Economic Growth and Environmental Management in a Global Iriai

A Response from Robert Ellison of REA Engineering and Environment

Growth provides the resources for social progress and environmental conservation and restoration. Environmental management involves the strategic deployment of methods and technologies across landscapes, industries and infrastructure using multi-disciplinary science and theories and models of institutional structures – polycentricity – pioneered by Elinor Ostrom in real-world applications over the past 50 years. It involves bottom up management that can provide better outcomes for business and the environment – rather than top-down prescriptive methods from governments that are globally failing to conserve our environment. The bottom line is that we can grow economies and enhance environments.

There are three key ideas in advancing management of the global commons.

1. The problems of the environment and development are interrelated – biodiversity, population, land use changes and emissions of different gases and aerosols across a number of sectors. Decoupling the developed and the natural worlds reduces climatic and ecological pressures on systems that – through internal chaotic responses – are inherently unpredictable.

2. Economic growth provides resources for solving problems – restoring organic carbon in agricultural soils, conserving and restoring ecosystems, better sanitation and safer water, better health and education, updating the diesel fleet and other productive assets, replacing cooking fires with better ways of preparing food, etc.

3. The way to manage the environment is through informed decision making at multiple scales. It requires creating a ‘polycentric‘ framework for applying multi-disciplinary environmental science to inform government, business and the community.

There have been various responses thus far and all of them seem confused about the mechanics of decoupling human development from natural systems. In their hands it is more abstract concept than the nuts and bolts of sustainable development on which we have been working for decades.

I am an engineering hydrologist and environmental scientist. My essential skill set is in the quantification, impact analysis and mitigation of mobilization of sediment, nutrients and pollutants from mining, industry, agriculture and urbanization. Along with having some facility in technical and scientific communication that increasingly is my focus. I am an award-winning designer of ‘integrated urban water supplies’ – integrating stormwater management, water supply sources and sewage treatment and recycling to meet human needs efficiently while conserving downstream environments. Urban environments are ecosystems – that can be made interesting, species rich and attractive in their own right – and at the intersection with natural systems there are ecotones that are transitions to natural systems. The ecotones provide opportunities for deploying techniques and technologies by which we can mimic natural – that is predevelopment – downstream water quality and flows. This is the essence of ‘decoupling’ human development from natural systems, but it is not cheap.

Read the full response here.