Resources And Uneven Development
Resources are products deemed by humans to be useful and can be used in a variety of ways. Resources could be in the form of finite stocks, whereby they are non renewable resources e.g. metal ores, or they could fall into the category of flow indefinitely whereby they are renewable resources such as solar power. Therefore renewable resources could be seen as being sustainable. Human habitation of earth has resulted in damage, and in some cases destruction, of the environment e.g. wilderness, which are said to be under threat of being exhausted of all useful resources. Environmental degradation is evident throughout the world. Many claim the main concern is not the exhaustion of resources but the wasteful and damaging use of them. To bring harmony to globalised environmental issues globalization of human welfare, security and citizenship, as well as globalization of environmental responsibilities will need to be enforced.
To sustain resources improved technology must continually be developed to assist with energy efficiency and recycling and re-using those already extracted must be encouraged. However, uneven development plays a key feature here. Developing countries do not have the necessary capital to invest in such methods and so will use the cheapest option, which are usually the least economical and environmentally friendly e.g. from fossils fuels which create large amounts of pollution. Therefore, uneven development stunts existing technological fixes. Developing countries cannot compete against the oligopoly control of the developed countries.
‘A Declining Future for Renewables’ focuses on uneven development. Duncan claims in 20 years developed countries energy levels will remain at the same level, whereas the developing countries energy levels would have increased by 80% and will continue to increase. Though as pointed out above they will opt for the cheapest form possibly to keep costs down. The article states that the average OECD person consumes 5.4 times more energy than a non-OECD person. However, the resources used for energy consumption often derive from the developing countries, but, as the figures suggest, little are used locally. The negative externalities of such projects generally tend to stay locally, though they can reach global levels, as with air pollution. Therefore, though the developing countries possess the resources they see no economical benefits as the developed countries reap the benefits, rather they are left with the negative externalities such as pollution. This is an extremely unequal relationship with unequal levels of interdependence present. This increases the gap of polarisation on a global scale. TNC’s often target developing countries due to their preferential tax treatment and the fact that they are seen as pollution havens. They often ignore such concepts as the debt boomerang.
Duncan highlights that the developed countries have the majority of their hydro power sites already constructed, whereas the developing countries have massive potentials for this. Hydro power is said to provide 7% of world energy consumption, however due to the fact that the non-OECD will probably opt for the cheapest method this will result in only 1% of the worlds electric power production. See Appendix 1 for graph demonstrating increasing energy consumption levels within non-OECD countries. Slower rates are shown at later dates as more energy efficient technologies introduced. OECD’s are left with the challenge of increasing economic growth and lowering energy consumption levels.
‘Mining the Earth’ by John Young questions current policies in place. Young highlights that mining creates negative externalities such as pollution and affects not only on a local level but also on a global scale. Improvements in exploitive technologies have kept the prices down, though this leads to misuse and wastefulness. Young identifies that extraction of local resources leaves them with costs of economic development and provides no economical benefits as these are absorbed by the developed nations, whose life styles are being maintained through these actions. Karl Marx would identify this as another form of capitalist society dictating and exploiting the ‘working class’, on a global scale.
Industrial countries using smelters tend to have pollution control equipment by law, developing countries tend not to have these controls, if they are in place they are often ignored by Governments through the desperation to attract production and capital within their economy, even if it compromises their environment and social costs. This severely undermines the policies. They do not possess community empowerment.
Energy consumption for extracting minerals is vast and one has to question if the energy used is worth the damage being caused to the land, water and animal inhabitants for the amount being extracted. Aluminium extraction uses up 1% of the world energy consumption, but instead of this being restricted the government provide subsidiaries for it; therefore the policies in place are at human and environmental expenses. The clean up costs are substantial and developed countries are not obliged to pay for these costs at developing countries, though it is often their actions which have caused the damage and pollution. Ideally local Governments should insist that the clean up works are undertaken by those who cause the damage, however they are unfortunately not in a position to make such demands, due to the unbalance of power and dependencies present.
There are policies throughout the developed world in force to help with environmental problems and to aid the sustainability of resources. The United States have the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Other acts imposed are Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (1976), General Mining Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. Developing countries do not have the finance or resources to fully implement such laws.
The International Finance Cooperation has begun to insist that an environmental impact analysis for mining projects is carried out on those for which it funds.
More could be done by Governments to ensure sustainability of resources and to aid with the unequal relationship this issue presents. Governments should maximise the conservation of mineral stocks already within the global economy as this will reduce the need for extraction of new ones. This could be aided by recycling, re-use and re-manufacturing. National Governments could encourage material efficient economies by taxing rather than subsidizing production of virgin minerals. Taxes could be by means of a Uniform Rate for manufacturing e.g. higher taxes for those resources in short supply. Substitutions should be sought where possible, an ideal example of this telecommunication cables changing from copper to fibre-optic cables. However, one would have to bear in mind that a rapid decrease in demand for minerals from developing countries could have dire consequences. This could lead to them entering further debt and poverty.
Governments could forbid tipping of wastes at land fill sites, containing metals and promote recycling, through insistence of sorting both at home and at factories etc. If people were offered a certain amount of refund for returning items once they have reached the end of their life cycle these materials could be re-used. Australia imposes restrictions on water usage, which has proven to be quite effective.
An overall effort must be made to conserve traditional energy resources. The EU sees the introduction of Value Added Tax in 1994 as a first steps towards this goal. Governments introduced in 1970’s strict construction insulation standards aimed at energy savings. Though these policies aid this issue, they must be shared with developing world for all to benefits. The EU benefit from CAP, Common Agricultural Policy, whereby conservation is aided for non-renewables resources. Developing countries have such a dependence on their resources to provide capital into their economy to help reduce the massive debts many of them are facing that they feel they have no choice. New technologies have aided energy conservation, though advanced telematic systems equally less travel requirements, e.g. faxes, e-mails.
Uneven development does create barriers for the effectiveness of policies. Developing countries have no alternative but to accept the negative aspects that exploitation of their resources bring, as it is their main lifeline of revenue entering their economy, which is desperately required. The increasing populations of the developing countries will mean higher standards will be demanded and to meet these requirements vast amounts of money is vital. With little or no restrictions imposed within developing countries sustainable use of resources does not seems likely, as no restrictions will give a clear way to exhaust the resources.
I feel sustainable resources are something that can only be achieved in the short term, as human nature predicts that exploitation will occur in way of a ‘better quality life’, no matter what the costs, even at humane (uprooting of indigenous people) or environmental (pollution of water, air etc) costs. With changing demographics and increasing population trends the demands are set to become bigger and bigger, one must ask what the carrying capacity of resources are available for such changes carries. It is also true that the rarer the commodity the more demand usually is associated with it. Uneven development stops any boundaries or policies being enforced and so the whole process is undermined. Until humans establish ecocentrism, differing peoples attitudes and belief systems resources are not sustainable.
Word Count: 1,500
Sarre, P and Blunden, J. An Overcrowded World? Oxford, Oxford University Press/The Open University
Duncan, L (1993) ‘A declining future for renewables’ in Sarre, P and Blunden, J. An Overcrowded World? Oxford, Oxford University Press/The Open University
J, Young ‘Mining the earth’ in Sarre, P and Blunden, J. An Overcrowded World? Oxford, Oxford University Press/The Open University