Integrating Ecology and Poverty Reduction

pp 273-301


Looking Forward: The Future and Evolving Role of Ecology in Society

  • Shahid NaeemAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology & Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University Email author 

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If a development strategy is ecologically sound, meaning that it is founded on ecological principles and is environmentally sustainable, then it qualifies as sustainable development, but qualifying as such makes no guarantees about whether it will or will not promote poverty reduction. There are, of course, different definitions of sustainable development, but a universal requirement for any development program to be sustainable is that its activities that are designed to meet the needs of the present generation will not jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This requirement is akin to long-term (i.e., multigenerational) ecological stability where the water, nutrient, and energy needs of millions of species, on a global scale, are met generation after generation for tens to thousands of years. Because ecological systems appear globally to exhibit slow dynamics (Fig. 19.1), it makes sense that ecology is a science to which we might turn for understanding how to achieve environmental sustainability. To put it into an ecological perspective, consider Fig. 19.1, which compares the Holocene, the last 12 × 103 years, to what some call the Anthropocene (Crutzen 2002; Zalasiewcz et al. 2008; Steffen et al. 2009), which covers roughly (although, the starting date is debated) the last three centuries (more than that if the starting point is with the commencement of agriculture 10,000 years ago).