Sunday, March 23, 2014

PF April 2014 - Economic Development vs Environment in India - Pro Position

Resolved: Prioritizing economic development over environmental protection is in the best interest of the people of India.

For part one of this topic analysis, click here.


Economic growth is key to helping developing countries such as India to lift itself out of poverty and emerge as a partner in global prosperity.  As stated by the UK Department of International Development:

Economic growth is the most important means of raising people’s incomes and reducing poverty in the developing world – it creates jobs and opportunities for poor people to support their families and build more stable futures.

When developing nations adopt a global approach to economic development, they can reduce the need for economic aid. This benefits not only the people of the developing country but the global economy as well. Department Minister, the Right Honorable Justine Greening elaborates by way of example:

The facts are compelling – wherever long-term per capita growth has been higher than 3%, we have also seen significant falls in poverty. Look at China – in 1981, 84% of China’s population lived under $1.25 per day. By 2008, this proportion had fallen dramatically to 13%. This was principally driven by the tenfold increase in per capita GDP over the period. Look at Vietnam – a three fold increase in per capita GDP resulted in poverty levels falling from 64% in 1993 to 17% in 2008. DfID used to have major country programmes delivering aid in both countries. Now our relationship is significantly different – it’s no longer aid, it’s turning to trade. The shift has happened. As the Indian Finance Minister said of his own country, “Aid is the past Trade is the future.” Economists may argue about many things, but not about this.

World Bank 2013:
Between 2005 and 2012, India lifted 137 million people out of poverty. Poverty declined by 2.2 percentage points per year, as the poverty rate (based on the national poverty line of US$1.17 (PPP) per person per day) fell sharply from 37 percent to 22 percent during this period. Compared with 1994-2005, when poverty fell at a rate of 0.7 percentage points per year, the later episode represents a significant increase in the rate of poverty reduction. At this pace, accelerated progress against poverty since economic reforms began in earnest in the early 1990s signals the emergence of a (statistically) robust new trend. Poverty decline has been widespread, with both rural and urban poverty rates falling to 26 percent and 14 percent in 2012. 

We can look at other examples of how economic development has resulted in dramatic health benefits for the people.

Ferrara 2012:
Moore and Simon report, “Just three infectious diseases – tuberculosis, pneumonia, and diarrhea – accounted for almost half of all deaths in 1900.”  Today, we have virtually eliminated or drastically reduced these and other scourges of infectious disease that have killed or crippled billions throughout human history, such as typhoid fever, cholera, typhus, plague, smallpox, diphtheria, polio, influenza, bronchitis, whooping cough, malaria, and others.  Besides the advances in the development and application of modern health sciences, this has resulted from the drastic reduction in filthy and unsanitary living conditions that economic growth has made possible as well.  More recently, great progress is being made against heart disease and cancer.

And eventually, as living and economic conditions improve, people tackle the wider issues which effect their lives, such as environmental protection.

Ferrara 2012:
Moreover, it is economic growth that has provided the resources enabling us to dramatically reduce pollution and improve the environment, without trashing our standard of living.  Moore and Simon write that at the beginning of the last century, “Industrial cities typically were enveloped in clouds of black soot and smoke.  At this stage of the industrial revolution, factories belched poisons into the air—and this was proudly regarded as a sign of prosperity and progress.  Streets were smelly and garbage-filled before the era of modern sewage systems and plumbing.”

Prioritizing Economic Growth

To make the link between economic growth and environmental protection, I will refer to a U.N. Commission study known as the Brundtland Report. It was observed in the 1980's during a time of economic cutbacks and austerity, programs which enhances the quality of life, such as environmental programs were among the first to be cut.

The decline of the 1980s has aggravated pressures on the environment in several ways:
  • Austerity measures and general recessionary conditions have brought sharp declines in per capita incomes and increased unemployment. This forces more people back into subsistence agriculture, where they draw heavily on the natural resource base and thus degrade it.
  • Austerity programmes inevitably include government cutbacks in both the staff and expenditure of fledgling, weak environmental agencies, undermining even the minimal efforts being made to bring ecological considerations into development planning.
  • Conservation always taken a back seat in times of economic stress. As economic conditions have worsened in developing countries and debt pressures have mounted, planners have tended to ignore environmental planning and conservation in both industrial and rural development projects.

In the report, Geoffrey Bruce of the International Developmental Agency commented that poverty itself is a major impediment to environmental integrity.

Bruce 1986:
Small farmers are held responsible for environmental destruction as if they had a choice of resources to depend on for their livelihood, when they really don't. In the context of basic survival, today's needs tend to overshadow consideration for the environmental future. It is poverty that is responsible for the destruction of natural resources, not the poor.

It should come as no surprise that a drop in economic growth and poor economic conditions in general, foster conditions which reduce concern for environmental protection. Studies show that even in the poorest countries, people are concerned about the environment but they are not willing make sacrifices to improve it.

Havasi 2012:
We found – in line with our expectations – that global environmental issues seem uniformly important for every country, though in the two poorest countries (India and China), the proportion of those who could not answer the questions, was quite high. In poorer countries people are more concerned about local problems than in the rich countries, but they are right, as they really have local problems. We found furthermore that in poorer countries the intention to make monetary sacrifice to prevent pollution and actual environment friendly acts are less frequent, despite a higher level of threat perception, which shows that poverty and its consequence, the dominance of survival values overwrite the worry about environment.

Those familiar with psychology are no doubt familiar with Abraham Maslow's theories on the hierarchy of needs. At the most fundamental level are the physiological needs for food, water and shelter and then comes the fulfillment of safety needs, social needs, and self-actualization. Regardless of the fact people, regardless of their economic or social status are concerned with environmental protection, researchers, as seen in the previous sources, empirically demonstrate that individuals will default to sustenance over all other concerns.  While that may be intuitive, I have given some evidence to support your intuitions.

Cooperative Views

Often, in such debates, the side which favors environmental protection will argue the environment can be saved without sacrificing economic development.  Basically, they will say we can have economic development and green initiatives at the same time or we can advance the economy while adopting sensible policies which promote environmental protection.  Often the opposition will argue that each can be given equal priority. Conversely, Pro can argue that economic development and environmental protection can coexist only if economic development is given the highest priority and thus it becomes necessary to establish a brightline for testing prioritization.  For example, if the argument is made every form of economic development results in environmental harm, would it be acceptable to stop economic development entirely in order to protect the environment?  If the answer is no, then economic development has the higher priority.

Another position for Pro is economic development and environmental impacts are not linked in a significant way.  By decoupling the economy and the environment it is argued there is no need to not prioritize economic development.  For example, the evidence suggests that population growth and environmental impacts are much more closely linked than economic development.

Lakshamana 2013:
Population pressure naturally leads to overexploitation of natural resources like land, air, and water, and often results in contamination and exhaustion of scarce resources India’s landmass is only 2.4% of the global total, but it is currently home to 16.7% of the world’s population. Although the northern, western, and eastern regions have registered growth rates below the national average, they exhibit a high degree of environmental degradation. There are various reasons for this. Population characteristics, i.e., the proportion of poor, middling, and rich, seem to have distinct effects on the process of degrading the environment (National Council of Applied Economic Research 2011). Higher population density adversely affects environmental quality (Costantin & Martini 2007).
India in particular is vulnerable to the environmental impacts of population pressure arising from too many individuals surviving in a relatively small physical area.

Bhattacharya and Innes 2006:
Population growth impacts the state of the environment and, in turn, the state of the environment affects population growth (Dasgupta, 2000). Population growth may increase the exploitation of open access environmental resources; alternately, it may increase the demand for marketed environmental resources, such as forest products, thus raising the prices of environmental goods and potentially spurring increased natural resource supplies. In the other direction, environmental deterioration may increase the demand for children to fetch water and fuelwood or manage livestock (Dasgupta, 1994) or, by worsening individual and public health (and thus raising child and adult mortality), to provide economic support to the household (Sah, 1991; Wolpin, 1997). Fusing these forces is the "vicious cycle" theory -- modern Malthusianism -- that conjectures a reinforcing downward spiral wherein population growth depletes the environment, spurring yet more population growth, and so on.

Solvency Through Growth

Finally, in keeping with the idea that environmental degradation in India may have causes unrelated to economic development, we can further promote that idea that economic development ultimately provides the mechanisms of solvency for environmental damage.  I mentioned before the concept of the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC), which claims an inverse relationship between environmental impacts and economic development.  We argue on the Pro side of the debate that economic development ultimately improves the environment.  One very compelling reason for this (and I leave it to you to find the evidence) is that technological advances will reduce the impact on the environment as we develop alternative, cleaner energy sources or devise technology for reversing the damage already present.  When coupled with the idea environmental impacts are unrelated to economic development we can prioritize economic development as a means for alleviating crushing poverty and advancing technologies which will solve environmental impacts.


India Development Update; October 2013
The World Bank Group

Investing in growth: How DFID works in new and emerging markets
Organisation: Department for International Development
Delivered on:11 March 2013 (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)
The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP

Economic Growth, Not Redistribution, Most Benefits The Poor, Working People, And The Middle Class
Peter Ferrara

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development; Our Common Future
United Nations 1987; Chairman: Gro Harlem Brundtland

The Place of Environment-Related Values in the Value-System. A Cross-Country Analysis
VirĂ¡g HAVASI; University of Miskolc, Hungary

Population, development, and environment in India
C.M. Lakshmana; Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Population Research Centre, Nagarabhavi, Bangalore, Karnataka 560072, India
(Received 7 July 2013; accepted 6 November 2013)

Malthus v. Boserup: An Empirical Exploration of the Population-Environment Nexus in India
Haimanti Bhattacharya and Robert Innes; University of Arizona
(Draft: August 2006)

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