What is ‘environmentalist’s paradox’?



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    The environmentalist’s paradox refers to this exact question:

    “Why, despite resource depletion and the degradation of ecosystems, is average human well-being improving globally?”

    Here are some articles on this idea:



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    There are some flaws in the environmentalist’s paradox though. One article, “Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox,” explores a few different ways of understanding why the Human Development Index indicates that the human condition is improving, even while the earth is suffering. The writers of the article first explored the meaning of “human well-being” and hypothesized that it was wrongly defined. The Human Development Index uses literacy rates, life expectancy, and income to measure human well-being. But, the researchers decided this wasn’t the issue, but rather it was a focus on food production, the use of technology, and time lag that play an important role in perpetuating the paradox.

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    Also of note in the Bioscience article analyzing the environmentalist’s paradox is the call for further research into their final hypothesis intended to explain the existence of the current paradox.  This hypothesis is as follows:  “There is a time lag after ecosystem service degradation before human well-being is negatively affected. Loss of human well-being caused by current declines in services has therefore not yet occurred to a measurable extent.”  The paradox is only useful if we understand that it is, whether accurately or not, measuring only current human well-being, rather than the ability of humans to survive into the future. 

    Additionally, the authors make a good point about the influence of our global degradation of the environment very probably leaving us with little to no buffer for a decrease in the ecosystems’ ability to support us.

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