A Set of Hard Problems — Part 2

An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth –in short, materialism– does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.
E. F. Schumacher in Small is Beautiful


Economist Thomas Schelling defined the ethics of policy ‘as what we try to bring to bear on those issues in which we do not have a personal stake.’ It can be convincingly argued that there are no issues in which we do not have a personal stake. Every action in an interdependent global system has far-reaching consequences. My desire for cheap hamburgers could translate however indirectly to rainforest destruction.

One has to grapple with the notion of social obligations and what we owe to the poor and the disadvantaged who have legitimate claim to the resources that are required for a decent human existence.


Over the basic subsystem of population, environment and resources, is the supersystem of another triad: the political system, economy, and the technological system. The political system, according to Lester Milbrath of Univ of NY Buffalo, is that its central focus is on power and domination. He writes: “Our civilization is a dominator civilization; that means it is oriented toward allowing some people to subjugate others. We no longer condone outright slavery, but the many forces of domination have the effect of bending the will of weak creatures to serve the desires of the powerful. Power is ingrained in our thinking that most humans believe they have a right, even an obligation, to dominate nature.”

The question of sustainable human activity is a very complex problem which needs to be examined very carefully. The temptation to assign blame should be firmly resisted for it will only be a useless exercise which can only hinder consensus building which is the only way to creating a solution acceptable to all.


Natural ecosystems are models of sustainability and it would be pleasantly ironical that we could learn from a system that we would otherwise in our ignorance destroy. Wider identification with the diversity of life on earth can mitigate against technological hubris implicit in the faith that human technological ingenuity is sufficient to solve all problems.

Natural ecosystems characteristically:

  1. Avoid pollution and resource depletion by recycling.
  2. Use a renewable source of energy.
  3. Maintain stable populations.
  4. Maintain biodiversity.

It is important to note that all the above desired characteristics correlate positively. The study of natural ecosystems corresponds to studying healthy systems. The study of ecosystems disrupted by human activity would constitute the pathological side of investigation. Both the study of health and pathology would contribute to the formulation of a computer simulation model. This model can be used to study the evolution of the system under varying circumstances and predictions made which can guide policy.

{To be continued}

Categories: Development, Economics

1 reply

  1. dear sir
    i am an project consltant
    one of my client want to setup bio diesel plant in uttranchal.can u assist me on
    1. is uttranchal is suitable for this project
    2. is it feasibile project
    3. how to procced for setting up bio deisel project.
    4. how much fund is required for this project
    5. what type of ram material is required.


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