Linking economic growth pathways and environmental sustainability by understanding development as alternate social-ecological regimes

Cumming, Graeme S., and von Cramon-Taubadel, Stephan (2018) Linking economic growth pathways and environmental sustainability by understanding development as alternate social-ecological regimes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115 (38). pp. 9533-9538.

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Abstract

Scientists understand how global ecological degradation is occurring but not why it seems to be so difficult to reverse. We used national-level data and a mathematical model to provide an empirical test of the hypothesis that national economies display two distinct economic regimes that are maintained by self-reinforcing feedbacks between natural resources and society. Our results not only support previous findings that two distinct groups exist, but also show that countries move toward one of these two different equilibrium points because of their different patterns of natural resource use and responses to population growth. At the less economically developed equilibrium point maintained by "green-loop" feedbacks, human populations depend more directly on ecosystems for income. At the more economically developed equilibrium point maintained by "red-loop" feedbacks, nonecosystem services (e.g., technology, manufacturing, services) generate the majority of national gross domestic product (GDP), but increasing consumption of natural resources means that environmental impacts are higher and are often exported (via cross-scale feedbacks) to other countries. Feedbacks between income and population growth are pushing countries farther from sustainability. Our analysis shows that economic growth alone cannot lead to environmental sustainability and that current trajectories of resource use cannot be sustained without breaking feedback loops in national and international economies.

Item ID: 55987
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1091-6490
Keywords: feedback, ecosystem services, planetary boundaries, ecosystem, threshold
Funders: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Research Unit FOR2432, Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
Date Deposited: 31 Oct 2018 09:28
FoR Codes: 14 ECONOMICS > 1402 Applied Economics > 140205 Environment and Resource Economics @ 100%
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