Monday, November 03, 2008


Redefining Development

Developing countries are working hard at remaking themselves in the image of the industrialized countries (which can most often be characterized as “overdeveloped,” but that’s another story). Poor countries take on heavy debts and sometimes agree to conditions such as those for economic “restructuring” in the expectation that they too can become like North American countries, Japan, and European countries. To that end, they embark on programs to build factories, road networks, airports, and consumer societies whose members will supposedly make lots of money and attempt to buy happiness despite the clear failure of people in industrialized countries to do so.

What’s wrong with this picture? Many people, starting years ago, have observed that the Earth lacks sufficient resources to let everyone live such an extravagant lifestyle. So there’s no need to repeat that here. What too few people still overlook is that there isn’t enough energy for industrial development to continue. Indeed, we can readily see from observing industrialized countries that industrialism is a dying system. Renewables, which are themselves dependent on the fossil-fuel bootstrap, cannot deliver the high-density energy needed to keep the aircraft flying, the factories humming, the fleets of motor vehicles running, the road networks maintained, and homes centrally heated and cooled.

So where does that leave developing countries? Simply put, they are wasting their borrowed money and resources on trying to achieve what is already beginning to fail in model countries. They will build factories that will turn into empty hulks, road networks that cannot be maintained, airports from which aircraft will cease to fly, and consumer societies whose members will have all they can do to keep themselves fed, let alone shopping for the latest products at the mall.

Make no mistake about it: Poor countries need development. Something must be done to feed people and lift them out of grinding poverty. But clearly, the industrial model of development must be abandoned, and the development community needs to redefine development so that people aren’t made dependent on an energy source we know is going to dwindle from here on.

A report issued this year, The Impact of Peak Oil on International Development (PDF), recognizes this challenge and addresses some of the concerns. It is one place to start when considering how to approach this problem and redefine development.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?