Balancing growth and environment

It requires rethinking growth and making economies work in the interests of all.

The recent developments and confusions pertaining to the adoption of Kasturirangan committee report on Western Ghats’ conservation and the proposed final notification prohibiting development activities in Western Ghats have revived the debate on development-growth trade-off. For many decades most countries were silent on the extinction of species and natural capital and have concentrated on the need for faster economic development. With the publication of W W Rostow’s treatise, “The Process of Economic Growth in 1960,” economic growth was considered to be a mechanical process happening in stages.

But the reality of faster depletion of natural resources, large scale pollution and the impending climate change and their effects have lead to the reassessment of the threats to sustainable development . Now most countries realise the importance of promoting sustainable development, i.e., “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Brundtland Commission,1987). In the US, the work of Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring led to the banning of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a commonly used pesticide, in 1972. The same year saw the Club of Rome publishing its report,
“The Limits to Growth,” cautioning the risks of uncontrolled economic growth.

The protection of the natural environment has become a new and integral aspect of development. The indiscriminate use of available natural resources, with harm to the primary sources of energy and the natural environment in general, has led to rethinking on models of economic growth as instrumental in improving our quality of life. But growth can lead to degradation of the environment and faster depletion of natural resources.

Development vs growth

At the same time preserving the environment should not be by sacrificing economic growth. This very belief has fueled the development vs growth debate. Few of our environmentalists take an extreme view on the subject of conservation and oppose any kind of developmental activity. Such an extreme approach will have only a growth depressing influence. Sustainable development demands from us that our generation should manage the resource base such that the average quality of life we ensure ourselves can potentially be shared by all future generations. We pass on to posterity at least as much capital as we have, so that they have no less a chance than us to be happy.

Again it is important for societies to identify all such critical non-substitutable natural resources and to resolve to preserve them. Harvesting rates should not exceed regeneration rates and waste emissions should not exceed the renewable assimilative capacity of the environment. For arriving at Green GDP (Gross Domestic Product), an indicator of sustainable development, a series of ad- hoc deductions for depreciation in natural capital stock like deforestation, ground water depletion, soil erosion etc are made. Sustainable development is a practical guide to the survival of humanity in general. It brings together man, nature and development for a better future.

The Kasturirangan report’s recommendations, if implemented, will lead to the generation of different types of development zones. Highly sensitive environmental zones may prohibit development completely, others may encourage non-polluting and non-mining investments, a few may encourage mining subject to adequate returns to the local community .Recommendations in the report focus on protecting ecologically sensitive areas for making development sustainable.

While the other five states in the Western Ghats region are not much disturbed over the decision of MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest), it is in Kerala that the opposition to the report has turned in to agitations spearheaded by the Communist Party of India and the Catholic Church. The high population density in Kerala’s Western Ghat districts and the powerful vested interest groups are behind the uprising against the Kasturirangan report.

There is no doubt that developmental activities will lead to some environmental damage. The focus of development models should be to minimise or avert this damage. Since the environment provides tremendous direct and indirect values for the survival of various forms of life any damage to the environment would impinge on the right to live of various organisms. The challenge of balancing development and environment imperatives requires rethinking growth and making economies work in the interests of all.

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