In both capitalist and socialist nations, industrial growth has destroyed the natural world, intensified social inequalities, and abrogated intergenerational equity. The greatest obstacle on the path to sustainability is the hegemony of developmentality, which equates affluence with happiness, measures development in terms of GNP growth, and accepts development to be the destiny of civilization. To arrest further destruction of the natural world and build a sustainable society, the economy must terminate growth. State economic institutions must eventually introduce, and be accustomed to, zero rates of interest and profits. This revolutionary proposition seems absurd to the layperson, policy-makers and the traditional left alike. Public acceptance of a new economic order - where money cannot buy any resource that could yield rent in perpetuity, where internalization of environmental costs would nullify profit, and where saving in banks would yield no interests - would seem extremely difficult at the outset. But from ecological economic perspective, zero-growth economy is our only option if we really want to save our common future.
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This incisive, epic work turns the dominant development model and its economics upside down and argues for a new way of thinking about the meaning of development and the complexion of our economy. The book traces the origin and development of the concept of development in the economic context, and suggests a way to achieving post-industrial development with zero industrial growth. The book argues that sustainable development is possible only when concerns for biodiversity and human development are put at the centre of teh economy and social policy. It both provides a theoretical foundation to sustainability and presents empirical instances of sustainable production systems.
Coverage is magisterial and includes history, ecology, economics, anthropology, policy analysis, population theory, sociology, the Marxian critique of capitalism, Orientalism, semiotics, and sociology of science. These are interwoven in an accessible but challenging way that enables readers to look from a new vantage point. Distinguishing features include a critique of development from a natural science perspective, a fresh and thorough account of the concept of sustainability both from a theoretical and empricial perspectives and the application of an evolutionary biology metaphor to building a socially responsible alternative to the prevailing developmentality.
This is the most sweeping coverage of critical issues in economics, environment, devlopment and sustainability available. It is both empowering and necessary read for students, academics, professionals and activists from across sustainability, development, economics and environmental studies and beyond, and an invaluable repository of information about the critical issues facing humanity as we continue to develop our over-crowded planet.
I began writing this book in the autumn of 2001, when I was living at the International House in Berkeley. I used to sit in the I-House café every evening and watch, and sometimes play chess with a group of wonderful people of different ages, who became my great friends. Usually, after the chess games, we would indulge in discussions on worldly matters, ranging from anti-oxidants in foods to xenophobia in Western cultures. One of these friends, Bob, a doctorate in economics, was a great conversationist. One day, when I was rallying against the unsustainability of industrial development that is unmindful of the environmental resources, Bob was astonished. After a brief exchange of arguments, he gave me this punch: ‘So you want that people of your own country should not ride cars and live in modern houses with all comforts and study in schools with computers? You don’t want your countrymen to be affluent? You want the Indian peasants to remain bound to their farms, submerged in poverty and deprived of life’s opportunities, huh?’ I had little idea then that exactly the same questions would be reiterated by the ministers of the communist party-led Government of West Bengal to legitimize forcible eviction of farmers in Nandigram from their lands for promoting petro-industry. I tried in vain to convince Bob that my idea of development was based on the urgent need for improvement of environmental, social and material well-being for all the people of all countries. I failed to make him see that I did not want a fraction of the population to wallow in islands of affluence, while the rest lived in poverty; that I did not want any people to be deprived of the joy of life, which was actually robbed by development as measured by GNP; and that I did not want the privilege of a few people to ride air-conditioned cars and live in palaces to preclude other people’s right to inherit a world rich in biological and cultural diversity, eat healthy square meals, breathe unpolluted air, enjoy the fruits of their own labour. Bob remained unconvinced and unhappy. It was not a point of winning an argument, it was a matter of communicating, sharing a viewpoint. Bob left me wondering how difficult it must be to talk about the negative connotations of development to people not so intelligent or amiable as he. Indeed, it’s even risky in the globalizing South – in West Bengal, for instance, where the traditional left is promoting big industry as the revolutionary path toward progress. Where anyone questioning the legitimacy of development, or anyone opposing farmers’ eviction from their land is branded a “terrorist”, and is likely to invite vengeance from the state.
Bob represents the majority of people who see development as necessary for the poor to become rich. To the majority, in the US as well as in India, development is a moral obligation, an unquestionable social goal, to be achieved by rapid industrial growth. This mindset, which equates affluence with development, measures development in terms of GNP growth, and accepts development to be the destiny of civilsation, is developmentality. Some believe that under-developed countries and pre-capitalist societies ought to be brought into the ‘mainstream’ of development in order to enable them to enjoy the fruits of progress. They believe, categorically, that development will enable all Indians and Nigerians and Bolivians to eat McDonalds (or Burger King) foods, drink Coke (or Pepsi), ride in air-conditioned Mercedes (or at least a Maruti), wear Nike, watch Rambo on home video and chat sex on the Internet. It is with these people that I venture to argue that developmentality has devastated the natural resource base of the world and with that, life’s opportunities for millions of fellow humans. No Bob, if that’s your idea of development, I don’t want my country people to fall victim to it. I want all countries to take a path of development that is sustainable, that is more socially responsible, and just. If development is not sustainable, it is not desirable. Will you accept a post-dated cheque drawn on a liquidated bank? We have different preferences. It’s a different story altogether whether our informed preferences matter at all to the people who matter in framing development policies.
In this book, I will oppose development as Bob understands it. Yet it behooves me to state at the outset that I am not opposing development and modernity from either a religious or Deep Ecology point of view. I don’t pretend to argue that we should shun all scientific, technological and social achievements and go back to our cave-dwelling stage of simplicity, where humans did not apparently contravene nature. My opposition to development is not based on the argument that modern humans are opposing nature, or that technology is bad because it is unnatural. That is too simplistic and foolish. Orthopedic surgery is also unnatural, but we cannot afford to deny it to a person with a crushed femur, although in the dawn of civilization, people were fated to die of such mishaps. Death is natural, but it is also natural for all living beings to try to avoid death. Science was born to enable humans to live with less hardships and worries, but the arbiters of development have repeatedly abused science to bring death to humans and other life forms. My fundamental argument against the current trend of development is that it is unsustainable, and apt to lead to the unnatural death of our own species. I argue that a more prosperous civilization is possible without industrial growth, and that that possibility emerges from numerous vibrant pre-industrial social systems.
I have prepared this book with a particular guild of readers in my mind. First of all, she (no sexism implied; sometimes I will refer to everyman and everywoman as ‘he’ as well) must be literate, and of course able to read English. I further assume that she is aware of the ongoing techno-industrial onslaught on biodiversity and the environment. I further assume she is familiar with such names as DDT, ozone hole and Chernobyl. She may even have some concern about global poverty and human rights violation. Finally, she is neither overwhelmed by, nor prejudiced against the mention of such proper nouns as Renaissance, Orientalism, Karl Marx, or globalisation. I gloss over and try to connect all these things. It’s a long argument, so my reader must be patient.
This book traces the origin of what we understand as economic development and the spread of the concept of development and its immanent politics; in short, a prognostication of developmentality, which I consider a sickness of human civilisation. This issue of developmentality, which techno-industrial growth has engendered over the past two centuries, is of crucial importance to all concerned with the health of the biosphere and the fate of civilisation. Thus, developmentality needs to be examined from natural science as well as social science perspectives. The issue also necessitates a clear understanding of the position of social-economic processes as primarily based on the biological imperatives of human (biological and cultural) evolution and the web of ecological relationships with non-human components of the biosphere.
Like all organisms, ‘humans inevitably reconstruct their habitat’, but unlike other organisms, it remains within their power –– to do so respectfully (Norton, 2003: 145). Like every organism, humans have drawn, and continue to draw resources from the biosphere to support their existence. In return, the metabolic process creates substances that enter into the biogeochemical cycles. The human metabolic products are used by other organisms. However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, humans began producing substances that could not be incorporated into the biosphere. Some of these products of human economic metabolism are toxic to organisms and have a disruptive influence on the structure, organisation and metabolic process of the biosphere that has evolved over 3.8 billion years. Thus, the human world seems to stand in opposition to the biosphere. This opposition simply means that in the long run, human species has a destiny analogical to that of the gigantic reptiles of the Cretaceous Era.
Of course, the allusion to extinction of dinosaurs is an analogy. The history of the biosphere is replete with stories of extinction of millions of species. The first great extinction happened some 2.5 billion years ago when oxygen produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria killed off all the organisms that had adapted to the early biosphere. Later, organisms that adapted to oxygen survived to evolve into our own familiar biosphere in which almost no organism can survive without oxygen. (I say almost because there are some bacteria that survive in bizarre oxygen-less environments). The biosphere has witnessed many other catastrophic mass extinction episodes. The most well-known is the extinction of dinosaurs, plausibly caused by a meteoritic impact 65 million years ago that killed half of all species then living. Far less well-known is a greater extinction episode that took place at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago. A similar extinction phase has been set up by modern humans. Beginning with European colonial expansion, modern techno-industrial development has accelerated the species extinction rate several hundred-fold in recent years. The technological power has enabled humans to wipe out whole communities almost overnight by constructing immense dams, giant clearcuts, highways, and through industrial agriculture. The unprecedented scale of industrial activity is destroying the very support systems of all life. The biosphere has already shown signs of dysfunction and restructuring that may spell doom for humans. While the unique development of the brain has enabled humans to transcend biological evolution, it has also empowered them to destroy their own life-support system. One wonders if the disproportionate development of the brain entails doom for the most intelligent species on earth, just as the allometric growth of the antlers of the Irish elk led to its extinction.
I have not indulged myself in describing the mechanisms, processes and tempo of species extinction, about which the popular classics of conservationist literature, like Edward Wilson’s The Diversity of Life (1992), David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo (1997) and Extinction by Paul and Anne Ehrlich (1981) have said more than ample. I argue that the fundamental drive for man-made extinction episodes and the global environmental crisis is the craving for continuous economic growth and the expectation that development will beget happiness for all.
I link the environmental damages to social injustices, if only because extinct species and lost environmental services preclude generational equity. This is one ground where the concerns of ecological and social sciences overlap. I venture to suggest possible means to harmonising the goals and operations of social institutions (including science) toward ensuring social and environmental justice. A discussion on the subject of sustainable development, which must include the issue of intergenerational justice, is bound to invoke economic, ecological and political considerations. The diversity and complexity of the subject matter necessitates overlapping of issues, repetition of certain points in different contexts and allusion to metaphors from disparate disciplines. Therefore, the arrangement of the chapters and sections may not be the best to reflect my attempt to organise my argument. I have confined my treatment of scientific matters to conceptual level, but have inserted a few sections of Technical Discussion for the interested reader. These sections would clarify certain concepts dealt with in the text, but may be omitted by readers who are disinclined to mathematics.
Chapter 1 delineates the origin and development of the doctrine of development. A huge amount of scholarly work has already described the history of the concept of development and how it became doctrinaire since the nineteenth century. My discussion is based primarily on Arndt (1981), Atkinson (1991), Barry (1999), Clark (1984), Coates (1998), Gillespie (2001), Halsall (1997), Hay (2002), Hofstadter (1959), Lutzenberger (1996), Merchant (1980) and White (1967). These works provide two major insights, which have been combined in my description of the ideological underpinnings of development in the modern sense. The first is that modern connotations of development emerged with the rise of capitalism in the nineteenth century. In particular, the Spencerian doctrine of development as a law of society emerged in the period of Industrial Revolution in Britain. Spencer also furnished his sociology with his law of the survival of the fittest in the capitalist marketplace, and fathered what later came to be known as Social Darwinism. However, one also gleans that the philosophical underpinnings of development – namely the human supremacy over nature – were much older, linked to Judeo-Christian cosmology. Furthermore, the idea of progress itself is older than the phenomenology of industrial progress. Following the Baconian principle of giving primacy to instrumental reason and scientific method to achieve progress, thinkers like Rousseau, Voltaire and Tocqueville maintained that progress results from human use of reason. I refer to Van Doren’s (1967) classic work on progressivist theories. Thus, the second insight is that man’s supremacy over natural world fitted snugly into Social Darwinism and Eurocentrism, and justified both colonisation of the South and extermination of indigenous peoples in the colonies. I have refrained from going into a deep analysis of the complexity and richness of the history and social dynamics of development. Instead, a summary treatment has been given to the complex interpenetration of ideas and ideologies, along with ample citations, for the benefit of the interested reader.
In addition to collating and summarising the different viewpoints and insights of different authors, I have added a perspective that is often missing in most historical analyses of the development doctrine. This I call the Marxian perspective, to distinguish from the commonly-held Marxist perspective, which is promulgated by official Marxist political theorists. The Marxist position with respect to development is generally supportive of technological-industrial growth, so as to deepen the social and economic divide between the exploiter and the exploited, until the working class revolts to demolish the capitalist world order and usher communism. In this interpretation, industrial growth and development is a historical necessity. However, the Marxian repudiation of the process of industrial development that brought about alienation of the worker from both nature and humanity, and Marx’s vision of a responsible development of technology are often ignored. Thanks to recent Marxian scholarship, the political rift between the Marxian and the Marxist view of development has become clear. Paul Burkett’s Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (1999) and John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology (2000) in particular are profoundly perceptive in describing Marx’s (and Engel’s) views on the impact of industrial development on nature that are often at odds with the standard Marxist view. I borrow this Marxian perspective in my description of how Enlightenment progressivism fostered developmentality in the nineteenth century. I also argue that Marx as well as Alfred Wallace, both Victorian radicals, subscribed to the Enlightenment doctrine, and the Eurocentric model of progress. Here again, my treatment of Marx and Wallace has been brief, but founded on recent scholarship.
In my treatment of the concept of development, the doctrine of development is polymorphic, because the concept of development seems to have assumed different shades of meaning and significance across time and space. Thus, multiple doctrines of development appear to exist in some recent critical analyses of the concept’s archeology, as in Cowen and Shenton (1996), from whose book I borrow (with modification) the title of Chapter 1. I contend that following its origin in Spencerist sociology, the concept has been consolidated into a singular doctrine of material prosperity, ensconced in and reinforced by neo-classical economic theory, which informs policy planning for national development. My discussion of the process of acceptance, canonisation and globalisation of developmentality relies mostly on accounts of Douthwaite (1999), Escobar (1995) and Gillespie (2001).
Chapter 2 describes the fallacies of basic assumptions underlying the myths of neo-classical economics. In this description, I have confined myself to citing commonplace, real life examples where the edifice of neo-classical economics falls apart. I describe how the scientifically untenable, false postulates continue to buttress the paradigm of development, and globalise developmentality. I have highlighted the limitations of neo-classical economics as depicted in Herman Daly’s Beyond Growth (1996) and various other works cited in the text.
The doctrinal emphasis of material prosperity, measured by a single indicator, GNP per capita, has divided the world into two halves – the North and the South. This division of the world in the current economic and political discourse is grounded in political and historical context, just as the earlier value-laden East-West division was, but has relatively more objective reference to the economic status of the countries. The new terms are still pivoted on the same connotations of development and under-development in terms of GNP. In Chapter 3, I describe how the hegemony of the Northern paradigm of economic development has charted the course of development for the South, resulting in intensified natural resource extraction and exhaustion. Intensive agriculture, mining and industrialisation have reduced fertility and long-term productivity of the soil, eliminated numerous life forms, ravished the earth’s vital life-support systems, undermined public health and destroyed livelihoods of the poor. All these have threatened what Amartya Sen (1981) has called ‘entitlement’ to food, and therefore, food security of the country. Inequality in land distribution and access to natural resources, inherent in the South’s political and administrative machinery, sustains the lack of entitlement of the poor to food and livelihoods. Concomitantly, the entitlement of future generations to the natural capital and its potential uses is also endangered.
The choice of the course and tempo of development is ultimately concerned with the mode of resource use. The whole sustainability movement is pivoted on the question of which mode of resource use tends to be sustainable, and how that mode is likely to be incorporated into our worldview and national policies. Agriculture and forestry constitute the paradigm for this discourse on resource use. The current discourse on the prevalent global resource use patterns has already polarised the issue by means of historical comparison, socio-economic contrast, and evaluation of ecological properties. On the one hand, the mainstream, conventionalised, profligate mode of resource use is portrayed as the progressive-scientific means of managing resources; on the other hand, an older mode of resource use – one that was, and in some parts of the world still is, practised – is posited as the primitive (implying unscientific) mode of resource management. This mode of traditional resource use is practised by numerous indigenous societies. While values and perspectives widely differ as to which mode ought to be adopted as the ideal approach to sustainable resource use and management, there is no dispute regarding the opposing characteristics of the two modes, which I label here, by way of shorthand notation, ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ modes. I argue that a key to sustainability is adopting certain characteristics of the traditional mode of resource use. This is linked to adoption of certain institutions of traditional societies, which I believe are a significant agent of change in social perceptions, values and behaviour. I will pick up this point later in Chapter 7.