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Chapter 2 - Concepts of environmental management

Human quality of life
Human environment
Natural resources and the concept of goods, services and hazards
Environmental management
Environmentally sound development

Underlying the meaning and ultimate effect of this study are two unarguable premises: development in its social, economic and cultural dimensions is the process of improving human life quality; and the process of development involves manipulation of the complex, interrelated natural and man-made components and processes of human environments. In this chapter we shall develop concepts based on these premises, which will lead to an understandable and workable definition of "environmentally sound development"; we will do this by an examination of the terms: "human quality of life"; "human environments"; "systems goods, services and hazards"; and, "environmental management."

Human quality of life

Quality of life discussions have usually centered on the subject of "basic human needs" (Streeton and Burki, 1978; McHale and McHale, 1977) and the moral choices to be made among those needs in development activities (Goulet, 1971).

Human life quality depends on the physical and psychological health or welfare of an individual or a society. Health and welfare in turn, depend on the degree to which a person's or a society's respective environments satisfy their needs.

Needs vary substantially by culture, age, sex, season, climate, education and income. Some must be satisfied before others are felt. It is often difficult to distinguish between "needs" and "wants" and lack of information and understanding often undo efforts to improve one's quality of life. If the allotment of resources required to satisfy any of their perceived needs is not sufficient or, though sufficient is placed in jeopardy, that society will believe that its quality of life is threatened and will fight to save or restore it.

Human environment

The Encyclopedia of Environmental Sciences defines Environment as "the aggregate of all external conditions and influences affecting life and development of an organism" (Platt, 1971) but a definition of the "human environment" must go further. A human environment is more than external, for internal and external are relative concepts and an individual is a significant component of his own environment. This study therefore regards the human environment as "the aggregate of all conditions and influences affecting the behaviour and development of humans as individuals and as societies". "Conditions and influences" vary over time and space and, though often shared, are perceived and experienced differently by each individual or society (Saarinen, 1969).

Each environment is a system which overlaps, influences, and is influenced by other systems. They resemble ecosystems (or are at least significant parts of ecosystems) in that they are units of space where biotic and physical components and processes interact to develop patterns of energy and material flow and cycling. In human environments these components and processes - called structure and function by scientists (Odum, 1962) - are not restricted to those that are from "nature." Indeed, they include those that are social, economic and political (Smith, 1972) or cultural (Boyden, 1976). By extension, they include machines, institutions, language, and art, as well as nutrient cycling, photosynthesis, respiration and food chains, since all are conduits for the flow and storage of energy (Odum and Odum, 1976).

A reductionist approach to environmental complexity, though useful in a great many ways, cannot resolve environment/development conflicts. We do participate in a world where everything is related to everything else. Though some of the components and processes involved are more important than others, there is no easy way for any one person or interest group to decide for the others which are the important ones (Dasgupta, 1976).

Thus, considering the many levels of organization, our world is made up of a large number of environments - not one. One of those environments, of course, is the "biosphere," but that is only one more environment and not the environment. The global environment is important. However, there are countless other environments that are just as problematic, more easily understood, and treatable and very much nearer at hand than the global environment. Because there are numerous environments, the phrase "protect the environment" is not a useful term unless we know whose environment is to be protected.

The question "whose environment" is always relevant. Because sectoral activities use, improve, or conserve what comes to us from an environment, decisions based on these sectoral interests are the cause of what have been called "environmental problems." These problems are created by efforts to improve quality of life in one environment at the expense of reduced quality of life in another. "The environment," therefore, is not a special set of unique interests to be treated separately from "development."

Natural resources and the concept of goods, services and hazards

Nature is the original patrimony of humanity and is the source of goods and services as well as of the space in which society develops and evolves.

The concept of goods, services and hazards opens and extends the concept of natural resources and links the concepts of environmental quality and life quality, since a quality environment is one that provides the necessary goods and services to satisfy life quality needs and which mitigates the severity of an encounter with a hazardous event.1

1. Environmental quality in some writings refers to "ambient environmental quality" i.e. the "state of air, water, land, and human artifacts" (Hufschmidt et al, 1983, p.2). However, as used here, it is the relative capability of an environment to satisfy the needs and wants of an individual or society.

When the natural characteristics of ecosystem structure and function are of interest to any one, they are classified as natural goods and services. Natural goods are generally equivalent to natural resources except that they have been further defined and identified by specific sectors as being useful for development. Thus, within the natural resource "forest," the natural goods may be woody fiber for lumber, pulpwood, or posts; medicinal plants; edible fruits, and chemical substances among others. Natural services are derived from the natural characteristics of ecosystem structure and function and include the flow of energy and materials; nutrient storage, distribution and cycling; provision of wildlife habitat; germplasm storage and evolution; biomass production; and flood control.

The term "goods and services" historically carries an economic connotation. Economic goods and services are, of course, the results of labour and the expenditure of capital to refine and convert natural resources to useful products, and to design and provide activities of public utility such as health, security, communication and goverment services.

Several years ago, the concept of "natural goods and services" was introduced. These have been defined as those goods and services that are provided by natural environments (Gosselink et al, 1973; Ehrenfeld, 1976; Lugo and Brinson, 1979) and, in economic literature, include, but are not confined to, "amenity resources."

In many ways, no fundamental distinction can be made between natural and economic goods and services. Both types are derived from the structure and processes of ecosystems. Both types support human life quality. Individual examples of each kind have value dependent upon their utility and scarcity. Price and market participation do not make a difference despite the fact that early efforts to place a market price on natural systems - and the goods and services they provide - met with stiff resistance on the part of some economists (Shabman and Batie, 1978). There is now little, if any, debate as to whether natural goods and services have value nor whether the concept fits economic theory.

Indeed, the major difference between them seems to be that economic goods and services have been thoroughly discussed and studied while natural goods and services have not. To correct this inequity, today economists are beginning to grapple with ways to place a value on non-priced natural goods and services (Krutilla and Fisher, 1975; Hufschmidt et al, 1983).2 Those which remain non-priced but no less valuable will have their identifiable constituencies who will demand due process in development planning in much the same way as the value of work in the household and the real worth of protection by police and firemen are receiving increasing attention because housewives and police officers demand it.

2. It is not the purpose of this study to provide methods of economic valuation. Rather it is to help lay an acceptable conceptual foundation for "environmentally sound development." Analysis of the market pricing system and other methods of economic analysis are and will continue to be, formidable tools in development planning and decision making. Our purpose here is to define where and in what context those decisions will have to be made. As we will see in the following sections, that context is often one of competing and reinforcing sectoral activities.

Natural goods and services have a value according to the following categories:

1. They may have economic, social or cultural value and are therefore considered to be important to current development activities. The economic elements (those that are priced and participate in the monetary market) are well understood. The barter system is less understood but no less important in many development contexts - particularly in frontier areas such as the Central Selva. Though not necessarily quantifiable, the social and cultural components can also be valuable in other ways. Human culture and life styles contribute to the diversity and richness of a population. Both recent immigrants and native peoples use an area's natural goods and services as food, folk remedies, instruments in religious ceremonies, and to provide historical perspective. Though not ordinarily considered in development planning, the social and cultural components may carry an importance far beyond anything known by an outsider.

2. They may have a scientific value and are therefore of importance to future development. Natural goods and services of this type are of interest to those who search for new technologies and new information for development purposes. Much of the effort to protect endangered species, representative ecosystems, germplasm reserves, and wildlands for research and monitoring fall into this category.

3. They may control ecosystem functioning and are therefore important to a sustainable flow of a good or service. Thus, activities which lead to the conservation, protection and use of those natural goods and services required to maintain ecosystem atributes of value are also important development activities. Included are the natural goods and services of erosion and flood control, climate regulation, and chemical buffering. Their conservation or protection are legitimate and valuable development activities.

In addition to providing natural goods and services, human environments also present a gamut of natural hazards which have a great influence on how successful development efforts may be. These phenomena are also the result of ecosystem structure and function. Earthquakes and hurricanes are a part of energy and material flow in the global ecosystem. Though they are hazards to development they may be responsible for a significant number of natural goods and services. For example, hurricanes which distribute large amounts of energy built up in tropical latitudes to the temperate latitudes are also responsible for the survival of valuable mangrove systems (Lugo, 1978); natural flooding and ocean currents are responsible for massive flows and cycling of nutrients (Hartline, 1980); lightning fixes unusable nitrogen to useful forms; bees sting but they have a value beyond calculation in the pollination of flowering plants and in food production for human beings (Pimentel et al, 1980).

Indeed, the process of development is made up of those activities that lead to the use, improvement, or conservation of goods and services in order to maintain and improve life quality. "Negative environmental impact," on the other hand, is the opposite of development. That is, it is the destruction, impoverishment, misuse or non-use of goods and services whether the result of human activity or of natural hazardous events.

Environmental management

The objective of environmental management is improved human life quality. It involves the mobilization of resources and the use of government to administer the use of both natural and economic goods and services. It is based on the principles of ecology. It uses systems analysis and conflict resolution to distribute the costs and benefits of development activities throughout the affected populations and seeks to protect the activities of development from natural hazards. Conflict identification is one of the more important tasks in environmental management planning and the resolution of conflicts is a fundamental part of what makes up "environmentally sound development."

In the complex and interdependent world that we have been given, environmental management is required because the activities of development in one sector affect in both positive and negative ways the quality of life in others. Indeed, if one asks of any "environmental impact" the questions "who caused it?" and "who felt it?," sector/sector relationships are identified. For example, a hydroelectric dam which reduces nutrient levels in the water and thus destroys downstream fisheries is sector 410 causing problems for sector 130 of the UN List of Economic Activities (UN, 1969). By the same token, cutting down trees to produce grazing land for cattle may cause sedimentation in a reservoir, and is a problem between sectors 111 and 420. And, if a hotel sends its wastes out to sea only to have them return to its beaches, a conflict is caused within sector 632. It needs to be said in addition that such "problems" are, in reality, conflicts between two activities. That is to say, the problem is not only caused by promoting ranching over fisheries since a decision in favor of fisheries will cause a problem for ranching as well. It is the conflict that requires solution.

Such a concept of "environmental impact" may be seen to have left out "the environment;" a very large black box exists between cause and effect if one is only interested in those sectoral activities which cause a problem and those which receive the problem. There are two basic reasons, however, why this is not a major concern here. First, the guidelines to be produced are guidelines for planning development at the earliest possible stage of the process. Time, funding, and expertise at this level do not allow in-depth study of that black box. Second, the guidelines are for planners in the humid tropics - a biome known for its lack of available information. That is, the black box covering the humid tropics is a very large one and efforts to reduce its size in any significant way - though certainly necessary and welcomed by planners - should not be undertaken by planners. The needs of development planning should help orient research in information-scarce areas. But, in the context of specific development planning projects, neither science nor planning will be advanced much by expenditures of large amounts of planning time and funds for research.

Conflicts between natural hazards and development activities also exist and result from a confrontation between hazardous natural events and human activity. So-called "natural disasters" occur because we have not paid sufficient attention to natural hazardous phenomena. Indeed, the term "natural disaster" is misleading for this reason: it places the blame on nature when, in fact, the blame belongs to those who decided that projects be implemented under circumstances that jeopardize the very objectives that the development activities were designed to meet.

The techniques of conflict resolution are well known and are comparatively successful given man's continued existence on earth for several thousands of years under very complex conditions. If they had not worked there would be no life as we know it today. Conflicts make up the matrix in which we live; it is a world of uncertainties compounded by a shortage of technical information, a large variety of values, interests and judgements, and overlapping environments.

Most writers on the subject of conflict resolution, however, say that conflict can be positive as well as negative (Boulding and Kahn, 1962; Coser, 1956; Deutsch, 1973). For example, conflict tends to maintain valid group boundaries and needed group structure and provides incentives for the formation of alliances to combat an exploitive elite.

Planning, especially intersectoral planning, has a tremendous advantage over efforts in real life to resolve conflicts because, in many ways, planning is a game; and, to play the game one must cooperate. Within this context, individuals on a planning team have a shared commitment to rules and procedures which can be controlled. The various parties (sector specialists) operate with a similar rationale, can be easily encouraged to focus on criteria rather than on positions and, each can insist that evaluation criteria be objective. The result is an opportunity to invent options for conflict resolution that provide for mutual gain.

Many activities designed to use, improve, conserve, and protect goods and services for development purposes support other development activities. Development projects requiring the conservation of ecosystems for purposes of wildlife management also conserve the soil stabilization function of vegetation and, as a result, downstream reservoirs receive less sediment. Development policies that restrict construction in areas of natural flooding create recreation possibilities and green space near urban areas and lessen dependence on expensive flood control structures. Enlightened systems engineering turns industrial wastes into residuals that provide raw material for other development projects (Bower, 1977).

Environmentally sound development

Discussions that treat environment and development revolve around the point of "environmentally sound development." Despite this, the term has seldom been defined and it is left to the reader to gather from the discussion just what it might be. In large part, such discussions seem to suggest that development is "environmentally sound" if it is "sustainable," if it does not "disturb the ecological balance," if it "causes no environmental degradation," if it does not "surpass the carrying capacity of the natural system," and if it "avoids the loss of long term natural productivity." Even the most cursory analysis, however, will show that such criteria are untenable; no development project - including conservation - can meet all of these restrictions.

First, there is a problem of meeting the objectives of development. Development objectives that do not treat life quality - even if "environmentally sound" - make no sense because no one will benefit. Second, there is a problem of level of aggregation. Which natural system are we talking about? The construction of any man-made structure will disturb, even erase, natural systems at a certain level. Third is a question of decision. Is long-term natural productivity essential when a choice must be made between wood fiber and protein? Fourth, there is a question of adequacy. Is the carrying capacity of a natural system relevant when it can be significantly increased through the application of even the simplest technology? Fifth, there are problems of clarity and specificity. Environmental "degradation" and "ecological balance" mean different things to different people. Is a project "environmentally sound," for example if "balance" is maintained but a species is lost, or added, because of that project?

To evade such problems this study has defined "environmentally sound development" as a process having the improvement of human life quality as its objective. It is a process of active manipulation of ecosystem structure and function in order to appropriate the goods and services offered by the ecosystem in question. It minimizes the conflict inherent in the appropriation of those goods and services, it maximizes mutual support between the required activities and distributes their costs and benefits throughout the affected populations. The chapters which follow are based on this understanding of environmentally sound development.


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