Economic growth is the most sacred dogma of modern economics. The current worldwide economic slump has cruelly disappointed the naive ecologists who dreamed of a zero-growth society and believed that the absence of growth would once and for all eliminate damage to the environment and the risk of depleting natural resources. But even with no growth. the devastation of nature continues. In the richer nations, millions are unemployed. In the Third World, even higher proportions of the population have no work, no land, and no food. Such conditions indicate the extent of the social disaster we must confront.
Three decades of uncontrolled growth, followed by five years of the worst crisis since the great depression of the 1930s, have accumulated a social and ecological burden which can be tackled only when economic growth resumes. But growth is not an end in and of itself; it should be only a means. We should not accept growth for its own sake, especially when it is the cause of "mal-development" instead of development and drags us back into the same ruts along which we rolled into the current impasse.
The crisis serves as an alibi for the entrenched minorities of business and banking. For them uncontrolled growth was a source of profit in the past and will be again in the future. In their opinion, any discussion of alternative development should be postponed indefinitely so as not to hinder the process of reflecting the economy. They conceive of recovery as simply a resumption of the strictly functional features of business which past experience has proved effective. Business competition, then, is the only thing that counts right now, and micro-economic arithmetic is the decisive factor in the final analysis.
Slight importance is attributed to "non-business" consequences of such practices. some examples of which here follow. Technical changes now taking place are actually breeding more unemployment into the economy. Foreign debt, fed by excessively high interest rates, is strangling the economies of Third World countries, which are consequently being coerced by IMF injunctions to follow suicidal policies, drastically cutting imports and underselling raw materials which are exploited ever more rapaciously. Social legislation is endangered in the name of the balanced budget, while the arms race accelerates. This is the so-called price of progress, the sacrifices that must be endured to put the machinery of the world economy into gear again, and to regain the efficiency temporarily lost. This is called the price of the third industrial revolution, which is expected to solve all the evils that afflict humanity. The "technological fix" is the holy grail of these times of disarray.
This reasoning is specious. Indeed, it is a trap. Once enmeshed in uncontrolled business practices, the world economy will not be able to withdraw easily. The painful memories of the present crisis will be invoked to exorcise every proposal for a change of direction. "Just provided that growth keeps going nicely" is the slogan that will be used to disarm the killjoys of change.
The fact is that we now find ourselves at a crossroads. At the moment, it is possible to envision an escape from the crisis, an escape that is not simply a return to the past, no matter how improbable such a course may seem. In any case, a return to the past would be undesirable, since structural problems cannot be resolved by the application of provisional measures. It is not necessary to be simply resigned to the prospect of endlessly paying the high social and ecological price for economic growth and modernization, namely, social inequities within countries and an unbalanced world economic order that subordinates marginal countries to the interests of the powerful nations. Rather, the aims, characteristics. and uses of growth as a function of real development should be redefined. This presupposes that social, ecological, and economic objectives are reconciled.
First, the social goals. The development process should be judged on its capacity to eliminate poverty; to alleviate inequality both within and between countries; to satisfy certain basic needs, both material and spiritual, of each and every person; to create the conditions for the expansion of each person's personality; in short, to create the conditions that make life worth living. Even if, as already stated, economic growth is necessary for such development, it does not guarantee that the development will take place. By the same token, economic growth is even less likely to be a good yardstick of development. Because vigorous growth can be accompanied by deteriorating social conditions, it can also be a source of regression.
Second, ecological goals. The destruction of the environment, the ravaging of nature, and the deterioration of urban environments are just one facet of regression. True development implies ecologically sound management of resources and of the environment itself with an eye to the long term, and. in the here and now, it preserves the quality of the environment, whose importance to daily living does not have to be reiterated. Since uncontrolled growth is pitted against nature itself in a brutal and arrogant contest, society must learn to play with nature, to establish a symbiosis between nature and humanity based on respect and moderation. It must be a relationship characterized by long-term commitment to future generations to whom we must bequeath a livable planet.
There is a strong link between such long-term solidarity and real-time solidarity aspiring to social justice here and now. Conversely, a similar link joins the social and ecological costs of regression. In fact, pollution traceable to poverty is one of the most virulent forms of environmental damage. We might add that misery often leads to the ravenous looting of the environment: deforestation and soil depletion are often the acts of humble peasants who struggle for survival on tiny lots, while nearby, large estates can afford to underutilized their lands. In cities and in the countryside live some of the most deprived strata of the population, subject to the full lash of all kinds of environmental crimes such as soil depletion. In social terms, the ecological factors accentuate even more the inequities and divisions which separate the rich from the poor.
A call to productivity.
Finally, as for economic objectives, no social project can ever hope to be realized if it is not economically viable. In this context, we emphasize that. far from being a merely protectionist science. | ecology also raises a very decisive call I to productivity. In fact ecology I embodies a philosophy of resource | management in sharp contrast to that strict productivity which simply loots nature. Inspired by ecological good sense and long-term concerns, ecology seeks a productivity that is sustained by ecosystems. Ecology encourages ingenuity in transforming 11 the elements of a given environment into economic resources without upsetting the global ecological balance of nature. Ecology sees production systems - farms. industries, cities as ecosystems; it makes them as self-contained as possible and relies on the complementarities of different | activities within each system. Techniques which provide for recycling the elements and the utilization of all wastes for productive, socially useful aims play a key role in the process of coordinating social, ecological, and economic objectives. Particular attention is paid to renewable resources and to big-processes that can enlarge the whole range of competitive industrial products manufactured from the biomass.
To define eco-development. we start once again from a peasant rationale, but one completely open to the achievements of modern science. Eco-development definitely does not postulate a return to ancestral production methods, but certainly it does look into the cultural history of different peasant societies, into the skills of ordinary people, and into ethnoecology, seeking starting points for scientific research and verification of experimentation under real conditions. Even the most successful laboratory experiments and pilot projects have only limited application until they are adopted by a process of social apprenticeship, which allows the true protagonists of development to exercise their roles.
The strategies of eco-development derive from the general principles just stated. Their most characteristic trait is the diversity resulting from their openness to both ecology and cultural anthropology. Eco-development seeks local solutions to global problems. takes maximum advantage of the potential of each ecosystem and its specific resources, and capitalizes on the experience of each culture. In today's world, the concept of the agro-ecosystem is called upon to play an important role.
Another characteristic of eco-development is the systemic approach. In opposition to the tendency of modern economics to compartmentalize and over-specialize vertically, eco-development suggests a horizontal approach that integrates local and regional development. Multi-crop cultivation, the combination of tillage and animal raising, and a generally better correlation among different crops are key strategies for both the peasant's farm and the modern agro-industrial complex. At the economic level, eco-development relies on the higher output of integrated systems in relation to combined single-crop enterprises. Eco-development further adds the ecological advantages of more rational waste management and the natural sustenance of biomass production. that is, soils. water, and forests. Once it has had the opportunity to prove itself, eco-development should be able to succeed financially in the marketplace on equal teens with other private or public enterprises.
A corollary to the systemic approach is the place given to the economics of waste. Waste management has been promoted to the rank of a productive enterprise in its own right. The current popular motto in China transform wastes into riches" is perfectly justified. Case by case, the Chinese analyse the potential utilization of each waste product and arrive at feasible applications. Asians have a thousand years of experience in this, but Latin Americans simply discard a great proportion of their agricultural wastes, unless the potential for damage is obvious, as in the case of sour wine. Putting a value on waste should be given a high priority by the countries of Latin America.
Insisting on multiple and complementary utilization of the resources of each agro-ecosystem, eco-development thus postulates a better internal correlation within local economies, and conversely, a great selectiveness in the matter of external relations at regional, national, and transnational levels. Local self-reliance should not be so blindly pursued that it loses sight of the potential advantages of sharing the burden. Similarly. there is no reason to accept the subordination of local economies to the exclusive interests of the big businesses that control supply. Security in matters of food and energy and the quest for stable employment strengthen the shackles on local Third World economies just as they do in industrial countries. The food production aspects of this motif have been studied in the USA by the Cornucopia Project of the Rodale Institute. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has done a specialized study concentrating on greater energy self-sufficiency in cities.
The principles of eco-development can also be applied to urban development if the city is considered an ecosystem with its own potential resources, which are now being mostly under-utilized or squandered. A plentiful labour supply can be used to salvage waste, to save energy, and to develop intensive horticulture on land available in the city and its environs. Occupant built housing and social services provided by the citizens themselves are also possible. During the current crisis, many cities of the Third World have no hope of financing the public works needed for their social infrastructure except by mobilizing their own city resources. They cannot count on input from outside resources. Quite to the contrary. during the past two years, Latin America has exported 550 billion in interest payments to the countries of the northern hemisphere. It is no longer possible for cities to depend exclusively on the surplus of crops grown in the countryside, since the urban explosion has reversed the numerical relationship between rural and urban populations, especially in Latin America. Today, 70 per cent of Brazil's population lives in cities. In Venezuela and Argentina. the ratio is even higher. In a word, eco-development has much to say about redefining the priorities for research.
Stressing the value of resources specific to each ecosystem demands great efforts in ethno-botany and ethno-zoology as well as systematic experimentation with integrated production plans for food and energy derived from the biomass and from agroforestry systems. The blue revolution, that is. mastery of the biological resources of water, appears as the last great economic frontier for humanity. It promises for the aquatic environment what the neolithic revolution accomplished for the terrestrial environment: the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and animal husbandry. Genetics has its place, but with different aims from those pursued in the first phase of the green revolution. Instead of selecting the varieties which respond to massive doses of industrial inputs, it is essential to find those which adapt best to the environment, are resistant to disease. retain nitrogen. etc. In a word, biotechnology is a key factor in research aimed at promoting a new tropical industrial civilization based on the utilization of the abundant biomass.
Accusations of utopianism will come but the idea of eco-development has matured despite or maybe because of the current crisis. At the very least, it has been relatively successful at the level of discussion of ideas. This is perhaps due to its middle-of-the-road position between classical economics and extreme ecologism; to its "operational" concern; to the possibilities it opens up to advance one small step at a time and to experience alternative development without waiting for the optimum institutional conditions, even at the risk of having to recoup its losses. A minimum of institutional conditions is nonetheless necessary, and yet, unfortunately. this is rarely present. Let us specify just what that minimum is. Be it rural or urban, eco-development implies that there is room for local autonomy, and, therefore, a national policy supporting local development. On the other [land, the need for shared planning is also implied. It is difficult to conceive of such a process being governed without some measure of intervention on the part of the state. At the same time. it is absolutely impossible to imagine it occurring without the active participation of the population involved. Therefore. eco-development requires a whole new configuration in relationships among society, the state. and the marketplace.