Environment and Economic Development: Sustainable Development

Our natural environment includes all living and non living things like land, forests, minerals, water bodies, the atmosphere, etc. While some of these resources may be renewable others get depleted and ultimately exhausted with their continuous use. Even the renewable resources may get degraded or polluted. Economic development seeks increase, in the rate of increase of national income and achieving an equitable distribution of income. Increase in national income would result only from increased production of goods and services. The process of increase in output would involve greater consumption of resources such as land, forest, fuels etc, whose supply is essentially limited. The productivity of an economy thus depends considerably on the supply, quality and consumption of such natural resources. Thus reckless and thoughtless use of these resources would cause their exhaustion and degradation, thereby reduce productivity and impede economic growth. Also due to such depletion and degradation our future generations will not get enough of these 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.


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.


It is in this context that the need for Sustainable Development arises. All economic activities either affect or are affected by the natural environment. Thus development based on reckless use of the natural resources is bound to result in reduced productivity of our economic system affecting the quality of life of the future inhabitants of this planet. Sustainable development therefore attempts to strike a balance between the demands of economic development and the need for protection of our natural environment. It is basically concerned with economic development in an environmentally responsible manner, keeping in mind the needs of the future generations.


Environmental considerations and pollution control are a part of sustainable development and hence they are needed to be fully integrated in our socio economic policies and programmes. Short run considerations of stepping up the pace of economic growth at the cost of environmental degradation will inexorably result in long run retardation of growth. Thus while formulating a development policy, a balance needs to be maintained between the requirements of the present and the needs of the future generations. We should try to replenish the stock of resources, at least to the extent that the present level of development has depleted them. For this we must make efficient use of natural resources, use non renewable resources economically while continuously trying to develop and use renewable resources. It may also be remembered that sustainable development requires strong international commitment and cooperation because ecology and environment transcend national and geographical boundaries.
Swati Mehra

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