The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living

By Nora Haenn; Richard R. Wilk | Go to book overview

Section Three
Large-Scale Economic Development

This section considers the effects of large-scale and long-term environmental change. Leslie White begins the section with a theory about the evolution of human energy use and, by implication, human effects on the environment. While White's evolutionary approach is largely out of step with current anthropology, his ideas of social progress through increased energy use resonate with the intellectual bases of many of today's development and modernization schemes. Furthermore, White's work raises questions about the relationship between the scale of human enterprises and their enduring effects on the environment. Following approaches in historical ecology, Charles Redman gives long-term depth to human environmental modifications, as he surveys the archaeological record for ecological change wrought by the growth of ancient cities. In modern times, large-scale development usually translates into efforts at industrialization, the object of James Ferguson's discussion in the section's third chapter.

Ferguson says that government development projects cause social as well as environmental problems. Vandana Shiva describes how development programs involve men and women differently, drawing a connection between sexism and environmental destruction. Shiva argues that those who benefit from economic development are rarely those who bear its costs. This polemical piece contrasts with Beckerman's chapter, in which he argues that economic development is necessary for environmental protection. Collectively, the contributions to this section ask, what is the goal of economic development? How do the problems of development overlap with those of environmental destruction? Does development inevitably destroy nature? In this section's final contribution, Alan Fricker explores definitions and possibilities for sustainable development. In comparison to Netting's earlier, pointed definitions of sustainability in smallholding agriculture, Fricker offers an expansive vision infused with spirituality.

This section's concern for the differences between policy ideas and practices bridges the abstract themes of previous sections with the following, more topical, chapters. This section also raises the issue of consumerism (addressed in Section 7) by questioning the consequences of certain kinds of economic behaviors. Much of the economic activity described in this section ultimately aims to increase the production and sale of consumer goods. Many people have responded to the environmental changes wrought by consumer-oriented industrialism by promoting concepts of sustainable development. Thematically, sustainable development reappears in Sections 4, 6, and 7. Recalling the optimism that infused earlier discourses about progress, enlightenment, and development, various contributors evaluate new ideas about harmony with nature in light of changing attitudes to earlier panaceas.

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