The Nature of Development

“[W]hile environmental degradation in the industrial world results from affluence and neglect, in developing countries the principal culprit is poverty,” writes environmental activist Roger D. Stone; “therefore, a highly effective way to protect nonhuman species as well as to help people is to provide economically viable alternatives to human assaults on the environment.”

Stone uses grassroots projects from Thailand to Zambia to Peru to illustrate his assertion that “the fate of the rural poor in the Third World, and the pressures on already mushrooming cities in developing countries, and on the nations of the North as well, and the outlook for wild plants and animals, are all inseparably linked to each other.” In Indonesia’s Irian Jaya province, the indigenous Hatam people have learned to harvest butterflies for profit and to adjust their traditional way of life in a promising attempt to protect a unique conservation area. A British couple has worked in Cameroon with local villagers to establish a forest reserve on Kilum Mountain. The stakes here as elsewhere are high: “[The forest’s] unwanted disappearance...would leave the Oku people...with but one sad option: an ongoing struggle for survival, against lengthening odds, as subsistence farmers on ever more exhausted soil.”

Ecologically sound sustainable development is possible, argues Stone, but requires dramatic paradigm shifts, not only for governments and local peoples but also for conservationists. He demonstrates this with a helpful history of the environmental movement. He also discusses the debt crisis that since 1982 has caused so much human and environmental damage (though less comprehensively than Susan George in A FATE WORSE THAN DEBT: THE WORLD FINANCIAL CRISIS AND THE POOR), and endorses “debt-for-nature” swaps as a way out.