst avoiding the over consumption of key natural resources. Sustainable development encourages us to conserve and enhance our resource base, by gradually changing the ways in which we develop and use technologies. Countries must be allowed to meet their basic needs of employment, food, energy, water and sanitation. If this is to be done in a sustainable manner, then there is a definite need for a sustainable level of population. Economic growth should be supported and developing nations should be allowed a growth of equal quality to the developed nations. 

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The Critical Triangle of Development:

 

The figure above shows three pillars of sustainability. Economy is a system developed by society that governs the goods and services used to fulfill needs. The goods and services required are sourced from the environment in which society lives. This figure demonstrates that society and the economy that governs it are both smaller subsets of the environment which supports both. The interaction between these systems is evident.

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Sustainable development can best be visualized in the ‘critical triangle’ of development, with three Es: environment (ecological development), equity (social development) and economic development. Economic development has to do with creation of material wealth (goods and services) to meet the human basic needs. Sustainable development should also guarantee inter and intra generation equality with respect to meeting all basic needs. Ecological development means protection and conservation of our natural resources. These three are inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing components of SD. It is certain that, with one fifth of humanity living in dire poverty, and many more in conditions of acute insecurity, the needs of the present generation are not being met.

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The above approach is challenged to the extent that it treats the economy as the master domain, or as a domain that exists outside of the social; it treats the environment as a world of natural metrics; and it treats the social as a miscellaneous collection of extra things that do not fit into the economic or environmental domains. In the alternative Circles of Sustainability approach, the economic domain is defined as the practices and meanings associated with the production, use, and management of resources, where the concept of ‘resources’ is used in the broadest sense of that word.

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Although sustainable development means many different things to different people, sustainable development generally refers to sustainability in terms of environmental, economic, and social progress and equity, all interconnected and operating within the limits of natural resources. At the heart of such development is the goal of a healthy and harmonious relationship between humans and natural resources, such that the latter can continue to provide for future generations of the former. Among the most important resources that must be sustained are energy resources. Alternative and renewable energy sources, particularly clean energy sources, are necessary components of any plan of sustainable development. Such sources include biofuels, geothermal power, solar power, wind power, and wave power. In the short term, any technology that improves energy efficiency may be considered a component of the transition to sustainable energy practices. Biofuels in particular can be produced from almost any organic carbon source (Adkin, 1998). However, most biofuels are produced using plants and plant derived materials. The first generation of biofuels includes vegetable oils, biodiesel, bioalcohols, and solid biofuels such as wood, grass cuttings, domestic refuse, and dried manure. The most common use of these substances is as liquid fuel for transportation. Two common strategies are employed to produce biofuels: Sugar and starchy crops are used to produce ethanol through yeast fermentation, while natural plant oils, such as canola, soybean, and palm oils, are extracted and processed for use as biodiesel. Production of first-generation biofuels is highly controversial, because it requires direct use of grains and takes away land from growing food crops, exacerbating world hunger. Moreover, biofuel crops, particularly corn, are extremely hard on soil, making them among the least sustainable crops in the world. The low energy efficiency of such crops is also cause for concern. As a result of these factors and related debates, technologies are being developed for second- and third-generation biofuels. Second-generation biofuels will be produced using cellulosic biomass, which is theoretically capable of much greater energy efficiency than is corn, as well as a variety of nonfood crops. Third-generation biofuel is also called algae fuel or oilgae, and it will be derived from low input/high yield algae (which produces thirty times more energy per unit of area than do land crops).

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In general, sustainable economic development improves the economy without undermining society or the environment. There are various definitions of sustainable business or economic development from different sources, most of which share many common characteristics. According to the Lowell Center for Sustainable Development, Sustainable Production is the creation of goods and services using processes and systems that are: nonpolluting; conserving of energy and natural resources; economically efficient; safe and healthful for workers, communities, and consumers; and, socially and creatively rewarding for all working people. By and large, current societies and socioeconomic practices are unsustainable. As a result, future generations will have a poorer, more polluted world to live in. Everyone depends on nature and ecosystem services for the resources necessary to live decent, healthy, and sustainable lives, including clean air, drinkable water, nutritious food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. Human activities in recent decades have pushed the Earth to the brink of massive species extinctions, threatening humanity’s well-being. While the Industrial Revolution and technological advancement have served to improve the living standards of millions, the associated environmental degradation remains a heavy price.

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Incorporating the Environment into the Economic System:

The sustainable development approach claims to be able to avoid the environmental degradation that has previously accompanied economic growth by integrating economic and environmental decisions. For most governments this means incorporating the environment into the economic system. David Pearce and his colleagues, in their report on sustainable development to Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, said that the principles of sustainable development meant recognizing that ‘resources and environments serve economic functions and have positive economic value.’ As a component of the economic system, the environment is seen to provide raw materials for production and to be a receptacle for its wastes.

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The natural environment is an important component of the economic system, and without the natural environment the economic system will not be able to function. Hence, in recent years economists have started treating the natural environment in the same way as they treat labor and capital as an asset and a resource. According to environmental economists, environmental degradation is the result of the failure of the market system to put the deserving value on the environment, even though the environment serves economic functions and provides economic and other benefits. It is argued that, because environmental assets are free or under-priced, they tend to be overused and abused, resulting in environmental damage. The solution offered to the above problem is to put a price on the environment so that it can be incorporated into the economic system and taken seriously by those who make decisions. The incorporation of the environment into the economic system ensures that it will only be protected to the extent necessary to ensure it is able to continue to supply goods and services to the economic system. Sustainable development therefore represents a willingness to put up with a declining environmental amenity so long as human welfare in total is being enhanced. However one of the major problems in putting a price on the environment is that it is highly objected by many as it is similar to putting a price tag on your family and friendship. Another problem with valuing the environment is that the preferences of future generations and other species are not taken into account.

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Development can be conceptualized as the manipulation of factors of production to generate goods and services to satisfy human needs and even wants. The four traditional factors of production (land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship) are part and parcel of the environment. There are five different yet inter-connected and inter related environmental components seen as critical in economic growth and development.

 SD=f (NC, FC, HC, SC, PC)

Where SD is sustainable development and natural capital (NC) comprises of nature’s ‘free goods’ such as land, water, climate (Natural resources). Financial Capital (FC) comprises of stocks of readily available money for investment. Human capital (HC) includes all that goes into the improvement of the status and quality of humans’ lives such technical skills, education, and medical care. Social capital (SC) includes all that that enhances people’s propensity to cooperate, wok together and network, and the benefits accruing from such. Physical capital (PC) comprises of all forms of infra- structural and technological development by humans in the pursuit of development.

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Criticism of sustainable development:

The proponents of the de-growth reckon that the term of sustainable development is an oxymoron. According to them, on a planet where 20% of the population consumes 80% of the natural resources, a sustainable development cannot be possible for this 20%: According to the origin of the concept of sustainable development, a development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, the right term for the developed countries should be a sustainable de-growth. For several decades, theorists of steady state economy and ecological economy have been positing that reduction in population growth or even negative population growth is required for the human community not to destroy its planetary support systems, i.e., to date, increases in efficiency of production and consumption have not been sufficient, when applied to existing trends in population and resource depletion and waste by-production, to allow for projections of future sustainability.

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What is better, limit to growth approach or sustainable development?

Both the Limits to Growth approach and the Sustainable Development approach have neglected the ethical and political dimensions. The limits to growth advocates of the 1960s and 70s tended to avoid the social implications of aborting economic growth in low-income countries and the issue of which nations were responsible for most resource use.  The sustainable development advocates of the present similarly want to avoid the ethical issues by falling back on economic calculus to make decisions as if values can be determined by doing the sums correctly. They also avoid the distributional issues by advocating economic growth for all in the hope that this will solve the problem of equity.  On top of this the sustainable development approach makes further environmental degradation inevitable. It is apparent there is a need to go beyond these two failed approaches and find a third one which embraces the ethical dimension. This will involve getting beyond the current preoccupation of governments with economic growth as the overriding priority for all nations at all times. Our endeavors need to be focused on new ways of achieving a reasonable level of comfort in all nations, without the environmental damage normally associated with economic development. We need to find ways of ensuring the fruits of this development are more evenly distributed within populations. This cannot be done if decision-making is based on the premise that any development that provides a net monetary benefit to a nation should be approved. Even if the calculation of the benefit incorporates measures of environmental damage, environmental amenity is likely to decline and equity issues will still be ignored. We need new forms of social decision-making that integrate the ethical dimension – neither limits to growth nor sustainable development offer the answers.  

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Environmental economics and ecological economics:

Environmental economics is a branch of economics concerned with environmental issues. Environmental economics involves theoretical and empirical studies of the economic effects of national or local environmental policies around the world. Particular issues in environmental economics include the costs and benefits of alternative environmental policies to deal with air and water pollution, toxic substances, solid waste, and global warming. Thus environmental economics addresses environmental problems and valuation of nonmarket environmental services. In general, environmental economics focuses on efficient allocation and accepts the assumption of neoclassical economics that the economic system is the whole and not a subsystem of the global ecosystem. Central to environmental economics is the concept of market failure. Market failure means that markets fail to allocate resources efficiently. Environmental economics is related to ecological economics but there are differences. Most environmental economists have been trained as economists. They apply the tools of economics to address environmental problems, many of which are related to so-called market failures—circumstances wherein the “invisible hand” of economics is unreliable. Most ecological economists have been trained as ecologists, but have expanded the scope of their work to consider the impacts of humans and their economic activity on ecological systems and services, and vice-versa. This field takes as its premise that economics is a strict subfield of ecology. Ecological economics is sometimes described as taking a more pluralistic approach to environmental problems and focuses more explicitly on long-term environmental sustainability and issues of scale. Environmental economics is viewed as more pragmatic in a price system; ecological economics as more idealistic in its attempts not to use money as a primary arbiter of decisions. These two groups of specialists sometimes have conflicting views which may be traced to the different philosophical underpinnings.   

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There are two broad perspectives on how to measure environmental problems and how to better (quantifiably) understand the relations between economies and the environment. The environmental economics maintains that we have to avoid decline in future production, income, and consumption to ensure economies and people survive. According to this perspective, the problem has been that the market, which is the mechanism that distributes resources across society, has so far considered nature to be “free” for the taking, so that the costs to nature and to society that arise from economic activities are not taken into account by those who generate them. For example, the cost of logging one tree is not directly dependent on how quickly the same type of tree can re-grow if replanted. Thus, the cost of depriving society of the future availability of that tree is not accounted for in the extraction. Also, emissions like pollution have costs for the general health of the population, even though companies and consumers pollute “for free”. Finally, nature and biodiversity provide many ecosystem services that nourish people and the planet, such as providing clean air, water and cultural and economic sustenance to communities who rely on them for their ways of life. These extra services are not usually taken into account when decisions like chopping down forests for the market value of timber are made by policy makers. For example, a forest’s ability to clean the air could then be calculated by how much it would cost for society to clean that air by other means. Therefore, the recommendation of environmental economics is to create markets for environmental goods and services so that there will be a monetary price for overusing resources or emitting waste and pollution. As a consequence of this more “complete” price, supply and demand will work in a way that unsustainable practices and products will become more expensive and thus will be significantly reduced, while sustainability will be incentivized. For instance, if a gas guzzling 4×4 costs a million dollars and a more sustainable electric smart car costs a more affordable $5,000, many more people would buy the latter, thus helping to curb pollution.

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Ecological economics, on the other hand, believes that the current environmental situation is too critical for us to rely on market mechanisms to solve it, because markets and economies have simply “appropriated” nature. Thus, what is needed is a deeper sustainability that involves actually reducing the size of economies and relying on a much smaller quantity of materials to function, thus taking less from nature and emitting less waste into it. Ecological economics is not against economic growth or managing financial incentives, but it attempts to calculate how much growth we can actually attain while being sustainable. Ecological economics is referred to as both a transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary field of academic research that aims to address the interdependence and coevolution of human economies and natural ecosystems over time and space. It is distinguished from environmental economics, which is the mainstream economic analysis of the environment, by its treatment of the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem and its emphasis upon preserving natural capital.  One survey of German economists found that ecological and environmental economics are different schools of economic thought, with ecological economists emphasizing strong sustainability and rejecting the proposition that natural capital can be substituted by human-made capital. Here arises the conflict with environmental economics, since those calculations may lead to policies that support negative economic growth. The way ecological economics measures these economic limits is not by attaching prices to the environment, but through physical measures of extraction and emissions, such as calculating how many metric tons of CO2 we can emit without reaching a catastrophic tipping point that causes irreversible climate change or how much timber we can extract without crossing the line after which forests cannot recover. Therefore, their strategy is more radical than that of environmental economics: Depending on the analysis, certain activities will have to be banned rather that just “disincentivized”. If for some reason economies still manage to sell a lot of guzzling 4x4s that cost a million dollars each—sales that would be great for the economy—pollution will still be a problem, thus such vehicles would simply be banned.

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 Both approaches create new indicators for sustainability. Environmental economics makes use of what is known as “integrated environmental and economic accounts” to adjust economic indicators with environmental values, creating for example a “green Gross Domestic Product (GDP)”. The logic is that if we deplete our natural wealth, the green GDP won’t perform well, and economies will change their practices towards stronger sustainability.  How to account for that wealth, however, is also a subject of debate. One way of doing that, as already mentioned, is to calculate the value of services done by nature that are otherwise ignored, a practice within the concept of “green accounting”. Nevertheless, in environmental economics, the economy always comes first, and economic growth cannot be sacrificed. Ecological economics, on the other hand, keeps the sustainability indicators separate from economic ones. For instance, one indicator they use is the Total Material Requirement (TMR), which measures all physical requirements that support an economy, including the ones that are often not seen, such as unused extracted resources (e.g. gangue). TMR also traces back imported raw materials to their delivering countries, and accounts for the impacts done during extraction there. The logic here is that regardless of how the economy performs, TMR has to decrease. This reassessment of priorities is reasonable and urgent. For example, a natural reaction by a son or daughter when their mother becomes ill and needs life-saving surgery would be to say yes to the surgery, and figure out later how to pay for it, even if that means acquiring a harmful debt, or asking for other people’s help. Therefore, if we agree that the current environmental situation is an emergency, the logic of environmental economics falls down. If deep sustainability requires less economic growth, that is a sacrifice worth taking. In addition, environmental economics fails to consider that markets are governed by power, subject to speculation and corruption, and are vulnerable to big crises, which make them poor tools for longer-term environmental sustainability. Conversely, ecological economics seems to offer a better starting point for a strategy, even if that strategy can end up hurting economies. But after all, it’s humanity that we’re trying to save, not economies.

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Ecosystem service:

Humankind benefits from a multitude of resources and processes that are supplied by ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services and grouped into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

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Limitation of GDP:

Most economists assess the progress in welfare of the people by comparing the gross domestic product over time, that is, by adding up the annual dollar value of all goods and services produced within a country over successive years. However, GDP was never intended to be used for such purpose. It is prone to productivism or consumerism, over-valuing production and consumption of goods, and not reflecting improvement in human well-being. It also fails to distinguish between money spent for new production and money spent to repair negative outcomes from previous expenditure. For example, one million dollars spent to build new homes may be an indication of progress but one million dollars spent in aid relief to those whose homes have been destroyed is not the same kind of progress. This becomes important especially when considering the true costs of development that destroys wetlands and hence exacerbate flood damages. Simon Kuznets, the inventor of the concept of the GDP, notes in his very first report to the US Congress in 1934: …the welfare of a nation [can] scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income… An adequate measure must also take into account ecological yield and the ability of nature to provide services. These things are part of a more inclusive ideal of progress, which transcends the traditional focus on raw industrial production. Richard Stone, one of the creators the original GDP indicator, suggested that while “the three pillars on which an analysis of society ought to rest are studies of economic, socio-demographic and environmental phenomenon,” he had done little work in the area of environmental issues.

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Our measures of economic growth are deeply flawed in that they are purely measures of activity in the monetized economy. Expanded use of cigarettes and alcohol increases economic output both as a direct consequence of their consumption and because of the related increase in health care needs. The need to clean up oil spills generates economic activity. Gun sales to minors generate economic activity. A divorce generates both lawyer’s fees and the need to buy or rent and outfit a new home-increasing real estate brokerage fees and retail sales. It is now well documented that in the United States and a number of other countries the quality of living of ordinary people has been declining as aggregate economic output increases.  The growth myth has another serious flaw. Since 1950, the world’s economic output has increased 5 to 7 times. That growth has already increased the human burden on the planet’s regenerative systems—its soils, air, water, fisheries, and forestry systems—beyond what the planet can sustain. Continuing to press for economic growth beyond the planet’s sustainable limits does two things. It accelerates the rate of breakdown of the earth’s regenerative systems—as we see so dramatically demonstrated in the case of many ocean fisheries—and it intensifies the competition between rich and poor for the resource base that remains.

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Going beyond GDP:

The immense environmental, social and economic risks arising from our current path will be much harder to manage if we are unable to measure key aspects of the problem. For example, governments should recognise the serious limitations of GDP as a measure of economic activity and complement it with measures of the five forms of capital: built, financial, natural, human and social capital, i.e., a measure of wealth that integrates economic, environmental and social dimensions. Green taxes and the elimination of subsidies should ensure that the natural resources needed to protect poor people are available rather than via subsidies that often only benefit those that are better off.

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Growth in gross national product has become the seminal indicator of the health of our economy. But how good a yardstick of our present or future prosperity is it? Gross sales of goods and services as a measure leave something to be desired. If an economic activity produces directly one million dollars in product but also results in one million dollars of costs in health impacts and destruction of essential assets, common sense might lead you to think nothing has been gained. But health services and asset replacement are part of the gross national product, and using GNP as a measure, the loss becomes a gain. To the one million dollars in product is added one million dollars in health services and asset replacement, yielding two million in GNP. Something is clearly wrong with this picture. Lots of things which enhance our quality of life do not contribute to our GNP. For example, if we were to take extremely good care of our constructed assets — our homes, buildings, vehicles, industrial equipment and so on — we would spend less on their replacement. This would reduce our GNP, but can anyone reasonably suggest that it would reduce our wealth. GNP measures transactions, not net worth. Beyond this, could anyone really suggest that human well being is adequately measured by net worth? If we maximize net worth, but poison our bodies in the process, would anyone really suggest that we would be better off?

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Consider two worlds. In state A there is no enhanced Greenhouse Effect, there is no need for defensive capital expenditures or new investment in energy sources, and the fossil fuel economy continues into the future, say, eventually switching to perfect substitutes. Economic growth can be taken as more material consumption. In state B the enhanced Greenhouse Effect threatens to destroy the economic system so mitigation is undertaken. Investment goes into research and development of alternative energy sources, new markets are established to trade carbon, expenditures are undertaken to build new capital and structures are adapted to changed temperatures and sea levels. All these activities have displaced consumer and capital items or potential for more material consumption as in state A. Both states have human activity, both have GDP growth as measured by throughput and people are fully employed doing things. The point is that the states are qualitatively different, not quantitatively different. They are different worlds. So what is the “pro-growth” strategy for the future? Both are actually pro-growth strategies, the difference is in terms of “for what” economic activity is undertaken. GDP measures face a problem when addressing defensive expenditures and are misleading if they treat them as positive gains.

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There is an urgent need to break the link between production and consumption on the one hand and environmental destruction on the other. This can allow raising material living standards for a period that would allow us to overcome world poverty. Indefinite material growth on a planet with finite and often fragile natural resources will however, eventually be unsustainable. Unsustainable growth is promoted by environmentally-damaging subsidies in areas such as energy, transportation and agriculture and should be eliminated; external environmental and social costs should be internalized; and the market and nonmarket values of ecosystem goods and services should be taken into account in decision making.

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Genuine progress indicator (GPI):

Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI, is a metric that has been suggested to replace, or supplement, gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic growth. GPI is designed to take fuller account of the health of a nation’s economy by incorporating environmental and social factors which are not measured by GDP. For instance, some models of GPI decrease in value when the poverty rate increases. The GPI is used in green economics, sustainability and more inclusive types of economics by factoring in environmental and carbon footprints that businesses produce or eliminate. “Among the indicators factored into GPI are resource depletion, pollution, and long-term environmental damage.” GDP gains double the amount when pollution is created, since it increases once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up, whereas GPI counts the initial pollution as a loss rather than a gain, generally equal to the amount it will cost to clean up later (plus the cost of any negative impact the pollution will have in the mean time). Comparatively speaking, the relationship between GDP and GPI is analogous to the relationship between the gross profit of a company and the net profit; the Net Profit is the Gross Profit minus the costs incurred; the GPI is the GDP (value of all goods and services produced) minus the environmental and social costs. Accordingly, the GPI will be zero if the financial costs of poverty and pollution equal the financial gains in production of goods and services, all other factors being constant.

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The calculation formula of Genuine Progress Indicator presented in the simplified form is the following:

GPI = A + B – C – D + I

A is income weighted private consumption

B is value of non-market services generating welfare

C is private defensive cost of natural deterioration

D is cost of deterioration of nature and natural resources

I is increase in capital stock and balance of international trade

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Environmental performance index (EPI):

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a method of quantifying and numerically benchmarking the environmental performance of a country’s policies. This index was developed from the Pilot Environmental Performance Index, first published in 2002, and designed to supplement the environmental targets set forth in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. In the 2012 EPI ranking, the top five countries were Switzerland, Latvia, Norway, Luxembourg, and Costa Rica. The bottom five countries were South Africa, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iraq. The United Kingdom was ranked in 9th place, Japan 23rd place, Brazil 30th, the United States 49th, China 116th, and India came in 125th.The top five countries based on their Pilot Trend EPI were Latvia, Azerbaijan, Romania, Albania and Egypt.

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Green economy:

The green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Green economy is an economy or economic development model based on sustainable development and knowledge of ecological economics. Green economy is identified as an important tool for achieving sustainable development. Green economics is loosely defined as any theory of economics by which an economy is considered to be component of the ecosystem in which it resides. Green economy includes green energy generation based on renewable energy to substitute for fossil fuels and energy conservation for efficient energy use. Because the market failure related to environmental and climate protection as a result of external costs, high future commercial rates and associated high initial costs for research, development, and marketing of green energy sources and green products prevents firms from being voluntarily interested in reducing environment-unfriendly activities (Reinhardt, 1999; King and Lenox, 2002; Wagner, 203; Wagner, et al., 2005), the green economy may need government subsidies as market incentives to motivate firms to invest and produce green products and services. The German Renewable Energy Act, legislations of many other member states of the European Union and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, all provide such market incentives.

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Karl Burkart defines a green economy as based on six main sectors:

Renewable energy

Green buildings

Sustainable transport

Water management

Waste management

Land management

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A green economy is understood as a system that is attuned with the environment and thus, is environmentally friendly. Today, the concept of green economy has evolved to also accommodate social issues. By using clean technology and clean energy, the green economy is expected to provide safer and healthier environments, create alternative green jobs and maintain the development of societies. This concept is often associated with ideas such as “low-carbon growth” or “green growth”. With this perspective the term “growth” does not simply mean economic output development, but indicates “sustainable economic advancement”. In fact, it aims to rise above the reductionist approach that has considered gross domestic product as a straightforward measure of macro market economic activity and a signal of progress and societal well-being. This understanding proved to be misleading, as current climate and economic crisis exhibit that growth is unsustainable with over-exploitation; in fact, wiping out the natural resource base hinders present and future livelihoods.

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Green growth:

The green growth is not identical to sustainable development. While sustainable development is seeking a balance among economic growth, environmental projection, and social justice, a strict definition of green growth does not address “social justice,” focusing rather on economic growth while reducing environmental impact.  In this regard, green growth is a narrower or subordinate concept of sustainable development as seen in the figure below:

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Can poor countries afford to be green?

That is a question which politicians in the developing world have often asked rather pointedly. To them, it seems that the obsession of some rich types with preserving forests and saving cuddly animals like pandas or lemurs, while paying less attention to the human beings living nearby, is both cynical and hypocritical. There is, of course, plenty of evidence that greenery and growth are not polar opposites. After decades of expansion in China and other fast-emerging economies, some of the negative side-effects and their impact on human welfare, above all the death toll caused by foul air and water, are horribly clear. Yet the relationship between growth and the state of the environment is far from simple. Poor countries have been quite right to challenge the sort of green orthodoxy which rejects the very idea of economic growth. Indeed, the single biggest variable in determining a country’s ranking is income per head. But that doesn’t imply that economic growth automatically leads to an improvement in the environment. However, growth does offer solutions to the sorts of environmental woes (local air pollution, for example) that directly kill humans. This matters, because about a quarter of all deaths in the world have some link to environmental factors. Most of the victims are poor people who are already vulnerable because of bad living conditions, lack of access to medicine, and malnutrition. Among the killers (especially of children) in which the environment plays a role are diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malaria. These diseases reinforce a vicious circle of poverty and hopelessness by depressing production. According to the World Bank, the economic burden on society caused by bad environmental health amounts to between 2% and 5% of GDP. As poor countries get richer, they usually invest heavily in environmental improvements, such as cleaning up water supplies and improving sanitation, that boost human health. (Their economies may also shift gear, from making steel or chemicals to turning out computer chips.) But the link between growth and environmentally benign outcomes is much less clear. 

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Of course it is no surprise that Switzerland fares better than Niger. But why is the poor Dominican Republic much healthier and greener than nearby Haiti? Or Costa Rica so far ahead of Nicaragua, whose nature and resources are broadly similar? And why is wealthy Belgium the sick man of Western Europe, with an environmental record worse than that of many developing countries? A mixture of factors related to good government—accurate data, transparent administration, lack of corruption, checks and balances—all show a clear statistical relationship with environmental performance. Among countries of comparable income, tough regulations and above all, enforcement are the key factors in keeping things green.

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For the purposes of the Green Economy Initiative, UNEP has developed a working definition of a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.  Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to be catalyzed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes. This development path should maintain, enhance and, where necessary, rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods and security depend strongly on nature.

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Low carbon economy:

The present energy system, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, underlies many of the problems we face today: exhaustion of easily accessible physical resources, security of access to fuels, and degradation of health and environmental conditions. Universal access to clean energy services is vital for the poor, and a transition to a low carbon economy will require rapid technological evolution in the efficiency of energy use, environmentally sound low-carbon renewable energy sources and carbon capture and storage. The longer we wait to transition to a low carbon economy the more we are locked into a high carbon energy system with consequent environmental damage to ecological and socio-economic systems, including infrastructure.

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The figure above shows large windmills and solar panels in Atlantic City; the wind farm consists of five windmills that generate 7.5 megawatts, enough energy to power approximately 2,500 homes.

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No quick switch to low-carbon energy:

On reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, Gert Jan Kramer and Martin Haigh analyze historic growth in energy systems to explain why deploying alternative technologies will be a long haul. The Summary of their research is as follows:

There are physical limits to the rate at which new technologies can be deployed.

Governments need to design policies targeted at specific technologies to accelerate deployment.

More action is required on demand side to increase efficiency and curtail consumption.

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The big problem facing the world today is energy, economy and environment. All three are interrelated and influence each other. Solving the problem or solution to it can only be done in a comprehensive way, not partial, so that the sustainable development is possible.  That’s bad idea when we just focusing on one aspect so the two other aspects are neglected thus enabling larger problem. Low-carbon energy will reduce environmental impact without affecting the economy.  

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Low carbon economy and job creation:

The success of many environmentally sustainable businesses makes the case for the transition to a low carbon economy. These businesses are profitable and sustainable, they create jobs and minimize their impact on the environment. Although some try to make the case that environmental sustainability is bad for business, the truth is a strong business case can be made for sustainability. The transition to a low carbon economy offers an unprecedented stimulus that creates jobs. There are sustainable solutions that can both speed up activity in the low-carbon economy and mitigate the economic crisis. For $ 1 billion invested in a new coal plant, you get fewer than 900 jobs; for solar you got 1,900 jobs, for wind turbines 3,300 jobs and (for) retrofitting buildings 7,000 – 8,000 jobs. Environmentally sustainable solutions have proven to be hugely profitable while simultaneously protecting economies from the volatility of markets reliant on oil and other finite resources.

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National carbon policy and cars:

Our best intentions regarding conservation and carbon reduction inevitably run up against the realities of foreclosure and bankruptcy and unemployment. How do we persuade people to drive less—an environmental necessity—while also encouraging them to revive our staggering economy by buying new cars? The popular answer—switch to hybrids—leaves the fundamental problem unaddressed. Increasing the fuel efficiency of a car is mathematically indistinguishable from lowering the price of its fuel; it’s just fiddling with the other side of the equation. If doubling the cost of gas gives drivers an environmentally valuable incentive to drive less—the recent oil-price spike pushed down consumption and vehicle miles travelled, stimulated investment in renewable energy, increased public transit ridership, and killed the Hummer—then doubling the efficiency of cars makes that incentive disappear. Getting more miles to the gallon is of no benefit to the environment if it leads to an increase in driving—and the response of drivers to decreases in the cost of driving is to drive more. Increases in fuel efficiency could be bad for the environment unless they’re accompanied by powerful disincentives that force drivers to find alternatives to hundred-mile commutes. And a national carbon policy, if it’s to have a real impact, will almost certainly need to bring fuel prices back to at least where they were at their peak. Electric cars are not the panacea they are sometimes claimed to be, not only because the electricity they run on has to be generated somewhere but also because making driving less expensive does nothing to discourage people from sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful.

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Can green economy lead to sustainable development?

In a green economy, the environment is an “enabler” of economic growth and human well-being. Additionally, since the poor are most dependent on the natural resource base for their livelihoods and least able to shield themselves from a degraded environment, movement towards a green economy also promotes equitable growth. As such, the shift to a green economy can be seen as a pathway to sustainable development, a journey rather than a destination. The nature of a ‘green economy’ sought after by a developed or developing nation can vary greatly, depending on its geographical confines, its natural resource base, its human and social capital, and its stage of economic development. What does not change however are its key tenets – of targeting improved human well-being and social equity, whilst reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

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Can green economy reduce poverty?

Equally important, the move towards a green economy aims to increase access to basic services and infrastructure as a means of alleviating poverty and improving overall quality of life. This includes, for example, providing energy access to the 1.4 billion people who currently lack electricity, and another 700 million who are deprived of modern energy services. Renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, and supportive energy policies promise to make a significant contribution to improving living standards and health in low income areas, particularly to those that currently lack access to energy.

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Can green economy generate jobs?

A green economy creates jobs in a wide range of sectors of the economy as new markets emerge and grow, such as in organic agriculture, renewable energy, building retrofits for energy efficiency, public transportation, reclamation of brown-field sites, and recycling, among others. Decent jobs, with high labour productivity as well as high eco-efficiency and low emissions, hold the promise to provide rising incomes, spur growth and help to protect the climate and the environment. Such green jobs already exist and some have seen high growth, for example, as a result of investment in energy efficiency. Nonetheless, to ensure a smooth transition to a green economy, a concerted effort in job creation is necessary. Social policies will need to be developed along with environmental and economic policies. Key issues like investing in new skills needed for a low-carbon global economy and policies to handle the employment adjustments in key sectors like energy and transport will be needed to ensure a smooth transition.

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Green GDP:

The green gross domestic product (green GDP) is an index of economic growth with the environmental consequences of that growth factored into a country’s conventional GDP. Green GDP monetizes the loss of biodiversity, and accounts for costs caused by climate change. Some environmental experts prefer physical indicators (such as “waste per capita” or “carbon dioxide emissions per year”), which may be aggregated to indices such as the “Sustainable Development Index”. Calculating green GDP requires that net natural capital consumption, including resource depletion, environmental degradation, and protective and restorative environmental initiatives, be subtracted from traditional GDP. Some early calculations of Green GDP take into account one or two, but not all environmental adjustments. GDP, or gross domestic product, is a national accounting term designating the domestic economic output measured in value terms minus costs associated with input of goods and services. Thus, GDP is measuring the value added of production and rents to owners of natural resources, values that are available for payment of use of capital and labour. “Green GDP” on the other hand, is a term much used, but only seldom precisely defined. Most commonly, and perhaps most correctly, it has been used to designate a “corrected” GDP number, or sometimes a “corrected” GDP growth rate, where the correction seeks to take into account the depletion of non-renewable resources, as well as various damages to the environment due to pollution to air, water and soil, and also sometimes loss of ecosystem services as a consequence of pollution from economic activities. To find the true net benefits of economic activities, these activities should obviously be corrected for all costs that are associated with the economic activities. Hence, these costs should be deducted from the traditional GDP to obtain a greener GDP. 

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Green GDP is an attempt by economists to measure the growth of an economy compared to the harm production does to the environment. This is done by subtracting the costs of environmental and ecological damage done in a specific period of time from the gross domestic product, or GDP, from that some time. As a result, the damage done to the environment as a whole is factored into the equation to give a clearer picture of the consequences of growing an economy. Unfortunately, green GDP can be difficult to measure because of the problems inherent in trying to quantify the costs of ecological and environmental damage.

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Green GDP = GDP (traditional) – Depletion of natural resources – Cost of pollution

of which

Resources exhaustion: decreases in forest areas and products, cultivated land, preserved land, animals, plants, ecological condition, natural resources, etc.

Costs of pollution/climate change: costs occurred as results of environmental pollution, health and climate change impacts…

Traditional GDP does not elaborate impacts and degradation on the environment as a result of economic activities.

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Methodological problems in calculating the Green GDP:

In 2004, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, announced that the green GDP index would replace the Chinese GDP index itself as a performance measure for government. The first green GDP accounting report, for 2004, was published in September 2006. It showed that the financial loss country pollution was 511.8 billion Yuan ($ 66.3 billion), or 3.05 percent of the nation’s economy. As an experiment on national accounting, the Green GDP effort collapsed in failure in 2007, when it become clear that the adjustment for environment damage had reduced the growth rate politically unacceptable levels, nearly zero in some provinces. In the face of mounting evidence that environmental damage and resource depletion was far more costly than anticipated, the government withdrew its support for the Green GDP methodology. Independent estimates of the cost to China of environmental degradation and depletion have for the last decade ranged from 8 to 12 percentage points of GDP growth. These estimates support the idea that, by this measure at least, the growth of the Chinese economy is close to zero. Statisticians caution that key methodological problems in calculating the GDP, such as the monetary value of biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change and carbon dioxide emissions. Many barometers are currently in use, particularly indices such as Waste Per Capita or Carbon Dioxide Emissions Per Annum. One must also acknowledge how poorly represented true growth or sustainable development is with the anachronic GDP. “GDP is to reflect many of today’s challenges, such as climate change, public health, education and environment,” was the conclusion of Beyond GDP, an international conference on gross domestic product held in Brussels in November 2007. Many governments in the world have spent trillions of dollars last year to get out of “recession” to keep economy on track and get back to GDP growth at any cost, it seems as if the main goal is simply to maintain the current ailing market system and stimulate continued unsustainable consumption.

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Is Green GDP a flawed index?

Green GDP involves adding “development of human capital” and “development of natural capital” to the volume of production conventionally measured by GDP. The idea behind it is interesting. Output that is accompanied by a deterioration in human capital (e.g. in terms of health or education) or by environmental damage (e.g. through CO2 emissions or deforestation) is reduced by the amount of capital thus consumed. Conversely, any enhancement of human or natural capital constitutes in itself a form of output that can be added to GDP. UNEP accordingly compared growth in GDP per capita with green GDP per capita for 40 countries over a nineteen-year period, from 1990 to 2008. For China and India – the two countries with the strongest economic growth (9.6% and 4.5% annual average per capita growth) – the rates of green GDP turn out to be significantly lower, at 2.1% and 0.9% respectively. Their economic growth has been achieved in part by drawing down their human and natural capital. But their green GDP remains positive, as if to signal that the two countries’ development models were generally acceptable: economic growth offsets the destruction of natural capital. Economic growth in Germany and France has been more limited (Germany: +1.5%, France: +1.3%), but their green GDP (at +1.8% and +1.4% respectively) has risen faster than the standard measure. Once again, green GDP seems to endorse an apparently virtuous model of growth: economic development goes hand in hand with a greater development in natural and human capital. It seems reasonable to assume that the green GDP index was designed so that upward movement would be a sign of sustainable development. It is hard to believe, however, that the development models of emerging powers like China and India, or of old industrialized countries such as France and Germany, might be sustainable. In practice, green GDP is open to serious criticism. How can one compare a child educated with a hectare of forest protected, a ton of CO2 emitted, a species saved from extinction, or a moped manufactured? Depending on how you attribute values and weightings to these different factors, you can in fact obtain any ranking you want, even putting China first, or India, or France, or Brazil, or, for that matter, Niger. In reality, the green GDP index cannot be used as a guide for sustainable development. By aggregating too many dimensions, it loses any real informational content. It is therefore highly questionable both in terms of the messages it conveys and in the way it is established. For these reasons, it seems unlikely that green GDP will ever attract sufficient consensus to dethrone GDP as we know it. The conventional index has already reached an excessive level of aggregation. Any further aggregation would only make our evaluation processes more arbitrary, our interpretations more confused, and the whole picture even fuzzier than before.

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Sustainable Development Indicators (SDI):

 It is also possible to develop some indicators that represent several aspects of sustainable development. The following indicators may be useful for the current situation in China:

• Fossil energy (carbon) intensity per GDP could be a very good indicator to reflect the elasticity of fossil energy consumption and carbon emission with GDP growth.

• SO2 intensity per GDP is a similar indicator to reflect the elasticity of sulphur emission with GDP growth.

• COD intensity per GDP reflects the elasticity of organic effluent with GDP growth.

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ISO 14000:

ISO 14000 is a family of standards related to environmental management that exists to help organizations (a) minimize how their operations (processes etc.) negatively affect the environment (i.e. cause adverse changes to air, water, or land); (b) comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements, and (c) continually improve in the above. ISO 14000 is similar to ISO 9000 quality management in that both pertain to the process of how a product is produced, rather than to the product itself. As with ISO 9000, certification is performed by third-party organizations rather than being awarded by ISO directly. The ISO 19011 audit standard applies when auditing for both 9000 and 14000 compliance at once.

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World Bank pushes for ‘Green Accounting’ by Nations:

For decades, GDP has been growing and growing in many countries, but a large segment of society hasn’t been getting any better off.  We’ve reached a critical threshold where international consensus said we really need to move in a more deliberate and systematic manner to get better accounts up and running that reflect the true state of the economy. Botswana’s diamond mining sector accounts for 31 percent of the country’s economic output — and a glistening De Beers five-diamond bracelet sells online for $1,500. But how much does depleting diamond mines cut into Botswana’s overall economic health? The Philippines’ untapped gold and nickel is valued at nearly $1 trillion, but the mines and refining process needed to tap them will require a great deal of water. If climate change leads to reduced rainfall in the country, how much would be lost by diverting water from agriculture? And in Australia, the government has found that pesticides used in farming are causing significant damage to the Great Barrier Reef. But how much might that damage affect the tourist economy that thrives around the World Heritage site? Those countries and a handful of others have been trying to answer precisely those kinds of questions as they develop some of the world’s first “green” accounting systems. Known formally as natural capital accounting, the idea of measuring the economic value of clean water, clean air, forests and ecosystems in addition to traditional measures of the market value of a country’s goods and services has been gaining traction since the 1980s. In February 2012, the U.N. Statistical Commission adopted a standardized accounting method, which advocates called a major step, essentially helping environmentalists use the same language and tools that finance ministers and economists use to measure strictly in terms of national accounts. Now, with the approach in the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, activists hope that green accounting’s time has finally come.

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Green recovery program:

The Center for American Progress releases a new report by Dr. Robert Pollin and University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute economists. This report demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create 2 million new jobs, with a significant proportion in the struggling construction and manufacturing sectors. It is clear from this research that a strategy to invest in the greening of our economy will create more jobs, and better jobs, compared to continuing to pursue a path of inaction marked by rising dependence on energy imports alongside billowing pollution. The $100 billion fiscal expansion that researchers examined in this study provides the infrastructure to jumpstart a comprehensive clean energy transformation for the U.S., such as the strategy described in CAP’s 2007 report, “Capturing the Energy Opportunity: Creating a Low-Carbon Economy.” This paper shows the impact of a swift initial investment in climate solutions that would direct funding toward six energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies:

1. Retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency

2. Expanding mass transit and freight rail

3. Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems

4. Wind power

5. Solar power

6. Advanced biofuels

This green recovery and infrastructure investment program would:

1. Create 2 million new jobs nationwide over two years

2. Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.

3. Create roughly triple the number of good jobs—paying at least $16 dollars an hour—as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.

4. Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7 percent (calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).

5. Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction employment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.

6. Provide opportunities to rebuild career ladders through training and workforce development that if properly implemented can provide pathways out of poverty to those who need jobs most. (Because green investment not only creates more good jobs with higher wages, but more jobs overall, distributed broadly across the economy, this program can bring more people into good jobs over time.)

7. Help lower oil prices. Moderating domestic energy demand will have greater price effects than modest new domestic supply increases.

8. Begin the reconstruction of local communities and public infrastructure all across America, setting us on a course for a long-term transition to a low-carbon economy that increases our energy independence and helps fight global warming. Currently, about 22 percent of total household expenditures go to imports. With a green infrastructure investment program, only about 9 percent of purchases flow to imports since so much of the investment is rooted in communities and the built environment, keeping more of the resources within the domestic economy.   

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The Ecological Footprint:

The Ecological Footprint tracks humanity’s demands on the biosphere by comparing humanity’s consumption against the Earth’s regenerative capacity, or biocapacity. It does this by calculating the area required to produce the resources people consume, the area occupied by infrastructure, and the area of forest required for sequestering CO2 not absorbed by the ocean (see Galli et al., 2007; Kitzes et al., 2009 and Wackernagel et al., 2002). Every human activity uses biologically productive land and/ or fishing grounds. The Ecological Footprint is the sum of these areas, regardless of where they are located on the planet. This includes the areas for producing the resource it consumes, the space for accommodating its buildings and roads, and the ecosystems for absorbing its waste emissions such as carbon dioxide.  By measuring the Footprint of a population—an individual, city, business, nation, or all of humanity—we can assess our pressure on the planet, which helps us manage our ecological assets more wisely and take personal and collective action in support of a world where humanity lives within the Earth’s bounds. The Ecological Footprint is driven by consumer habits and the efficiency with which goods and services can be provided. An individual’s Ecological Footprint varies significantly depending on a number of factors, including their country of residence, the quantity of goods and services they consume, the resources used and the wastes generated to provide these goods and services. The size of a person’s Ecological Footprint depends on development level and wealth, and in part on the choices individuals make on what they eat, what products they purchase and how they travel. But decisions undertaken by governments and businesses have a substantial influence on the Ecological Footprint too. Since the 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year. It now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. We maintain this overshoot by liquidating the Earth’s resources. Overshoot is a vastly underestimated threat to human well-being and the health of the planet, and one that is not adequately addressed. In 2007, the average biologically productive area per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita. The U.S. footprint per capita was 9.0 gha, and that of Switzerland was 5.6 gha, while China’s was 1.8 gha. The WWF claims that the human footprint has exceeded the biocapacity (the available supply of natural resources) of the planet by 20%. Wackernagel and Rees originally estimated that the available biological capacity for the 6 billion people on Earth at that time was about 1.3 hectares per person, which is smaller than the 1.8 global hectares published for 2006, because the initial studies neither used global hectares nor included bioproductive marine areas. If all of humanity lived like an average Indonesian, for example, only two-thirds of the planet’s biocapacity would be used; if everyone lived like an average Argentinean, humanity would demand more than half an additional planet; and if everyone lived like an average resident of the USA, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature.

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As it stands now, 500 million people on the planet (about 7% of the world population) is responsible for 50% of all CO2 emissions. At the other end of the scale, the bottom 3 billion people are responsible for just 6% of the total. The United States leads the world, with its 5% of world population roughly responsible for one-third of all global expenditures on goods and services. If that level of resource consumption was extended globally, the planet could support just 1.4 billion people. To equitably support current population levels and not continue to degrade the ability of the planet to support us, we’d all have to live like the average person in Thailand or Jordan–roughly $5,000 a year’s worth of consumption. And remember that population growth is expected to continue until we hit about $9 billion people. Which means that the global resource pie gets sliced into even smaller and smaller equal pieces–or relatively equal at least. It is undeniable that our current way of life is unsustainable; part of the problem lies in the fact that economics—the major discipline advising global and national policy—has failed to include the environment in its calculations. To rectify this problem, different methods have been proposed, so as to make predictions and come up with better ways of managing the planet’s resources without compromising the future.

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The figure above sums up everything. Not a single country lies in the green area where we would have high human development index within the earth’s limit. It’s time that Americans reduce their ecological foot print so that poor developing nations can improve their human development index.

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Do more with less or things will get ugly: Decoupling ~ Sustainable and Scalable Growth…

As it stands, economic growth is largely dependent on resource consumption. As a country grows, so does its use of natural–and limited–high-quality resources like oil, gold, and copper. But this is untenable in the long run, especially as growing countries like India and China model themselves increasingly on American habits of consumption (a car, two cell phones, and 30 pounds of meat for all!). The seemingly impossible solution: separating resource use and environmental impact from economic growth–a process with the unfortunate name “decoupling.” According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), decoupling is already happening, albeit at a small scale. The resources required per $1,000 of economic output dropped from 2.1 to 1.6 tons between 1980 and 2002–but more needs to be done to prevent the world from devolving into mayhem where we’re fighting for every last drop of gas. But if resource consumption continues at its current rate, we will see an annual total consumption of 140 billion tons of minerals, fossil fuels, ores, and biomass by 2050. If industrialized nations make moderate changes, that number could drop all the way to 70 billion tons of resource extraction by the same year. And if, by some miracle, all countries start scrambling to decrease resource use, we could see total consumption of 50 billion tons by 2050–the same as in 2000. It’s certainly not fair to ask developing countries to give up a chance at prosperity because we already used all the good stuff and want to keep using what’s left. But those countries may ultimately have an easier time decoupling than developed nations since they can leapfrog older, inefficient technologies (i.e. coal-fired power plants) for more resource efficient ones, such as solar power. It’s easier to simply adopt efficiency first than to tear down existing infrastructure and start over.

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Incorporating Environmental Costs in Prices:

China is moving forward with power sector reforms that will result in competition between generators. A fundamental precondition of any market is that all costs be reflected in prices. If electricity generation becomes competitive and the cost of emissions/environmental degradation is not reflected in prices, the result will be in increased pollution.  In China, the cost of pollution (cost of health care, agricultural losses, resource degradation and resource depletion) and the cost of electricity will be determined by what plants get built, what plants get operated, how much is invested in pollution control, and how much is invested in energy efficiency. Fully incorporating the environmental cost of pollution in electricity prices is the best way to ensure that the total cost (environmental cost and electricity cost) is minimized.  Societies have struggled and experimented with the concept of internalizing external costs since it was described by A. C. Pigou over seventy years ago. There is significant international experience with a variety of strategies designed to make prices of goods and services reflect their true costs. These strategies are revised and refined often, as people learn from their mistakes and improve their understanding of how the market, the environment, public policy, and human behavior interact. Recently many nations have moved from using regulations alone to curb pollution, to the use of economic instruments to internalize environmental costs. “Economic instruments, in theory, have all the efficiency properties of competitive market pricing: they trigger actions both among producers and consumers that allow the achievement of given environmental objectives at the lowest costs. The efficient nature of economic instruments is due to the flexibility given to the polluters for devising a cost effective compliance strategy.”

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Pollution levies, charges, taxes:

This strategy has many names, but the result is the same. The producer and/or consumer pays when materials or processes are used that cause pollution. These fees are attractive because they create a very explicit charge for pollution. As a result, savings from reducing pollution are tangible. At a minimum, this strategy raises money. The funds may be used to raise revenue for the general budget, to support environmental activities, to offset other taxes, or for other purposes. If the charges are high enough, levies and taxes can result in incentives to increase the efficient use of resources and reduce pollution. If they are high enough and conflicting subsidies are removed, they may result in the full internalization of environmental costs, and the market will move toward more sustainable uses of resources. Pollution levies, charges and taxes appear internationally in a variety of forms. The consumer may pay when purchasing a product if the pollution is too dispersed to measure (e.g. motor fuel). The charge may be on the use of raw materials with predictable pollution results (e.g. carbon tax, some sulfur taxes). The charge may differentiate between similar materials with different polluting characteristics (e.g. leaded vs. unleaded gasoline). The charge may be levied at discharge based on the volume or toxicity of effluent or emissions (e.g. NOX, solid waste, sewage).

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Ecotax:

Ecotax (short for Ecological taxation) refers to taxes intended to promote ecologically sustainable activities via economic incentives. Such a policy can complement or avert the need for regulatory (command and control) approaches. Often, an ecotax policy proposal may attempt to maintain overall tax revenue by proportionately reducing other taxes (e.g. taxes on human labor and renewable resources); such proposals are known as a green tax shift towards ecological taxation. An ecotax has been enacted in Germany by means of three laws in 1998, 1999 and 2002. The first introduced a tax on electricity and petroleum, at variable rates based on environmental considerations; renewable sources of electricity were not taxed. The second adjusted the taxes to favor efficient conventional power plants. The third increased the tax on petroleum. At the same time, income taxes were reduced proportionally so that the total tax burden remained constant.

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Green tariff:

An Environmental tariff, also known as a green tariff or eco-tariff, is an import or export tax placed on products being imported from, or also being sent to countries with substandard environmental pollution controls. They can be used as controls on global pollution and can also be considered as corrective measures against “environmental races to the bottom” and “eco-dumping”. Environment tariffs were not implemented in the past, in part, because they were not sanctioned by multilateral trade regimes such as the World Trade Organization and within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a fact which generated considerable criticism and calls for reform. Additionally, many foreign factory owners in newly industrialized countries and underdeveloped countries saw the attempts to impose pollution controls on them as suspicious… “…seeing it as a threat to their growth and fearing that developed countries would attempt to export their preferences for pollution control or to place ‘environmental’ tariffs on imports from countries with lower standards.”

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European Union: Carbon/Energy Taxes:

Many countries of the European Union, individually, have been taxing raw materials, emissions, energy and electricity for over a decade. The goals of each specific plan have been varied, and their designs have been complicated and customized to meet each country’s needs. The European Union did reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from 1990-2000. Although these reductions cannot be attributed to their energy taxes alone, their experiences and experiments are worth studying.

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European Environmental Tax Reform (ETR):

“’Environmental tax reform’ (ETR) refers to measures that use the revenue from taxes on pollution or natural resource depletion to lower taxes on valuable economic activities, such as employment or investment.” Depending upon a country’s goals, the environmental taxes can raise more, less or the same amount of money as the amount by which other taxes are reduced. In a recent study, eight European countries’ experience with ETR was examined in detail. Over 100 simulations of ETR impacts were analyzed. The authors concluded that ETR boosts employment, especially when environmental tax revenues allow payroll taxes to be cut. ETR can cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote a cleaner environment. At the same time ETR can result in very little change in the economy as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). The authors found ETR was most likely to have positive employment and GDP results when some of the environmental tax revenues are used to finance energy efficiency or renewable energy options. 

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Deposit-refund Systems:

A deposit-refund system always involves some form of charge for a product or action combined with a subsidy or refund upon the proper recycling or disposal of the product, or completion of the action. Deposit-refund programs usually involve items whose improper disposal would cause environmental harm and be difficult to monitor. Some of their uses have included beverage containers, batteries, appliances, tires and pesticide containers. “Several studies have concluded that deposit systems are more cost-effective than other methods of reducing waste disposal, such as traditional forms of regulations, recycling subsidies, or advanced disposal fees (ADF) alone.”

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Environmental Performance Bonds:

An environmental performance bond is a form of deposit-refund system where a potential degrader of the environment has to pay into an escrow account before proceeding with an activity, such as coal mining. In the US, certain laws require companies to deposit money before extracting certain natural resources (e.g. the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act). The money will only be refunded when the extractor fulfills obligations such as reclamation activities. To be effective, the deposit amount has to be enough for the regulatory authority to complete the reclamation if the company forfeits the deposit. Generally there are two incentives in this program: an economic incentive (getting the deposit back) and a regulatory incentive (satisfying this bond in order to be eligible for extraction permits in the future).

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Marketable Permits:

Taxes set a price for pollution and the market decides how much pollution will be cut. Instead of taxing, a government can decide to set a target limit on pollution or resource depletion, then distribute permits for those activities. In a permit trading system, the market determines the price. A company that is unable or unwilling to live with its limits then has to buy permits from those who over-comply. As companies compare their marginal abatement cost with the cost of a permit, market activity will take place to reach the lowest possible combined cost. As a result trading systems can cut compliance costs, create incentives to over-comply with regulations and support development of new technology.

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Economic instruments promoting Renewable Energy Strategies:

Most societies continue to subsidize water use, motor transport, petroleum product combustion and raw material extraction. How can new, renewable, energy producers compete economically with the status quo? Countries continue to experiment with strategies that reach social goals and make economic sense. Grants, loans, subsidies, and other programs for new technologies may look inviting. However, this support must be balanced to encourage the new technologies to become efficient and cost-effective as well.

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Subsidies:

There are subsidies that can be considered as environmentally harmful and those that can be considered environmentally friendly. Recent estimates of environmentally destructive subsidies range from $500 to $650 billion annually. Roodman suggests a three step analysis for environmental subsidy reform:

• First, determine whether society needs the benefits the subsidy promises and whether the subsidy can bring about the benefit.

• Can the subsidy become more efficient through more precise targeting?

• Are the improvements in security, equity, and economic development worth the financial, social and environmental costs? Does it pass the fairness test?

As long as government subsidies encourage activities that environmental policies seek to discourage, the effectiveness of all the economic instruments discussed here will be limited.

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As the discussion above illustrate, economic instruments can have a significant impact on environmental pollution or improvement. Some broad notes of caution should be mentioned. In some parts of Latin America, a tendency to over-legislate and under-fund resulted in unattainable goals. When programs were designed without the input of relevant agencies, laws were not easily enforced. “Institutional weaknesses-such as underfunding, inexperience, unclear jurisdiction, or lack of political will-limit the effective implementation of economic instruments.” In Russia, when privatization is “shaped to favor the ‘insiders’ (ministries, plant managers, local authorities, etc.) with no regard for economic efficiency issues, in such a way that many elements of the former centrally planned economy continue to exist…the basic structure of resource management remains virtually the same.” The best solutions will reflect the strengths and acknowledge the constraints of local culture and institutional conditions.

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The table below shows fundamental differences between approach to economy and approach to environment:

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Can economic growth and environmental protection be complementary to each other?

We can argue that the main direct contributions of environmental protection, understood as natural capital, to development and green (economic) growth is through increased inputs of natural resources which lead to a greater economic return. Contrary to conventional intuition, economic growth and environmental conservation are not necessarily conflicting goals, and can even be seen as complementary aims. Green growth aiming to achieve a harmony between economic growth and environmental sustainability is just what the world needs to obtain long-term and all rounded human development. The ever-worsening environmental crisis has sent out a serious alert to the communities as to the urgency of embarking on the green growth development path. With sound protection and management, natural capital can actually yield considerable economic dividends for the developing nations like India especially due to its dependent on agricultural production, which is in turn highly dependent on natural resources for the livelihoods of producers. Green growth can be defined as “fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies”. Alternatively, economic development can provide a solid material foundation for environmental protection efforts, enabling government to take a better care of their ecosystems, and equip them financially and technologically for the fight against climate change / environment. It is about growing cleaner and greener, but not slower. By maximizing the synergies between economic development and environmental protection, the concept of green growth emphasizes that strategic environmental policies can not only foster environmental sustainability at a low cost, but also have the potential to sustain long-term economic growth. Alternatively strategic climate/ environment policies should not be framed as a choice between the environment and economic development, but rather as a choice between effective measures to achieve balance between the two dimensions.

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The ideas that are good for both economy and environment:

• First, energy has a substantial influence on both the global economy and climate. Energy expenditure represents about 8% of GDP worldwide, while accounts for about 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions through its use in electricity, heating and industry. No solution to the climate crisis is possible without a fundamental shift to low-carbon energy. Fortunately, governments can make huge gains through energy efficiency, which can both drive growth and make a significant dent in emissions, given the right drivers and incentives. China, for example, has employed investments, penalties, rewards and awareness-raising activities to slash energy use among its largest 1,000 companies. These actions prevented the release of 265m metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2006 and 2009. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, although politically challenging, would spur global clean energy development and generate growth. Countries spent a staggering $409bn dollar on fossil fuel subsidies in 2010.

• Second, forestry represents around 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while presenting another major economy-boosting opportunity. In the Amazon, for example, ranchers routinely fell a hectare of forest to create a pasture worth around $500, while releasing hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One win-win solution is to prevent deforestation where the land is worth more with trees than without. At prices of $10 for every ton of unreleased emissions, those Amazonian groves could generate several times more from carbon markets than from pasture. Another solution is to restore already degraded lands. Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, offers a prime example. Reform of land and tree tenure and a program to support regeneration of trees has benefitted 4.5 million people, increasing food production and farmers’ incomes, as it creates new markets. Brazil, meanwhile, has about 300m hectares of degraded forest lands, with the potential to create agricultural jobs without clearing more virgin forest.

• Third, transportation generates about 12% of global GHG emissions and represents an opportunity for a more sustainable and profitable path. Around the globe, car ownership is booming, along with an expanding middle class. This dynamic is creating more urban gridlock and deteriorating air quality, as well as increasing emissions. While an expanding auto industry can be part of a country’s economic recovery, investments in cleaner public transport have been found to generate even greater economic returns. In the United States, stimulus dollars spent on public transport yielded 70 more job hours than those spent on highways, according to Smart Growth America. Meanwhile in Mexico, the government is pursuing an innovative transportation approach with policies and investments to scale up bus rapid-transit networks across the country. Moving away from traditional approaches of economic growth will not be easy. Even where energy reform, sustainable forestry, and investments in public transit can be shown to be beneficial, powerful special interests are blocking progress in many countries. To overcome these entrenched interests, countries – especially the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters – need to recognize that addressing climate change is in their national interest and will improve public well-being.

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Environment protection in fact helps improve economy:

It is a general belief that we can’t have both economic development and environmental quality simultaneously, that if we want to improve economically we must sacrifice the environment. Often in the past Economic Development has been given importance over the environment and society. There is a mutual connection between environment and economy that is often not recognized. There is a widely held theory that resource management practices and policies which protect the environment are most likely to harm the economy and reduce employment opportunities. However, empirical data supporting this theory are rare. In recent years, economists and ecologists have increasingly begun to use quantitative methods to test this theory. Studies examining industrial emissions, endangered species, air quality and other issues have found no evidence that economies suffer as environmental policy strength increases. On the contrary, numerous researchers have reported slight positive correlations between environmental and economic indices, suggesting that environmental health may help to improve the economy.  Methods are being developed to measure the value of clean water and air, and healthy forests throughout the world. Estimated values vary widely, but studies agree that clean, rivers, clean air, biodiversity, and open space are highly valued by the public and that the public is willing to pay to preserve and enjoy these resources. For example, properties near clean rivers have been found to be worth more than similar properties elsewhere. Another rapidly expanding field of study is the valuation of “ecosystem services”. Ecosystem services are the processes by which the environment produces resources that we often take for granted such as clean water, timber, and habitat for fisheries, and pollination of native and agricultural plants. The following is list of the positive impacts of environmental protection on a nation’s economy.

• Environmental protection prevents pollution and the related cost of health care.

• Reduction in pollution results in increased yield from agriculture and cattle.

• A healthy environment supports healthy human beings and increases productivity.

• In a protected environment, the effects of natural calamities such as drought and flood will be less.

• Environmental protection produces job opportunities in the field of green industries and ecotourism.

• As policymakers begin to incorporate environmental conservation into resource management laws and practices, the quality and sustainability of our lives and economies will improve.

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Some examples that show that environmental protection actually strengthens economic growth:

Example -1:

California’s Green Policies have created 1.5 Million jobs and added $45 Billion to the economy. According to a University of California report, “California’s energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007,” while keeping per-capita electricity demand 40 percent below the national average. Instead of household income being lost to the capital intensive energy sector, “induced job growth has contributed approximately $45 billion to the California economy since 1972.” [“Energy Efficiency, Innovation, and Job Creation in California,” 10/20/08]

Example-2:

A National Green Economy creates Millions of new jobs. According to a Greenpeace International and European Renewable Energy Council study, building a green economy that would cut United States greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030 would create a net 7.8 million jobs versus business as usual. [“Energy Revolution,” 3/11/09]

Example-3:

The economy vs. environment myth was debunked ten years ago when MIT found that states with stronger environmental policies “consistently out-performed the weaker environmental states on all the economic measures.”

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Anti-environmentalism:

Anti-environmentalism is a backlash against the environmental movement. The anti-environmentalist movement opposes the environmental movement. Anti-environmentalism disregards the current “environmental crisis” due to specific scientific and economic reasoning. Anti-environmentalists believe that the Earth is not as fragile as environmentalists maintain. It focuses on job-creation, wage enhancement and industry. Generally, chemical manufacturers, oil producers, mining producers, timber companies, real estate developers, nuclear power industries, and electric utilities have anti-environmental motives. Anti-environmentalists are generally right-wing with conservative views, however there may be exceptions. Anti-environmentalism labels environmentalism as an extreme, false and exaggerated reaction to the human contribution of climate change. Anti-environmentalism often seeks to portray environmentalism as an anti-human advancement. The economic recession that began in 1990 enhanced anti-green and pro-industry views. A group called Alliance for America was created with 125 anti-environment and pro-industry groups. In 1994, the US did not pass a Biodiversity Treaty. Another group that was created in the 90’s was called Earth Day Alternatives. They were also counter-environmentalists. This group labeled environmentalists as “anti-human” and extremists. The Earth Day Alternative group promoted three things. They aimed to privatise resources for exploitation, advocate pollution to be permitted as trade between companies, to discredit environmental science. Heritage was a group that was also created with a laissez-faire approach toward the environment.  Anti-environmentalists were motivated by the fact that the ICI created deceptive green advertising. By 2011, less than half of the American population believed that the burning of fossil fuels would affect the environment, proving the success of anti-environmental publicity. In 2011, 80% of Republicans do not believe the science explaining the current “environmental crisis”.

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How selfishness affect environment?

The motto of people goes like “If it suits you, carry on and forget about everything else”. Unfortunately, the word “everything” is that seems to refer o the environment because it is that one thing which everyone tends to forget about. Again, no better example comes to mind other than India to substantiate this. Right from the festivals, to holiday trips to part celebrations, people’s actions disrupt the balance in nature. Starting with the festival many of them involve submerging sacred statue in rivers or seas causing water pollution. Water bodies have self-cleaning ability, but if polluted beyond the saturation point they disturb the aquatic life. Many varieties of fish are known to have become endangered due to people’s negligence. Some festivals involve blasting crackers which causes air pollution. Not only this, stray animals suffer severe trauma because of the unbearable noise of crackers. Moving on to overzealous vacation trips, people somehow damage the environment there also. Look at seashore. I live in small town Daman where every weekend tourists come and dump wastes and garbage at seashore. Some of Indian hill stations have started getting warmer. The rise in temperature is partly due to the vehicles coming to these areas packed with visitors and emitting CO2 copiously. Such scenes have especially become common in places like Massoorie, Simla, Khandala, etc, which are close to major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, etc. People do not mind taking their high emission vehicles to these serene places, thus disturbing their ecology. And all this is due to inadequate government policies and the indifferent attitude of the people.

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The Supposed Ethics of Economic Growth:

One of the most pressing arguments for continued economic growth is that it is necessary to meet the needs of poor people. Jim MacNeill, the secretary-general to the Brundtland Commission, argues that: The most urgent imperative of the next few decades is further rapid growth. A fivefold to tenfold increase in economic activity would be required over the next 50 years in order to meet the needs and aspirations of a burgeoning world population, as well as to begin to reduce mass poverty. If such poverty is not reduced significantly and soon, there really is no way to stop the accelerating decline in the planet’s stocks of basic capital: its forests, soils, species, fisheries, waters and atmosphere. (1989, p. 106) The Brundtland Report also argued that economic growth was necessary for poorer nations to meet their needs but used this argument to support economic growth in all nations. This argument is based on the idea that if the whole pie were bigger than each person’s share would be larger and even the smallest portions would be adequate to meet a person’s needs. The need for a growing pie avoids facing up to the ethical questions about how the pie is distributed. If the pie is not growing then either some people will remain in poverty or others will have to give up some of their share to them. As William Rees has said: ‘economic growth is a major instrument of social policy. By sustaining hope for improvement, it relieves the pressure for policies aimed at more equitable distribution of wealth.’ (1990, p.18)  However, economic growth does not necessarily eliminate poverty. The economic growth that has occurred worldwide over the last 20 years has not decreased the poverty in many developing nations; and the richest nations in the world still accommodate some of the poorest people. Such poverty results from distributional problems rather than from a nation’s lack of wealth. Although the world’s economy has grown 5 times since 1950 there are arguably more people in absolute poverty today than there were then.

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Final comments:

Humans and the environment shape each other and thus must exist co-harmoniously. Humans exploit the natural capital for development to meet their basic needs and wants. To continue to do this on the long-term; they must develop a culture of managing/exploiting natural resources sustainable. That is, up to the level where there is self –regeneration for the renewable natural resources; and by reducing exploitation of non-renewable resources and expanding the use of alternatives. ‘No-one’ half of the globe can exist without the other as we all depend on the ‘common resources.’ We must all be united in securing our common inheritance: the developed world and the developing world; the poor and the not so poor; those whose livelihood depend directly on the natural resources and those who do not. A vision to create a world where economic progress meets environmental conservation is the need of time. One cannot achieve much by just blaming the rampant industrial development witnessed in the 20th and 21st century. Changing the lifestyle for acclimatizing ourselves to the imminent food and energy crisis while still optimizing the economic development are the solutions that we have to act upon. 

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The ‘environment’ is where we live; and development is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable. The economy and environment are not in opposition with one another. In fact, environmental issues are not separate from any issue we face but actually a component of them all. You cannot combat poverty, disease, or suffering without a stable climate and a healthy environment for which people to live in and you cannot improve a struggling economy either. A healthy environment is a prerequisite for a healthy economy. The economy relies on the planet’s ability to provide resources and the necessities of life, if the pollution we produce is reducing its ability to do that it becomes catastrophic for the economy. In fact, climate change has the potential to (and most likely will) send us into one of the biggest global recessions ever.

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Myths vis-à-vis economy vs. environment:

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Myth: We can’t afford any more environmental protection, because it will hurt the economy.

Fact: How many times have you heard that line? Probably every time any new standards were proposed to clean up our air or water and protect our health. And every time we try to preserve some rare plant or animal we have pushed to the brink of extinction, it‘s ―owls (or whatever) versus jobs. These arguments are the most common ones we face in trying to protect the earth. Politicians spout them freely, and so do business groups and radio talk show entertainers. There is only one problem with these assertions: They are simply not true! There have been dozens of well designed studies by economists who have tested these claims, and the results are clear: environmental protection normally has no negative impact on the economy overall, and sometimes it has a positive effect.

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Myth: As a country’s economy grows, its environment becomes cleaner.

Fact: Yes, according to environmental Kuznets curve, as economy becomes mature, per capita income rises, pollution falls. However, the environment doesn’t have national boundaries, and the global environment is degrading at an alarming rate. The UK economy is much, much bigger than 100 years ago, and yet locally, the air and water quality is better in many places. But that’s because they hardly manufacture anything anymore – dirty factories have been exported to the Far East, India and Latin America. And then everything has to be transported from the other side of the world, creating much more ecological damage than if these goods were produced at UK. Japan has displaced its environmental costs to less prosperous and less powerful neighbors. American Union Carbide was responsible for the worst industrial disaster poisoning environment in Bhopal, India and not in America.  

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Myth: Energy efficiency, renewables and new energy sources will allow growth forever.

Fact: Energy efficiency and renewables are not environmentally-friendly in a growing economy, because any money saved will be used to buy something else – a fridge from China, apples from New Zealand, a holiday in Florida – so the benefit is wiped out. Similarly, on a larger scale, if nuclear fusion becomes available and economically viable, it won’t stop environmental destruction as long as there is a growing economy – can you imagine how many new roads, factories, docks, airports, golf courses etc will be built if we harness fusion? Many more habitats and species will be destroyed. Various studies have shown that energy efficiency does not reduce consumption but in fact increases consumption. If you have a highly fuel efficient car, you will drive more. 

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Myth: We need economic growth to eradicate poverty.

Fact: One of the first things the growth lobby will say if you criticize economic growth is that you are condemning the poor to eternal poverty. Not true – anyone interested in poverty eradication would advocate a re-distribution of wealth. There is enough wealth in the world for everyone to live comfortably – it’s just that most of it is in the hands of a tiny minority. Sharing and a fair distribution of resources will alleviate poverty, not growth. We’ve had 200 years of growth and although some people have been lifted out of poverty, concentration of wealth and power means that there are now more poor people in the world than ever before. There is a case for economic growth in poor countries but economic growth does not necessarily eliminate poverty. India has achieved great economic growth but due to population explosion, corruption and poor governance, one third of the population lives below poverty line. Although the world’s economy has grown 5 times since 1950 there are arguably more people in absolute poverty today than there were then.

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Myth: Humans did not cause global warming and CO2 is a natural gas of the atmosphere.

Fact: First we must know whether CO2 is generated from the natural system or from industrial waste. One needs to know the difference between naturally respirated CO2 in the seasonal carbon cycle and how to identify CO2 from human or industrial sources. The simple answer is that any carbon dioxide that has been breathing in and out of the natural carbon cycle is exposed to Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR’s) that cause a change in the isotopic signature of the CO2 molecule. The key isotope is C-14. Carbon dioxide that has the C-14 signature has been exposed to GCR’s. If the C-14 signature is missing, then that CO2 has not been exposed to GCR’s and therefore originated from an area protected from solar rays (underground). The isotopic signature clearly shows that the extra CO2in the atmosphere is from fossil fuels. The amount of increase of atmospheric CO2 and the amount of CO2 expected from burning the amount of fossil fuel we have burned are approximately the same. The conclusion is that the quantitative analysis and the C-14 signature provide solid evidence for the human fingerprint on the increase atmospheric carbon dioxide.  CO2 is the most effective greenhouse gas at raising the Earth’s temperature. CO2 has warming potential for as long as 500 years. Global CO2 emissions increase with economic growth and decrease in economic recession. There is a strong scientific consensus that the global climate is changing and that human activity contributes significantly. This consensus is attested to by a joint statement signed in 2005 by 11 of the world’s leading national science academies representing Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Their statement confirmed the likelihood of human induced climate change. Carbon dioxide makes the largest contribution to enhanced climate change. Fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) are the greatest source of humanity’s carbon dioxide.  

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The moral of the story:

1. One common trend emerges in all the ways mankind hurts the environment: We fail to plan for the future.

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2. Our water, soil, air and mineral resources are finite and that our current rate of use of these resources cannot be maintained over a length of time. The earth cannot support the kind of unrestricted growth which is being seen in the world today.

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3. Modern man now uses for his own purposes some 40% of the net biological product of photosynthesis occurring in terrestrial ecosystems. 

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4. The United Nations estimates that more than 32 million acres (12,949,941 hectares [the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute]) of forest are lost each year. Deforestation leads to global warming, soil erosion, decline in biodiversity and disrupt water cycle.

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 5. Each year millions of people die as a direct or indirect consequence of environmental degradation, whereas hundreds of millions see their health affected. The overwhelming majority of the direct victims of environmental degradation live in the poor countries.

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6. On one hand alleviating poverty especially in tribal areas will help conserve environment and on other hand, industrialization to alleviate poverty harms environment. Poverty causes deforestation and economic development to alleviate poverty also causes deforestation. Also, environmental degradation worsens poverty. So there is a vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.  

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7. Environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) suggests that the level of environmental degradation (pollution) and per capita income follows inverted-U-shaped relationship so that environmental quality deteriorates in early stage of economic development/growth and improves in later stage as an economy develops. Behind this curve lies the traditional economic model of developed countries — “pollute first, harness later”. According to the inverted U-shaped pattern, demand for the environment increases as people get wealthier and more capable of reducing environmental deterioration. The curve describes the relationship between economic growth and the environment in developed countries. Their success seems to infer that there is no need to pay special attention to environmental issues; that the “green” stage of the curve will be reached through rapid economic growth. So the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation is to become rich by working hard and developing economy. However corruption, a high degree of income inequality, low level of literacy, lack of political rights and civil liberties, may impede the development of the EKC relationship. This is the reason why EKC theory fails in many Indian states. So economic growth may facilitate some environmental improvements but this is not an automatic process and will only result from investment and policy initiatives.

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8. It is hypocritical and unfair for rich developed countries to demand that poorer nations make environmental conservation their priority. After all, they became rich in the first place by destroying their environment in the industrial revolution. They worked hard and developed their economies but at the cost of cutting down their own trees, polluting their water sources and poured billions of tons of carbon into the air; and so they are in no position to tell others to behave differently. Also one cannot overlook a fact that developed nations have displaced some of its environmental costs by shifting pollution producing factories to less prosperous and less powerful developing nations.       

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9. Rich developed nations have a historical responsibility for global warming because their factories released carbon emissions into the atmosphere long before the climate effects were known. The climate change phenomenon has been caused by the industrialization of the developed world. However China has overtaken the U.S. to become the world’s top carbon polluter since 2006.

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10. There is no country in the world that has achieved high human development index within the limits of Earth’s ecosystem. What we need is high human development using low ecological foot print per capita. If everyone in the world lived like an average American, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature. What we need is high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources.    

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11. Both the developed and the developing nations should come together to protect the environment. Instead of questioning each other’s duties, they should collectively strive for a solution and step up their efforts to save the environment. In fact, every county should do its bit.

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12. Sustainable development means balancing our economic, environmental and social needs, allowing prosperity for now and future generations. Sustainable development means that the needs of the present generation should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  

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13.The average global surface temperature of Earth has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the last 130 years, and by 1 degree F (0.56 C) since 1975; and the average global sea level has risen between 0.1 and 0.2 meters since 1900. The average temperature will rise 1.8 degrees C to 4 degrees C by the year 2100. Simply put, the world is getting warmer and the temperature is rising faster than ever. The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that the sea level could rise between 7 and 23 inches (17.8 and 58.4 centimeters) by the end of the century. This poses a great threat to coastal wetland ecosystems and coastal population.

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14. Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are estimated to have been between 200 and 300 parts per million (ppm) during preindustrial times. They are presently close to 400 ppm, and levels around 300 ppm are considered safe to keep a stable climate. Under the business as usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 ppm in the year 2100. CO2 is the most effective greenhouse gas at raising the Earth’s temperature. CO2 has warming potential for as long as 500 years. Global CO2 emissions increase with economic growth and decrease in economic recession.  

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15. There is substantial scientific evidence to show that global warming is caused by economic growth. On the other hand, for every 1-degree-Celsius increase in temperature in a poor country over the course of a given year, it reduces economic growth by about 1.3 percentage points.  Also, a recent study Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that global warming is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP. In other words, economic growth of the world caused global warming and global warming is harming the economy. The only solution to climate crisis is a fundamental shift to low-carbon energy. However there are physical limits to the rate at which new technologies can be deployed.  

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16. A single car emits 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (or 5443 kilograms) every year in the form of exhaust. It would take 250 trees to offset that amount. Can we tell a car owner that he/she has to plant 250 trees to prevent global warming?   

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17. A green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. Green economy is identified as an important tool for achieving sustainable development. 

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18. According to a recent provocative study, rising carbon dioxide emissions — the major cause of global warming — cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. 

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19. It is a deeply held view that protecting the environment constitutes a net expense to our economy to the extent that environmental concerns have faded in economic hard times.

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20. According to a recent analysis by Trucost, the estimated cost of environmental damage caused by human activity reached $6.6 trillion in 2008, or 11 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By 2050, the report continues, “global environmental costs are projected to reach $28.6 trillion, equivalent to 18 percent of GDP,” in a business-as-usual scenario. On the other hand, if renewable and resource-efficient technologies are introduced on a global scale, the cost of environmental externalities could be reduced by 23 percent by 2050.

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21. The costs of addressing environmental damage after it has occurred are usually higher than the costs of preventing pollution or using natural resources in a more sustainable way.

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22. If an economic activity produces directly one million dollars in product but also results in one million dollars of costs in health impacts and destruction of essential assets, common sense might lead you to think nothing has been gained. But health services and asset replacement are part of the GDP, and using GDP as a measure, the loss becomes a gain. To the one million dollars in product is added one million dollars in health services and asset replacement, yielding two million in GDP. This is what happens when the cost of environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources are not deducted from GDP. GDP gains double the amount when pollution is created, since it increases once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up.  

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23. We must improve our understanding of how the market, the environment, public policy, and human behavior interact. Recently many nations have moved from using regulations alone to curb pollution, to the use of economic instruments to internalize environmental costs. Incorporating environmental costs in prices is one of the best solution to reduce environmental degradation by economic growth. We must know that a typical coal power plant generates 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year. The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. Countries spent a staggering $409 billion dollar on fossil fuel subsidies in 2010. Recent estimates of environmentally destructive subsidies range from $500 to $650 billion annually. As long as government subsidies encourage activities that environmental policies seek to discourage, the effectiveness of all the economic instruments to curb environmental degradation will be limited. In other words, take out subsidies on fossil fuel and augment subsidies on nuclear, solar, hydro and wind power. For example, unless coal burned power plant meets requirements for ISO 50001:2011 certificationelectricity generated from coal burned power plant which is highly polluting, should be more expensive to consumers than electricity generated from non-polluting solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power.  This will also encourage people to install solar panel on buildings and wind turbines on large plain areas.  

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24. We need both economic development and environment, and without either our survival is not possible. In the end, it all comes down to maintaining a balance between economic growth and preserving natural resources.

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25. Studies have found that states with stronger environmental policies consistently out-performed the weaker environmental states on all the economic measures.

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26. Environmentalists estimate that the Earth could efficiently and safely sustain 3 billion people but our population is nearly 7 billion. To sustain such a large population, large economic growth is required at the cost of large environmental degradation and large use of natural resources. Our renewable and non-renewable resources are being alarmingly exhausted due to increasing population pressure posing difficulty to manage threat to future generation. More people means more waste, more demand for food, more production of consumer goods, more need for electricity, cars and everything. In other words, all the factors that contribute to global warming will be exacerbated. Unchecked population growth has a negative impact on any nation, as well as on the whole planet. Both the poverty and the environmental problems of sub-Saharan Africa are largely the result of rapid population growth putting pressure on limited resources. Each birth results not only in the emissions attributable to that person in his or her lifetime, but also the emissions of all his or her descendents. Limiting population growth will result in a higher standard of living and will preserve the environment. Strong family planning programs are in the interests of all countries for greenhouse-gas concerns as well as for broader welfare concerns. However, 80 % of the current consumption of the Earth’s resources is accounted for by the 20% of the world’s population that resides in the rich industrialized countries and therefore curbing consumer habits in these developed nations is equally important besides population control.  

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Dr, Rajiv Desai. MD. 

September 2, 2013  

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Postscript:

I am neither economist nor environmentalist but still I made an honest attempt to discuss this burning issue. We the humans must consider ourselves as a part of the ecosystem and not master of the ecosystem.      

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