Monday, March 24, 2014

PF April 2014 - Economic Development vs Environment in India - Con 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.


Environmental degradation in India is creating harms that can be measured in dollars and cents; lots of dollars and cents and this is evidenced by a World Back Report released in 2013.

World Bank 2013:
The report estimates the total cost of environmental degradation in India at about Rs. 3.75 trillion (US$80 billion) annually, equivalent to 5.7 percent of GDP in 2009, which is the reference year for most of the damage estimates. Of this total, outdoor air pollution accounts for Rs. 1.1 trillion followed by the cost of indoor air pollution at Rs. 0.9 trillion, croplands degradation cost at Rs. 0.7 trillion, inadequate water supply and sanitation cost at around at Rs. 0.5 trillion, pastures degradation cost at Rs. 0.4 trillion, and forest degradation cost at Rs. 0.1 trillion.

The World Bank report is detailed and breaks down the some of the less obvious impacts which are not necessarily reflected in direct economic cost evaluations.

World Bank 2013:
Environmental damage means physical damages that have an origin in the physical environment. Thus, damages to health from air or water pollution are included as well as damages from deforestation. The term cost means the opportunity cost to society, i.e., what is given up or lost, by taking a course of action. When goods traded in markets are damaged, prices and knowledge of consumer preferences for the damaged goods (embodied in the demand function) and production information (embodied in the supply function) provide the necessary information for computing social costs. Estimating social costs from reduced productivity of agricultural land due to erosion, salinity or other forms of land degradation is a good example. However, many damages from environmental causes are to "goods," such as health, that are not traded in markets. In these cases, economists have devised a number of methods for estimating social costs based on derived preferences from observable or hypothetical behavior and choices. One example is the value of time lost to illness or provision of care for ill family members. If the person who is ill or who is providing care for someone who is ill does not otherwise has a job the financial cost of time losses is zero. However, even in such a case the person is normally engaged in activities that are valuable for the family and time losses reduce the amount of time available for these activities. Thus, there is a social cost of time losses to the family. In an economic costing exercise this is normally valued at the opportunity cost of time, i.e. the salary, or a fraction of the salary that the individual could earn if he or she chose to work for income. In summary, social costs are preferred over financial costs because social costs capture the cost and reduced welfare to society as a whole. All cost are estimated as flow values (annual losses).

One interesting piece of evidence illustrates how economic development can have unintended and direct environmental impact in India.

University of Gothenburg 2009:
Many of the substances in the most common medicines are manufactured in India and China. Some of these factories release large quantities of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical substances into the environment. There is an obvious risk of these releases leading to resistant bacteria. ”We used to think that pharmaceuticals that ended up in the environment mostly came from the use of the medicines and that the substances were dispersed through wastewater. We now know that certain factories that manufacture substances release very large quantities of active substances," says associate professor Joakim Larsson of the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg,Sweden, one of the research scientists behind the studies.

India is resource rich, having an abundance of useful minerals ripe for exploitation.  As a result, foreign investors streamed into India beginning in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the foreign investments have remained low due to government restrictions.  The Indian mining industry is thus meeting the demands of ever-increasing economic development with minimal outside support resulting in broad impacts on worker safety and the environment.

Mehta 2002:
While the safety of mineworkers is the most important serious problem facing the Indian mining industry, the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS), who is responsible for the supervision and enforcement of mining rules is unable to do its job effectively because of a shortage of supervisory staff...due to a lack of funds. The miners also face health hazards arising out of on-site pollution due to dust, gases, noise and polluted water.  Health related issues are increasing coming into focus. One of the major environmental challenges facing the minng industry is due to the mine sites which are no longer in use. In the Jharia and Raniganj coal fields in Bihar there are more than 500 abandoned mines covering about 1800 hectares. The sites include subsided areas, excavated pits, overburdens, spoil dumps, and areas affected by fire.

Many sources prove the expanding economic development of India is far outpacing its ability to control the resulting environmental impacts.

Pinto 2008:
The production of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is one of the fastest growing global manufacturing activities. Rapid economic growth, coupled with urbanization and a growing demand for consumer goods, has increased both the consumption and the production of EEE...The same hypertechnology that is hailed as a ‘crucial vector’ for future modern societal development has a not-so-modern downside to it: electronic waste (e-waste)...This new kind of waste is posing a serious challenge in disposal and recycling to both developed and developing countries. While having some of the world's most advanced high-tech software and hardware developing facilities, India's recycling sector can be called medieval.The dumping of e-waste, particularly computer waste, into India from developed countries (‘green passport’ according to Gutierrez), because the latter find it convenient and economical to export waste, has further complicated the problems with waste management. All this has made e-waste management an issue of environment and health concern.

Changing Priorities

The environmental degradation of India resulting from rapid economic development can be alleviated by reordering the priority of environmental issues.  While it may be unrealistic to expect nations to cease all activities which damage the environment, prioritizing environmental protection redirects the focus of economic development as one which includes initiatives to preserve the environment.

Beder 2002:
In theory economic growth might be achieved without additional impacts on the environment but this would mean many activities with economic growth potential would have to be foregone and this will not happen whilst top priority is given to achieving economic growth. The incorporation of the environment into the economic system ensures that it will only be protected to the extent necessary to ensure it is able to continue to supply goods and services to the economic system...The limits to growth advocates of the 1960s and 70s tended to avoid the social implications of aborting economic growth in low-income countries and the issue of which nations were responsible for most resource use.  The sustainable development advocates of the present similarly want to avoid the ethical issues by falling back on economic calculus to make decisions as if values can be determined by doing the sums correctly. They also avoid the distributional issues by advocating economic growth for all in the hope that this will solve the problem of equity. On top of this the sustainable development approach makes further environmental degradation inevitable. It is apparent there is a need to go beyond these two failed approaches and find a third one which embraces the ethical dimension. This will involve getting beyond the current preoccupation of governments with economic growth as the overriding priority for all nations at all times. Our endeavours need to be focused on new ways of achieving a reasonable level of comfort in all nations, without the environmental damage normally associated with economic development.

Some believe that it is time to incorporate new ways of measuring economic progress which does not ignore the value of environmental integrity and sustainability.

Powell 2012:
If India is asked to consider the cost of growth in environmental degradation and social exclusion, it is likely to respond that more growth and more technology are the solution. However, the Indian Government’s optimistic view of economic growth as a means to social inclusiveness, providing dignity and a decent quality of life for all, and ecological sustainability, is flawed. At the same time, the Western idea of sustainable development is equally untenable. It endorses the false promise that an expanding economy can be fully compatible with environmental sustainability. In my view, the values of social inclusiveness and ecological sustainability will be properly prioritized only when economic growth ceases to be a proxy for development or progress.

Environmental Justice

One interesting possibility for Con lies within the concept of environmental justice.  We are arguing for what is the best interest of the Indian people.  Extending the concept of civil rights to environmental issues, it is unjust to discriminate against those people which are impoverished, undeveloped or living under weak structures of governance by exploiting their resources and damaging their environments with environmental wastes or hazards.

Massey 2004:
Protecting the environment is sometimes viewed as a luxury -- something people care about only when they have plenty of leisure time and disposable income. In practice, low-income communities and minority ethnic groups often bear the most severe consequences of environmental degradation and pollution. In this module, we explore questions related to the distribution of pollution and other forms of environmental degradation. Our discussion is centered on environmental justice: the recognition that minority and low-income communities often bear a disproportionate share of environmental costs – and the perception that this is unjust.

We can certainly claim those nations which take advantage of the disadvantaged to promote their own economic development at the expense of the environment should alter their priorities as a matter of moral duty and to reduce injustice.

Schlosberg 2004:
Wenz argues that it is important to understand different peoples’ interpretation or principles of justice – this helps us to understand others...Such engagement is related to the necessity of combining recognition with participation in achieving environmental justice. Wenz developed what he calls a ‘concentric circle’ theory of environmental justice, where we give moral priority to those closer to us – family for example – and less priority for those further away – foreigners, or other species. This makes sense because we engage more with those closest to us. The problem with such a theory is that it is difficult to identify with and argue for justice for those away from the centre of our own circles.

Specific to India, the source explains how economic globalization threatens cultural identities related to food production.  Destruction of a way of life is intrinsically linked to environmental changes in biodiversity brought on by monolithic corporate intrusion into the cultural identities of disadvantaged cultures. It can be argued this is not in the best interest of the majority of Indians.

Schlosberg 2004:
The principal point here is that part of the injustice wrought by the WTO is a lack of recognition, and so a destruction, of various cultural identities, including cultures’ ties to the land. Vandana Shiva applies this same critique to the related issue of the globalisation of the food production system. Shiva has spent much of the past few years criticising the links between economic globalisation and cultural threats, specifically by examining the development of the global food supply system and its effects on local communities...globalising the food supply destroys local production and market practices, and local cultural identity suffers...Another important cultural injustice of the globalisation of the food system is the destruction of the current localised culture of farming, to be replaced by a singular, corporate, and highly-engineered process. Local seed banks, for example, are seen as saving not just biodiversity, but cultural diversity as well; but these banks are replaced with monocropping of seeds owned and controlled by multinational seed corporations. The complaint is that it is not just a livelihood that is to be destroyed (and a sustainable one at that), but various regional peoples’ and cultures’ ways of life. In this view, globalisation creates ‘development’ and ‘growth’ by the destruction of the local environment, culture, and sustainable ways of living.

The Con Position

I have laid out a basic framework which addresses the harms of neglecting environmental priorities and have shown how altering the current priorities allows us act within the best interest of the Indian people. I think it can be useful to realize nothing in the resolution specifies that India must prioritize one over the other although that is the assumption.  It is certainly the government of India which establishes policies which promote economic development but we can make a case that external globalization pressures are driving economic policy and so it is the economic development of countries such as the United States which is ultimately being served.  It may not be an easy argument to make given the inherent assumptions in the resolution but properly presented in could be an approach that many teams are not prepared to answer.  While the Con could take a very loose stance and claim they are not advocating significant changes in the policies of economic development, rather a recognition that protecting the environment is important, I think the position is weak and will be difficult to win. I personally think it is very reasonable to stand on the idea that re-evaluating environmental protection and factoring sustainability into the calculus of what constitutes development is a strong idea. The basic idea is, a country does not achieve the status of "developed" if it fails to attain a sustainable environmental future.


India: Diagnostic Assessment of Select Environmental Challenges
An Analysis of Physical and Monetary Losses of Environmental Health and Natural Resources (In Three Volumes) Volume I; World Bank
June 5, 2013

Pharmaceuticals Sold In Sweden Cause Serious Environmental Harm In India, Research Shows
February 7, 2009
University of Gothenburg

The Indian Mining Sector: Effects on the Environment and FDI Inflows
Report to the OECD/OCDE Global Forum on International Investment
Pradeep S. Mehta; 2002

Indian J Occup Environ Med. Aug 2008; 12(2): 65–70.
E-waste hazard: The impending challenge
Violet N. Pinto; 2008

Sharon Beder, ‘Economy and environment: competitors or partners?’
Pacific Ecologist 3, Spring 2002, pp. 50-56.

Is India’s Economic Growth Sustainable?
Do traditional measures of economic growth and progress emperil the sustainable use of our natural resources?
Lydia Powell, September 13, 2012

Environmental Justice: Income, Race, and Health
Global Development And Environment Institute; Tufts University
Rachel Massey, 2004

Reconceiving Environmental Justice: GlobalMovements And Political Theories
Environmental Politics, Vol.13, No.3, Autumn 2004, pp.517 – 540


  1. I have found some strong links to global warming and biodiversity loss (independently).

    Warming has very tangible impacts that so far I've found quite abundant in the literature.

    But impacts for biodiversity seem to be based on extremely outlandish link stories that it leads to extinction.

    Do you know what kind of more reasonable impacts I can draw from biodiversity?


    1. Hi Michael. I agree extinction scenarios from loss of biodiversity are hard to swallow, especially since the timeframes for extinction are quite long. Nevertheless, loss of biodiversity does have significant short-term impacts which lead to loss of regional food and water supplies. These in turn stress populations which forces migrations and / or conflicts. You should have no problem finding good science on the harms of biodiversity loss without ever mentioning the word extinction.

  2. I ended up going for two things.

    Loss of biodiversity leads to ocean acidification,

    And loss of biodiversity leads to loss of pollinator biodiversity. Loss of pollinators leads to the collapse of Indian agriculture.

    However, what's been coming up in rounds is solvency. How do we solve these problems? Well I've had a few ideas, but then teams have said that whatever I propose is actually economic development, stealing our solvency.

    For example, the speeding up of a program now to make nuclear power a significant component of India's power supply. This would reduce emissions, helping to stem global warming.

    But they would then say that the building of nuclear plants is economic development.

    Or say, the building of water treatment plants. Etc. How can I reclaim my solvency?


    1. Never mind.

      We ended up winning the tournament.

      Thanks for your help, as always!

    2. Sorry, I didn't know you were looking for answers in "real-time". Congrats on winning.

    3. We were between rounds, so I thought I'd just shoot in the dark, and maybe I'd find something (first place I looked was here, and I decided to ask). I wasn't expecting a response in time, to be honest, so it's fine.

      I eventually went with the argument (perhaps dubious) that as most everything in the economy might be defined as economic development, we have to define policies based on over-arching *purpose*. The judges bought that, anyway.


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