Economic Growth Without Environmental Degradation

Possibility Of Economic Growth Without Environmental Degradation

The delicate balance between environmental sustainability and economic growth continues to be a controversial issue as the world scales new heights in technological innovations and exploitation of natural resources. Economic growth is vital for governments to provide basic needs such as food and security to their citizens. However, an increasing demand for energy, which drives economic growth, has led to counterproductive effects on the natural environment such as pollution and global warming. Panayotou (2003) states that in Europe “greenhouse gas emissions grew by 4 per cent in the 1990s against GDP growth of 23 per cent” (p. 68). It is evident that meeting economies of scale requires optimizing production to levels that will eventually degrade the environment unless humankind adopts alternative eco-friendly solutions to demands of economic growth.

There is a relationship between rapid increase in incomes and environmental sustainability. Georgescu-Rogen (1971) states that rapid growth in production and consumption requires large inputs such as energy and materials, which generate larger quantities of waste and other by-products (p. 15). With increased exploitation of natural resources, buildup of wastes and by-products, and emission of pollutants, the carrying capacity of the planet’s biosphere will soon be overwhelmed unless a trade-off is reached between economic growth and environmental preservation. The balance can only be achieved through a transition from rapid and unchecked economic growth to a steady-state economy which relies on eco-friendly technology and innovations.

Environmental improvement can be achieved through economic growth. People with a higher income will always demand for goods and services that are eco-friendly and less material intensive than those of low income status. With affluence comes a lifestyle based on healthy living and improved environmental quality. These are lifestyle standards that emphasize on environmental protection measures and responsible attitudes. As Beckerman (1992) states, “The strong correlation between incomes, and the extent to which environmental protection measures are adopted, demonstrates that in the longer run, the surest way to improve your environment is to become rich” (p. 481). Deforestation and carbon emissions in most countries with low economic growth have been found to be higher than in developed countries.

The relationship between the quality of environment and economic growth changes when a country reaches an income level where people can afford efficient infrastructure and better living conditions. Environmental degradation is more prevalent at low levels of economic development through over-reliance on natural resources for subsistence economic activities. For example, rudimentary agricultural practices deplete resources and generate increasing amounts of waste. However, countries with high economic growth tend to adopt more efficient technologies that emphasize on environmental conservation. They have measures put in place to ensure that there is a balance between use of natural resources and conservation of the environment.

Environmental degradation should not be the price the world pays for economic growth if everyone adopts a ‘green’ eco-friendly lifestyle. For example, switching from an over-reliance on fossil fuels to the use renewable energy will ensure that the balance between environmental sustainability and economic growth remains stable. Developed nations, which have made great strides in economic growth, need to adopt green technology and eco-friendly technologies at the community and corporate levels. Eco-friendly ways of life such as a reduction in the use of carbon emitting appliances will bring about economic growth without adversely affecting the environment.


Beckerman, W. (1992). Economic growth and the environment: whose growth? Whose     environment? World Development, 20(1), 481-496.

Georgescu-Roegen, N. (1971). The entropy law and the economic process. Cambridge: Harvard    University Press.

Panayotou, T. (2003). Economic growth and the environment. Economic Survey of Europe, 1(2),  45-72.



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