The Political Economy of the Environment
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The Political Economy of the Environment

James K. Boyce

In a provocative and original analysis, James K. Boyce examines the dynamics of environmental degradation in terms of the balances of power between the winners and the losers. He provides evidence that inequalities of power and wealth affect not only the distribution of environmental costs, but also their overall magnitude: greater inequalities result in more environmental degradation. Democratization – movement toward a more equitable distribution of power – therefore is not only a worthwhile objective in its own right, but also an important means toward the social goals of environmental protection and sustainable development.
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Chapter 3: Investing in Natural and Human Capital

James K. Boyce


(with Olman Segura Bonilla) INTRODUCTION Until recently, economics and ecology were treated as distinct and unrelated subjects. But today the recognition is growing that the ways human beings manage nature are closely related to the ways we manage relationships among ourselves. Threats to the ecosystems that underpin economic activity are forcing us to reconsider our treatment of natural resources in our daily lives and in our fields of study. The assumption that technical progress is a perfect substitute for natural resources is losing credibility. The inadequacy of myopic time horizons in the face of long-term environmental degradation is becoming ever more apparent. These insights have given impetus to the idea of sustainable development. The treatment of natural resources as natural capital is an important element of the new sustainable development economics. Natural resources can no longer be regarded as free goods. In microeconomic decisions and in national accounts, the depletion of the natural resource base must be treated as a cost. At the same time, it is possible to invest in natural capital, for example via reforestation, soil restoration, and pollution control. In other words, some natural capital can be, if not ‘man-made,’ at least helped along by purposeful human endeavor. This chapter considers the prospects for sustainable development in the so-called Third World (that is, in the agrarian and semi-industrialized economies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America). We argue that a necessary condition for sustainable development in these countries is a radical improvement in the nutritional well-being, health,...

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