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close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
close this folderPart 2: Environmental issues and futures
close this folderTowards sustainable environmental and resource management futures in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe concept of sustainable development and its implications
View the documentDriving forces
View the documentLevels of environmental effects of human activities and sustainability concerns
View the documentConstraints on sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentRecommendations
View the documentReferences


To the layperson, the environment consists simply of anything animal, plant, and mineral, in addition to other things around us such as the atmosphere, sun and, moon. To the ecologist, the environment is a more complex, multifaceted, interlocking, and overlapping phenomenon that is physical, biological, anthropic, and resource generating in nature (Pomeroy and Service 1986). The physical environment consists of: a terrestrial component, made up of land, water, wind, and climatic elements such as solar radiation and temperature; the aquatic component, made up of bodies of water, dissolved and suspended matter, currents, light, and other elements; the resources, made up of food of plant and animal origin, air (including oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide), water, shelter, etc.; the biological environment or component, consisting of living things made up of a diversity of species and their wide range of characteristics; and last, but not least in importance, the anthropic component consisting of humans and human multisectoral activities in agriculture, building, construction, fishing, hunting, industry, tourism, etc. It is of interest to note that humans and human activities are grouped into a separate category despite the fact that humans are also animals. This is because of the overwhelming influence or effects that humans have on the environment, shaping and conditioning things in the present and in the future. The implication of humans and human activities as a special component of the environment is that they give rise to other environments that are economic, political, and cultural in nature.

Again, to the layperson the above environmental resources (plant, animal, and mineral) are synonymous with natural resources. But, to the resource economist, in the human ecosystem humans assign utility to various elements of the environment, thus conferring on them the role of resources (Chapman 1969). A resource is the result of human interaction with elements of the environment. When humans make use of any element of the environment, thus changing its status to that of a resource that fulfils one or more human needs, this involves a different kind of interaction or interrelationships in which humans play a central role.

A component of the environment that humans use as a resource acquires an economic or rarity value, whose magnitude depends on its nature and the size of the requirements humans place on it, which depend on the size of population using it, humans' needs and desires, and humans' values and skills (Chapman 1969). The implications of this are that the economic value of a resource depends a lot on the magnitude of its reserve(s), its characteristics, including ease of extraction and processing, and the technologies available for rendering it into forms that satisfy human needs. Consequently, according to Chapman (1969):

Resource availability is the result of interactions among the nature and size of humans' requirements, the physical occurrences of the resource, and the means of producing it.

The future availability of resources can be determined on the basis of assessment of:

- the particular combination of economic and technological conditions that determine present production,

- the level of production that would take place under different economic conditions,

- the level of production that could take place under different technological conditions (i.e. types, mixes, sequences, and timing),

- the nature and quantity of the total physical stock of both renewable and non-renewable resources.

The total stock or resource base is the sum of all components of the environment that would be resources if they could be extracted from it.

The resource constitutes the proportion of the total stock that humans can extract and make available under prevailing technological and economic conditions.

The reserve is that proportion of the resource that is known with reasonable certainty to be available under prevailing technological, economic, and social conditions.

The requirements and availability of resources very much depend on their interrelationships with time, space, and technology. The relative importance of time lies in the fact that, whereas certain biological processes take a very long time, some ecological processes may require a relatively short time, and human activities may take only a very short time to change the result of thousands of years of evolution. Furthermore, technological changes occur with time, and the economics of the availability of resources may depend on the distribution in space or distance between sources and where they are used, and the technology available at a given time or stage for facilitating access to the resources.

The importance of science and technology then lies in the fact that, through their applications, we can (a) identify the presence and determine the amount (quantity) and the characteristics (quality) of reserves, (b) conserve/manage them, and (c) process them with increasing cost-effectiveness in order to ensure rational utilization of resources. Management and economics are of importance in that resources are often scarce and/or exhibit inequalities in availability and distribution. Management also is very important in the processing and utilization of scarce resources as cheaply as possible. It is not surprising then that, in sustainable development, there is increasing realization of the interrelationship between economics and ecology. In fact it is for this reason that, in an age of sustainable development, Goodland (1991) maintains that conventional economics and conventional ecology should be integrated into ecological economics (fig. 7.1 and table 7.1).

The complex interrelationships that exist among resources and humans in various sectoral development activities are shown in figure 7.2. It is necessary to emphasize that, in the development process, both general and specialized education are important in our understanding and managing of natural resources. Education provides a solid foundation for the research needed to develop new technologies and expand the frontiers of knowledge, while training is necessary for imparting the skills needed for conservation, management, and rational utilization of resources.

Fig. 7.1 The domains of conventional economics, conventional ecology, environmental and resource economics, and ecologicd economics (Source: Constanza 1991)

The problem of renewable and non-renewable resources

In the development process, strategies and technologies used in the conservation, management, and utilization of renewable resources should be different from those used for non-renewable resources, such as minerals. Non-renewable resources should be conserved and wisely utilized so as substantially to extend the time of their availability and existence. Such a long period of time is necessary for seeking and finding alternatives. Although renewable resources can be regenerated, they have to be conserved and carefully utilized in order to realize their renewability. For example, although the soil is renewable, if it is managed in such a way that rates of loss and degradation exceed the rate of soil formation, the result is lack of renewability and sustainability. Similarly, although plants or animals are renewable, the extermination of certain species that are necessary for their breeding and continuous regeneration may ultimately lead to their extinction. Thus the loss of species or even individuals with unique characteristics results in the loss of their irreplaceable unique genetic information and make-up.

Table 7.1 Comparison of "conventional" economics and ecology with ecological economics

  Conventional" economics "Conventional" ecology Ecological economics
Basic world-view Mechanistic, static, atomistic Evolutionary, atomistic Dynamic, systems, evolutionary
  Individual tastes and preferences taken as given and as the dominant force. The resource base viewed as essentially limitless owing to technical progress and infinite substitutability Evolution acting at the genetic level viewed as the dominant force. The resource base is limited. Humans are just another species but are rarely studied Human preferences, understanding, technology, and organization co-evolve to reflect broad ecological opportunities and constraints. Humans are responsible for understanding their role in the larger system and managing it for sustain ability
Time frame Short Multi-scale Multi-scale
  50 years maximum, 1-4 years usual Days to eons, but time-scales often define non-communicating sub-disciplines Days to eons, multi-scale synthesis
Space frame Local to international Local to regional Local to global
  Framework invariant at increasing spatial scale; basic units change from individuals to firms to countries Most research has focused on relatively small research sites in single ecosystems. but larger scales becoming more important recently Hierarchy of scales
Species frame Humans only Non-humans only Whole ecosystem including humans
  Plants and animals included only rarely for contributory value Attempts to find "pristine" eco-systems untouched by humans Acknowledges interconnections between humans and rest of nature
Primary micro goal Max. profits (firms) Maximum reproductive success Must be adjusted to reflect system goals
  Max. utility (individuals) All agents following micro goals leads to macro goal being fulfilled Social organization and cultural institutions at higher levels of the space/time hierarchy ameliorate conflicts produced by myopic pursuit of micro goals at lower levels, and vice
  All agents following micro goals leads to macro goal being fulfilled. External costs and benefits given lip-service but usually ignored    
Assumptions about technical progress Very optimistic Pessimistic or no opinion Prudently sceptical
Academic stance Disciplinary Disciplinary Transdisciplinary
  Monistic; focus on mathematical tools More pluralistic than economics, but still focused on tools and techniques. Few rewards for comprehensive, integrative work Pluralistic; focus on problems

Source: Constanza (1991).

Fig. 7.2 The interactions among components of natural resources in sectoral development acffvities (Source: B. Brouillette, N. J. Graves, and G. Last, African Geography for Schools, London: Longman; Paris: UNESCO, 1974)

Futures in normal commercial everyday usage are used to designate goods and stocks sold for future delivery. Here the term is used in a prognostic manner to forecast what the future portends in terms of the status of resources and the condition of the environment for future generations as a result of the impacts of multifarious human activities. It requires an assessment of past and present development policies, strategies, technologies, and programmes with regard to the extent to which they have resulted in unsustainability, lack of it, or enhancement of the resource base. A sustainable future will be possible only where appropriate and effective measures are taken now to replace the past and present non-environmentally friendly development policies, strategies, technologies, and programmes, and in addition to introduce the requisite changes in attitudes, morals, and behaviours in different cultures.