Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Third World

By W. M. Adams | Go to book overview

8

The environmental costs of development

I am always bothered by the Western arrogance, by its assurance that it knows all the answers and can quite readily fix everything so that the tropical peoples can live happily ever after, if only they will listen.

(Marston Bates, 1953, p. 239)


The costs of environmental control

Environmental variability and environmental change present significant challenges to sustainability, particularly the sustainability of rural livelihoods. In the case of arid ecosystem degradation, human impacts on natural patterns of climatic variability are implicated at two scales, that of global climatic change and (slightly less certainly) that of local resource depletion and degradation. Both these forms of human environmental impact are more or less accidental, or at least incidental to human endeavour of wealth creation, economic growth or economic survival. However, much human modification of the environment is quite deliberate, and this, too, can bring significant challenges to sustainability.

This chapter discusses the ways in which formal development schemes can themselves be unsustainable. It does this by taking one particular area of development, the use of water resources, and analysing the environmental and socio-economic impacts of dams and irrigation schemes. Such projects represent a particular approach to development, demanding intensive technical planning and massive environmental and socio-economic transformation. Dams in particular affect large and dynamic natural systems (rivers and floodplains) on which large numbers of people depend, and where human uses of the environment are intricately linked to ecosystems and the ways in which they change. This dependence of people's livelihoods on patterns of river flooding has not been widely understood in the past, and many dams have had serious environmental impacts.

Environmental modification is an inherent part of the development process. Cowen and Shenton distinguish between immanent development (the changes to economy and society - and one might add environment - that take place) and intentional development (the 'active practice of the state'; 1996, p. 61). Both dimensions of development involve environmental transformation, but it

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Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Third World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates xi
  • Figures xii
  • Tables xiv
  • Preface xv
  • Acknowledgements xix
  • Copyright Acknowledgements xx
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms xxiii
  • 1 1
  • 2 22
  • 3 54
  • 4 80
  • 5 102
  • 6 139
  • 7 175
  • 8 215
  • 9 250
  • Further Reading 284
  • 10 285
  • 11 310
  • 12 334
  • 13 368
  • References 384
  • Index 436
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