Rebalancing ecology, economy & ethics

We need policy instruments and intervention strategies for behavior change, such as educational programs and incentives for conservation

Our growing understanding of complex systems, including ecosystems, has challenged the dominant economic model of a closed circular flow of production and

consumption. This pattern has been described as “natural laws” of balancing market forces.

Especially in a world of limited resources, it becomes apparent that neoclassical economics fails to reflect social, economic, and environmental factors. The circular flowchart of neoclassical economics is just an abstraction of economics, showing that it can continue to reproduce itself. indefinitely without any additional input. However, all resources (non-renewable or renewable) needed to support this circular flow must come from the environment. At the same time, all waste produced by businesses and households inevitably returns to the environment. The dependence of the economic system on the natural ecosystem is so total that the human economy can legitimately be considered a subset of the terrestrial ecosystem.

Given today’s environmental issues, ranging from global atmospheric degradation and environmental toxicity to forest loss and mass species extinctions, it is important that we understand the relationship between ecosystem and the economic system and our obligations to the environment.

Since Vedic times, we have been taught to live in peace and harmony with nature and to conserve it. But as civilization progressed, economics and ecology became separated and their ethical implications were all but forgotten in the wave of unbridled capitalist greed, one-sided individualism and self-centeredness.

Today, growth obsessed with gross domestic product (GDP) has become synonymous with rising living standards. But in reality, some people have benefited more from growth than others and there are still a significant number of people in the world who do not have access to basic necessities, such as food, clean water, health care and continue to live with hunger, illiteracy, etc. inequality has increased over the past decades in advanced economies, but has gone unnoticed. However, the imminent threat of catastrophic global warming has raised serious concerns about the link between growth and carbon emissions. The problem with GDP is that it confuses qualitative development with quantitative growth and also distorts economic growth by excluding social factors, environmental impacts and natural capital. For example, agricultural expansion will be presented as a net economic gain, despite the degradation of ecosystem services.

Eradicating global poverty within the limits of natural resources is a huge challenge. Population growth has already pushed the planet beyond four planetary boundaries – climate change, land conversion, fertilizer use and biodiversity loss. A holistic approach is needed that integrates social, ecological and economic indicators to assess human well-being, the sustainability of a country or company’s growth, identify losses and design better policies and practices to minimize them. . necessary to incorporate all aspects of profit and loss, not just financial gains, but also negative externalities such as pollution, waste and other social and environmental impacts.

We cannot sustain growth indefinitely, given our planetary boundaries, which raises a very important and much-debated question. What is the limit of economic growth?

In today’s scenario, Herman Daley’s concept of a stable economy is known to be central to sustainable development and is often discussed in relation to economic growth and its impact on ecological integrity, environmental protection and sustainability. economic sustainability. “This implies a stabilized per capita population and consumption that does not exceed the carrying capacity of the ecosystem.” Since natural resources are limited, rather than trying to achieve growth (quantitative), we should focus on innovation and improvement (qualitative). He also suggested that taxes be levied on resource use rather than income. Such a change would force

people to use more resources

wisely, encourage eco-responsibility

technologies and simultaneously improve employment and environmental sustainability.

Our current economic system is putting enormous pressure on the planet and traditional ways of doing business will soon break down, forcing businesses to find new solutions. By determining the path forward, businesses can save time, reduce costs, increase efficiency and gain a competitive advantage, which are essential to their success and survival. By innovating and applying clean technologies, they can reduce pollution levels, deploy resources more sustainably, recycle a greater share of waste and products, or process residual waste in an environmentally friendly way. In addition, companies must reinvest their profits in restoring, preserving and expanding the planet’s resources. Failure to do so can have a negative impact on their income. Companies must adapt a new perspective that does not treat growth and social well-being as a zero-sum game.

Indeed, it is more productive to work with nature than against it. However, we have focused only on the exploitable resources of terrestrial ecosystems and not on the services rendered by these ecosystems. GDP has induced unsustainable practices that have contributed to the climate and biodiversity crises. Over the past two decades, forests have been significantly degraded due to land use changes, mining, infrastructure projects, commercial logging, overgrazing, etc. Although the country’s total forest cover has increased, it has mainly increased in the open forest category (degraded forests) due to plantations, monoculture, etc. on private land, while dense forests (good forest) have declined inside government-managed forests. According to the 2021 report on the state of India’s forests, 45% of India’s forests are threatened

climate change by 2030 if carbon emissions increase moderately. In a high emissions scenario, this number increases to 65%. In addition, the standing stock of trees in the forests has decreased by 8% and the carbon stock is only 7,204 million tonnes.

Massive plantations, especially monoculture species, deforestation in subtropical and tropical rainforests have become detrimental to biodiversity and the ecosystem. Similarly, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, land degradation, especially of rainfed land, has become a major concern for Indian agriculture, where agriculture contributes significantly to the country’s GDP and upon which the lives and livelihoods of farmers and farmers depend. forest dwellers.

The loss of forests and the extinction of species can deprive us of precious resources and services such as wood, nuts, fruits, medicines and the prevention of soil erosion, floods and droughts, filtration water, fisheries, pollination and pollinators – functions that are particularly important to communities that depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. their daily survival. Since naturally regenerating forests tend to store nearly 32% more carbon, forest restoration should take priority over tree planting.

It is essential to understand that our economy is a subset of our ecology. It is therefore vital that human behavior towards nature is modified and corrected. To achieve this, ecology and ethics must work in tandem. Ecology gives us insight into natural ecosystems and the laws and regulations that govern them, while ethics allows us to establish inner checks against the overuse of nature. It is imperative that to achieve sustainable development, the broken harmony between economy, ecology and ethics be restored. We need policy instruments and intervention strategies for behavior change such as educational programs, conservation incentives, ministry of land use, etc.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that when governments decide to shake things up in their countries, policies can happen almost overnight. It is entirely possible to change things, but only if we change our political values, our interests and our state of mind.

(The author is a former IFS officer. Opinions expressed are personal.)

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