We move forward with our discussion on Human Ecology and today we will have a look
at Sustainable Development.
In this module we had begin with our definition of the amount of impact that is caused on
the environment, and we said that the impact I = P x A x T, where P is the population of
human beings, A is the affluence or the amount of resources that they have or the
purchasing power that they have, typically represented as GDP per capita and T is the
technology or the level of technological advance that humanity has at that particular place
In our previous lecture we saw that the population is increasing and the population has
been increasing for quite a while. So, this thing is increasing with time. The level of
affluence also is increasing with time because now we have access to much more amount
of resources. Now, we have access to much more purchasing power than our ancestors
had. Today we use much more modern technologies, we use much more amount of
electricity, much more amount of fuels as compared to our ancestors, but then what about
T is the technology or the level of technological advance and we cannot reduce the
population in a jiffy because it will take quite some time to reduce the population. We saw
in the previous lecture that the growth rate of human population has been decreasing, it is
reaching to a level of decline, but then still the growth rate is positive. So, the population
is going to increase for a couple of decades, or maybe one more century.
The level of affluence is not something that we would want to reduce because we want to
have people to have access to as much amount of resources, we want people to be rich,
people to be prosperous. So, we do not want A to come down, but then T is something that
we can play with the technological advance. Now, herein we have a choice that if we are
manufacturing something how much of attention should be give to the environment and
how much of attention should we give to the affluence of people?
(Refer Slide Time: 02:45)
Because, we have this choice everywhere, suppose you have a fixed amount of resources
and suppose the resources that we are considering is say iron and steel. Now, this iron and
steel and to take things in a very simple manner let us say that we can use this iron and
steel either to manufacture cars or to manufacture school benches. So, we have two
choices, we can either make cars or we can make school benches.
In this example, what we are referring to is that if we make more number of cars, so the
affluence of general community will increase and if we make more number of school
benches, so, we are trying to make the community more and more educated; we are giving
much more attention to the children. Do we give more attention to adults or do we give
more attention to the children?
Now, the amount of resources that we have is fixed, it is limited. Suppose we have let us
say that in this fictional country we have say 100 tonnes of iron and steel. Now, with that
100 tonnes of iron and steel we can make cars, and if we put all of this 100 tonnes of iron
and steel into cars let us say that we are able to make 100 cars.
On the other hand, if we use all of it to make school benches then probably we will be able
to make say 10,000 school benches. Now, we have this choice that we can devote all of it
to making cars, so we make 100 cars and 0 school benches or we devote everything into
school benches and we make 10,000 school benches and 0 cars. So, what are the options
that we have?
(Refer Slide Time: 04:52)
Here are the options. You have cars and you have the school benches. So, you can make
100 cars and 0 school benches or you can make 0 cars and 10,000 school benches or maybe
something in between; maybe you can make 50 cars and may make 5000 school benches.
So, typically your 50 cars would come somewhere here and your 5000 school benches
would come somewhere here.
In this case, you have this curve that is giving you the option of how many cars and how
many school benches you can make. You can say make this much amount of cars and this
much amount of school benches, and this case you are making 80 cars and maybe you are
making 2000 school benches or you make just 20 cars and you make 8,000 school benches.
So, this is a choice that you have as a society or as a nation. Now, this thing is referred to
as a production possibility curve.
(Refer Slide Time: 05:59)
And in general, the shape of the curve is something like this. Suppose you are making cars
and school benches. Now, typically we have seen that the rate at which you can make
something is very large in the beginning because if you are moving from say 0 school
benches to say 10 school benches it is much more easy to develop technologies such that
you are able to make 10 school benches. But then, if we are trying to move from say 9,990
school benches to 10,000 school benches, making an increment when you already have a
very high level of productivity, that becomes much more difficult.
In that case this is your curve and this is known as the production possibility curve or the
production possibility frontier. And in this case, you can take any point that is inside this.
So, as a society you might even decide that you will make only say 1 car and you will
make 1 school bench and you will keep all of your remaining iron and steel as such. Now,
that is not the most efficient utilization of your resources because as economists we would
want to make the fullest utilization of resources.
So, anything that is within this curve, anything that falls in this green area is something
that you can choose. Anything that falls on this particular curve or that falls on this yellow
line is the most efficient way of utilizing your resources, but then you will have to make a
choice between what you want. And anything that is outside or that is in this red region is
something that you cannot make because your resources are limited.
Suppose, you said that I am going to make 100 cars and I am going to make 12,000 school
benches. So, at this point you have 100 cars and you have 12,000 school benches, but then
your amount of iron and steel is such that you cannot go with both of these. So, you will
have to restrict yourself somewhere. Now, similarly when we are talking about the
environment and if we are making any technology we again have to make a choice.
(Refer Slide Time: 08:32)
In this equation when we talked about I = P x A x T. When we are altering the
technologies, we have this option of how much of technology to put into affluence of
people and how much amount of technology to put into the environment.
Say, suppose you are making this particular pen. Now, you could choose a technology that
makes this pen in the cheapest possible cost. So, maybe you are able to make this pen for
say 10 rupees and these 10 rupees is the cheapest you can make this pen. Now, if you are
making this pen at a lower cost, so in that case the affluence of the people will be more
because say a person has say 100 rupees, so, he will be able to purchase 10 of these pens.
On the other hand, if you produce this pen at a larger cost say you are able to produce this
pen at 20 rupees. So, any person will be able to afford only 5 of these pens, but then when
you are making this pen and you are only considering about the cost of this pen, only when
you are only thinking about the affluence of the society it is possible that you are releasing
quite a lot of pollutants into the atmosphere because you are not treating those pollutants.
So, when you are making this pen, it will give rise to certain pollutants and you are not
treating those pollutants, so that you can reduce the cost of this pen.
Suppose, if you treat all of those pollutants. If you say that no, I am not going to release
all any of these pollutants into the air or our water because I am very concerned about the
environment. So, in this case let us say that it takes 10 more rupees per pen to take care of
all the pollutants. So, you are able to convert all of your pollutants into non harmful
substances, but then that takes 10 more rupees.
In that case, your cost of pen will become the cost of manufacturing plusthe cost of treating
waste. Now, the cost of manufacturing was 10 rupees and the cost of treating waste was
again 10 rupees. So, it becomes in total 20 rupees. Whereas, earlier when you were only
making the pen, you were not treating the waste your cost of pen was equal to the cost of
manufacturing which was 10 rupees.
In this case, let us say that an average person in your society has 100 rupees. Now, in the
first case, the number of pens that get afforded by the person becomes 10 and in this case
the number of pens that are afforded by the person it becomes only 5 because 100 divided
by 20 is only 5. So, here what we are discussing is how much amount of resources do we
put into affluence and how much amount of resources do we put into the environment.
Until the 60s we had this notion that we have a small population on this earth and we have
plentiful of resources, there is so much amount of oceans, so many lakes where if we can
dump our pollutants and we did not know about the ecological impacts of a number of
pollutants that we were thrown into our water bodies.
And so, in those days it was very easy to say that let us reduce the cost of this pen as much
as possible, so we make this pen for 10 rupees and we want to have as much amount of
affluence as we can give to the people. But these days, now that we know that our resources
are limited, our waste pools are limited, we cannot dump all of these waste materials into
the ocean bodies because ultimately it will come back to us. So, now, we are talking about
treating all these wastes and now we are talking about using a technology in a way such
that you are able to put least amount of impact on the environment. But then when you are
using your technology in a way that you are saving the environment, so, you are not saving
it just for yourself, you are saving it for the future generations. You are saving it for your
children or your next generations. So, if you are doing that, in the current generation you
will have to make do with certain sacrifices. You will only have 5 pens. So, you will have
less resources for yourself, if you are saving these resources for the posterity or for the
future generations. And herein comes the topic of sustainability.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:40)
Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. So,
essentially what you want is you want to have a development such that you are able to
meet the needs of the present.
Suppose, in your current generation you require say 6 pens and if you devote 10 rupees
into treating of the waste, so in place of your requirement or your need is say 6 pens. If
you devote everything into the future generations, you are only able to get 5 pens. So, that
is not a good scenario because you are not able to meet your needs.
But then, there is a difference between needs and wants, so probably I might need 6 pens,
but probably it is also possible that I might want 1,000 pens. So, there is a difference
between need and want. When we are talking about needs, we are talking about the genuine
requirements of every person, we are not talking about what every person wants.
In this definition we are saying that it is development that meets the needs of the present.
We cannot go away by not meeting the needs of the present because the present generation
also requires medicines, the present generation needs to be educated, the present
generation requires jobs, the present generation requires some level of comfort. In this
case, we are not overlooking those needs or those requirements.
But at the same time, we should not be compromising with the ability of the future
generations to meet their own needs. So for instance, if just because my needs are 6, but I
want 10 pens; so if I make 10 pens in this method that I am not treating any of the waste
materials, so it is possible that I live in an environment for the future generations in which
they will not be able to meet their needs. Because the environment will be so polluted or
the environment will be having so few number of resources that I am jeopardising with
If we are releasing so much amount of waste materials into the landfills, then we will be
having less number of landfills that are available for the future generations. Or probably I
am dumping so much amount of pollutants into the atmosphere and into the water bodies
that the future generation will not be able to meet their needs for proper amount of food.
So, that is a choice that we need to make.
In the case of sustainable development we want a development that meets the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.
So, we are taking not just the current need into picture, but also the future needs. And this
concept contains in itself two key concepts. The concept of needs in particular the essential
needs of the world’s poor to which overriding priority should be given. So, in this case I
cannot say that we need to make some cuts. So, let us cut the amount of resources that the
poor have because I do not want to compromise with my level of comfort.
So, that is not something that can be done, because you have to give ample resources to
the poor as well because they also have the right to develop themselves. So, here when we
are talking about needs it does not mean to wants. So, the concept of needs is essential
needs and especially all the essential needs of the world’s poor need to be met.
The second idea is that of limitations that are imposed by the state of technology and social
organization on the environments ability to meet the present and future needs. So,
essentially what it is saying is that the environment has a limited ability to serve the needs
of the present and the future generations.
If the environment had an unlimited ability, so any amount of pollutants that we dump into
the environment, it would be fine. But just because the environment is also limited in its
ability, so which is why we need to make these choices. And when we are making these
choices we need to ensure that all the essential requirements especially of the world’s poor
also have to be met. This is the definition that was given by the Brundtland Commission
and the report is called our common future and this is a very worth reading document.
(Refer Slide Time: 18:18)
When we are talking about sustainability or when we are talking about sustainable
development there are three pillars that we need to take care of. One is environmental
sustainability; that is the current usage of environment should be such that we are able to
meet our needs, but at the same time we are also able to meet the needs of the future
Similarly, we have the concepts of economic sustainability. Our economic structures have
to be such that they are able to persist, they are able to prevail and even our future
generations are able to meet their own needs. And similarly, we have social sustainability;
our social structure has to be such that everybody has opportunities to meet their own
If we make a social structure in which we have some people who are extremely deprived
and we have some people who are extremely affluent. So, in that case this structure will
not be able to persist or prevail for a very long period of time and we will say that, this
structure or this kind of society will not be a sustainable society. So, we will now look at
all three of these.
(Refer Slide Time: 19:19)
When we talk about environmental sustainability, we are talking about say, things like
ecosystem services. What are the services that are being provided by the proper
functioning or the well functioning of an ecosystem? So, things like oxygen. So, oxygen
is given by the plants when they are doing photosynthesis. So, when we are talking about
environmental sustainability, we need to have ample number of plants that we are able to
get ample amount of oxygen or services that are provided by biodiversity such as
Pollination is done by insects. So, we need to have ample number of insects that we are
able to meet this particular need of pollinating our crops or things like the impacts of the
predators. There are certain predators that eat up the insects that cause diseases. So, we
need to have ample number of frogs into our system; that is also an ecosystem service that
is being provided.
In the case of environmental services we talk about ecosystem services, we talk about
things like green engineering and chemistry, which is using engineering and chemistry in
a way that we are manufacturing such products that are not harmful to the environment.
We talk about things like air quality and water quality. They also need to be maintained
not just for the present generation, but also for the future generation.
The amount of pollutants that we are releasing into the environment needs to be regulated.
Or we talk about reducing the effects of stressors like pollution greenhouse gas emissions
etc. In this case what we are saying is even those amount of pollutants that need to be
released into the environment to meet the needs of the present generation, we should try
to reduce their impacts. For instance, we are generating electricity by burning coal. So, we
will have to release certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but then, are there ways
in which we can reduce these greenhouse emissions.
Is there a way in which we can sequester this carbon; especially on site? So, if there is a
power plant that is using a coal. It is giving out a lot of carbon dioxide into its flue gases.
Is there a way in which we can capture this carbon dioxide? We also talk about things like
resource integrity by minimizing waste generation to prevent accidental release in the
future. In this case what we are talking about is that when we are manufacturing something
or when we are doing any process, is there a way in which we can minimize the level of
waste that is generated?. Because if there is a waste that is generated that will have to be
stored somewhere and if this waste is stored somewhere, then probably in future it might
there might be an accidental release of this waste.
For instance, if you are putting all your waste in a large size landfill and this landfill is
now all full and it has now converted into a mountain, it is possible that this landfill might
topple someday and some people might be killed because this landfill falls on them. Or
probably, if you are manufacturing electricity using nuclear reactors and we are generating
a huge amount of waste and we are storing this waste somewhere, it is possible that in
future there might be some leakage from this facility and all these radioactive nuclides will
come out. So, these are the things that we talked about in environmental sustainability.
(Refer Slide Time: 22:46)
In the case of social sustainability, we talk about things like environmental justice and
empowerment of communities that are burned by pollution.
(Refer Slide Time: 23:05)
Let us say that we are doing a mining operation that is near to a village. In this case, we
have this big area and in this big area you have certain villages. So, you have a village
here, maybe a village here and maybe a village that is here and let us say that we are doing
some mining operation in this area.
Now, when we are doing this mining operation there will be some amount of waste that
are released from these mines. Let us say that we are mining out copper minerals. So, when
that happens a lot of copper sulphate will come out. Now, that copper sulphate might then
get into the fields of these people. So, this copper sulphate is flowing out and it is getting
into the fields of these people, and once that happens, when you have all this copper
sulphate the plants are unable to grow properly.
Do we need to take out these minerals? Yes, but then when we are taking out these
minerals, we are providing benefits not just to these people, but also to these people and
also to these people because the copper that is being generated will be consumed by
everybody. But the negative impacts that will be suffered, will be suffered only by this
When we are talking about environmental justice, we are saying that the communities that
are burdened by pollution, they also need to be empowered. So, there has to be a
mechanism in which they are properly compensated so that they are able to lead their lives
in a proper manner. Or we talk about things like protection, sustenance and improvement
of human health or things like increasing the participation of stakeholders. So, probably in
this mining company, you have these villages that are there as stakeholders and they are
not having any empowerment.
So, it is possible that when this copper sulphate is coming out, it is possible that the
company might set up a small plant where this copper sulphate can be treated maybe it can
be crystallized and sold somewhere else. And that would be an operation that will not be
cost intensive, in fact, it will be giving you some amount of revenue or it will be giving
the company some amount of revenue.
But then probably the people in the company they just do not want to set up this copper
sulphate plant because they are not feeling a huge need because in the case of their mining
operations they are earning in crores and probably this small facility will be able to give
them say only a few lakhs of rupees. So, they are thinking that we are getting so many
crores of rupees, what is the benefit of putting so much amount of energy and money into
getting something that should be only a few lakh worth. But then, in this case, they are
only thinking about their own profits. they are not talking about the negative impacts that
they are given to this community.
Now, if the people of this community where empowered, if the people of these community
were given such powers that they were able to direct the company or maybe influence the
decision making of that particular company. If that is the situation, these people might
prevail on the company and they might say no, if you want to carry on mining any further,
you will have to set up this facility because you are polluting our fields you are polluting
our water bodies. So, empowerment can bring about a lot of changes and might lead to a
lot of good to the environment as well.
We talked about increasing the participation of stakeholders. When the company needs to
make a decision, does it ask the people who are there in the surroundings? Does it ask all
the stakeholders what do they want? And if we are able to create a situation or a condition
in which the participation of the stakeholders increases, so that will lead to a lot of social
sustainability. Or we talk about things like education about sustainability. Maybe a lot of
people just do not know about what environmental pollution is or do not know what do we
mean by ecology and what are the impacts that are being brought about to the ecology to
the functioning of the ecosystems because of our different activities.
This is where education about sustainability also comes into picture or education about the
harms we are going to the environment or education about what can be done to reduce
these harms. For instance when you are doing this course you are getting an idea about
how does an ecosystem function, what are the human influences on that ecosystem, how
can we reduce those influences, what are the different processes that are going on in
ecosystems and so on.
This education empowers you and it puts you in a position where you can ask questions.
So, you can write to your local representatives, you can write to the government authorities
if there is something wrong that is going on. You can write to the newspaper, so that you
can you are able to bring about a change in the public opinion. If everybody thinks, for
instance that there is one particular area where you should not have a particular port that
is coming up. So, things can be changed, but that is only possible when more and more
number of people have this education.
When we talk about social sustainability, we have to talk about education about
sustainability, if that is being provided to the members of the society or we talk about
things like protection, maintenance and access to resources. So, protection of resources;
things like your forests are a resource, are they being protected enough, are they being
maintained properly, do you have an idea about how different populations of different
organisms are going up and down.
If there is a death in a carnivore population, do you know what were the reasons? What is
being done to maintain them properly? So, these are the things that we ask. Do you have
enough access to resources? So, probably you have a resource in the form of a river or
maybe in the form of a pond and there are only a few people in the village that have the
access to the resource.
If you are talking about social sustainability, you will have to make a situation in which
everybody has proper access to the resources. So, that they can also meet their own needs
and we talk about promotion of sustainable living which we will come to in a short while.
(Refer Slide Time: 29:45)
The third thing that we need to talk about is the economic sustainability. Do people have
job security? If people do not have job security, if they do not have stable jobs then
whatever amount of talking we are doing about sustainability nobody will pay a heed. So,
you will have to make a situation where people are able to get jobs, where people are able
to maintain their jobs, and this can only be done through economic means. Other things
are things like incentivization of sustainable practices.
For instance, we talked about the situation of making a pen and if there is a company that
is treating the waste. So, is there a mechanism in which we can incentivize this company
or is there a mechanism in which we can penalize this company that was releasing all its
wastes out into the environment? Are there some kinds of taxations that we can put on
people or are there some kinds of penalties that we can put on people who are harming the
environment? or Is there some kind of subsidy that we can give to those people who are
protecting the environment or diverting all the steps such that their impact on the
environment is lessened? These are things that we discuss in the case of economic
(Refer Slide Time: 31:02)
In this case one important concept is that of Pigovian taxes; Pigovian taxes and subsidies.
A good example is the taxation that is put by the government on things like cigarettes.
Cigarettes are something that we as a society want to reduce or we want people to be
dissuaded from using cigarettes because they not only harm themselves, but they also harm
the surroundings, they also harm the environment. Pigovian taxes are those taxes that are
put into some material such that it becomes more and more expensive for people to use
that particular resource. This is a tax that the government puts not because it wants a
revenue, but because it wants people not to have access to this resource; so this is a
We can also talk about things like Pigovian subsidies. Pigovian subsidy is say, a subsidy
that we are giving to the manufacturing of pen or a subsidy that we are giving to the
manufacturing of textbooks or manufacturing of notebooks. So, these are things that we as
a society want to promote. So, in that case the government will give some subsidies to
these particular sectors, so that their manufacturing becomes easier and people have more
and more access to these things.
When we talk about topics like these, we are talking about economic sustainability by
incentivization of sustainable practices or maybe penalization of non-sustainable practices.
Or we can talk about things like market practices for sustainability or things like natural
resource accounting. When we are doing an accounting of resources every company does
an accounting, but then that accounting is it only limited to the profit and loss or the amount
of money that the company is getting, is it only confined to the cash flows of the company?
Or does it also take into account the amount of natural resources that are being used by the
If there is a mechanism by which we can make this compulsory, then we are talking about
economic sustainability or things like lifecycle cost assessment. For instance, if you are
using polythene bags. Polythene bags are very cheap to manufacture, but then if you
consider the whole life of the polythene bag once you have used it, you have thrown it into
a dustbin, then it will go, it will kill off some organisms, it will say choke your drains, it
will choke certain animals to death and so on. So, the lifecycle cost is very high, it is
extremely light in weight so it gets dispersed to a very large area. So, collecting it becomes
very cost intensive. Now, are you able to put all of these costs into the cost of the polythene
bag? That is the question.
(Refer Slide Time: 34:02)
What we are talking about here is externalities. Externalities are situations where your
action is leading to some positive or negative impact on a bystander who has got nothing
to do with what you are doing. For instance, if you are smoking a cigarette and you are
putting that smoke into the lungs of somebody who is standing nearby.
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