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The term Environmental Deficit is used to refer to society's relationship to the natural environment. It suggests that the pursuit of short-term benefits produces negative long-term consequences.
Environmental Deficit highlights three key sociological issues:
Martell describes sustainable development in the following way:
'Sustainability requires technical decisions about choice of technology, energy use and forms of production. Yet it also requires restrictions on growth, resource extraction and pollution and implies radically changed social lifestyles and values, whether taken on by choice or necessity or by some combination of the two. The social lifestyles and values suitable for sustainability are something on which sociologists are eminently well-qualified to comment, since they touch on issues to do with consumption, community and economy in which sociologists have a longstanding interest.'The debate around environmental deficits and sustainable development has not, however, escaped substantial criticism. Many critics have argued that it is neo-Malthusian (after 18th Century economist Thomas Malthus) and is overly fatalistic with regards to population growth. Alternatively, some have suggested that it is too anthropocentric (as opposed to treating the natural environment on equal terms to humanity) by retaining a focus on economic growth and rising living standards. A Marxist perspective challenges the nature of capitalism to be able to implement sustainability. The discussion becomes more complex when we take into account the imbalances between industrialised and developing countries. The continuing controversy surrounding the signing of the Kyoto agreement highlights the global aspect of environmental solutions. As sociologists such as Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens (1994) have pointed out, environmental problems are not confined to national borders, but have far reaching effects beyond nation states. For example, the emotive issue of the destruction of tropical forests saw campaigners unite across the world to fight for their survival as removers of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The point to made here, is that the destruction of these forests may have met the short-term requirements demanded by a national economy, but, in terms of environmental deficit, the consequences on global future generations is immense if evidence for global warming is accepted.
(Martell, Luke (1994: 47) Ecology and Society: An Introduction, Cambridge: Polity Press).
Going further. See:
Ecology the relationship between human societies and the natural world.
Biodiversity the interconnections between species, genetics and habitat that form 'eco-systems'.
Anthropocentrism an emphasis on human systems.
Ecocentricism an emphasis on non-human systems.