Pervasive Externalities at the Population, Consumption, and Environment Nexus

| April 20, 2013 | Leave a Comment

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Media Type: Article - Foundational

Date of Publication: April 2013

Year of Publication: 2013

Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Author(s): Partha S. Dasgupta, Paul R. Ehrlich

Journal: Science

Volume: 340:6130

Pages: 324-328

Categories: , ,

Dasgupta and Ehrlich present a theoretical consideration of the socio-ecological processes operating at the nexus of population-consumption-environment. The authors’ analysis focuses on the presence of externalities “of decisions made by each of us on reproduction, consumption, and the use of our natural environment.” (p324). In addition to the presence of externalities at this nexus, the authors demonstrate that, “the externalities studied in this paper are not self-correcting,” (p327) and, “that fundamental nonlinearities, built into several categories of externalities, amplify the socio-ecological processes operating at the nexus.” (p234). The authors therefore call for, “urgent collective action at both local and global levels.” (p234). It is important to note that this action is needed because the market structure alone cannot correct the presence of externalities at the population-consumption-environment nexus.

ABSTRACT: Growing concerns that contemporary patterns of economic development are unsustainable have given rise to an extensive empirical literature on population growth, consumption increases, and our growing use of nature’s products and services. However, far less has been done to reach a theoretical understanding of the socio-ecological processes at work at the population- consumption-environment nexus. In this Research Article, we highlight the ubiquity of externalities (which are the unaccounted for consequences for others, including future people) of decisions made by each of us on reproduction, consumption, and the use of our natural environment. Externalities, of which the “tragedy of the commons” remains the most widely discussed illustration, are a cause of inefficiency in the allocation of resources across space, time, and contingencies; in many situations, externalities accentuate inequity as well. Here, we identify and classify externalities in consumption and reproductive decisions and use of the natural environment so as to construct a unified theoretical framework for the study of data drawn from the nexus. We show that externalities at the nexus are not self-correcting in the marketplace. We also show that fundamental nonlinearities, built into several categories of externalities, amplify the socio-ecological processes operating at the nexus. Eliminating the externalities would, therefore, require urgent collective action at both local and global levels.

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