The Environmentalists versus the Economists on Resources Conservation



The global population increased from 1.5 billion in the year 1900 to 6.1 billion in the year 2000. The statistics represents about 400% growth of the population in only one decade (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina n.p). Further, numerous studies forecast that population growth will continue increasing significantly in the future. For instance, by the year 2100, the population will have increased by 50% from the current 7 Billion to about 11 million. The main question that arises from the statistics is how the world can sustain such a population. The answer to the question is the exponential capitalism. The assertion introduces the arguments by the environmentalists that the land and animals should be protected through conservation and the economists’ perspective that it is more important to sell the land and wood to generate money for building and making other investments. The paper is a report on the two perspectives and holds that the economists are right in the pursuit of monetary gain for longer sustainability instead of protection and conservation of the natural resources.

The Environmentalists’ Perspective

The Environmentalists’ perspective argues that the environments should be conserved at all means. Animals and plants, particularly the endangered ones should be protected by all measures. The perspective has been supported by numerous environmentalists across the globe. Magdoff and Foster in their book “What every environmentalist needs to know about capitalism” express the importance of conserving the environment and how capitalism impedes the agenda. They argue that the conservation of the natural environment, especially land and the indigenous endangered species, poses the threat of climate change due to capitalism. Further, the book states that humans have led to the decline of the ecological value for the future generations especially through deforestation, soil erosion, and the pollution of soils to reduce their productivity. The authors use the works of pro-environment such as Plato to show the damage that capitalism has had on the environment. Ultimately, the authors propose that following all the ills of capitalism on the environment, the environmentalists should ensure that capitalism does not expand as its continued expansion is to the detriment of the environment.

Both the authors of the above article are environmentalists. Magdoff is a professor emeritus specializing in ecology, particularly plant and soil science at both Universities of Vermont and Cornell. Foster, on the other hand, is an editor at “Monthly Review” and is also a sociology professor at the University of Oregon. Moreover, the two authors are writers on environmental issues hence their credibility in addressing the issue is obvious. The book is influential as it documents all the perceived ills of capitalism that include climate change through pollution, fast and continuous depletion of natural resources, its greed for monetary gains that transgress planetary boundaries, and the potential of destroying the finite environment hence the elimination of the human life sustenance on earth. The points are well-articulated since they are backed up by facts on the same. Further, the authors show mastery in their discussion on the ills that capitalism has on the ecosystem.

The arguments that the authors of the article drive are relevant. Capitalism has indeed contributed to the severe degradation of the environment. Moreover, climate change is highly attributed to capitalistic tendencies such as pollution through industrialization. Nevertheless, the article does not give the reasons as to why the environment is important and should be conserved. It only concentrates on the disadvantages of the capitalistic tendencies across the world and ultimately fails in bringing out the reasons why capitalism should be abandoned for conserving the environment. It does not compare the sustainability in environmental conservation versus that which is promoted by capitalism. Moreover, the book contends that all capitalism is evil as it degrades the ecosystem thereby failing to acknowledge parts of capitalism that are life-sustaining and most importantly environmentally friendly. It also criminalizes all forms of capitalism even though some forms of it such as solar powered cars that do not gas but instead operate on renewable energies are environmental-friendly technological innovations. It shows that while in the article authors are credible in the topic they are addressing, they are bent on attacking capitalism and not supporting a healthy argument on why people and states should advocate for environmental conservation instead of fostering capitalism. Further, the authors do not offer a solution to the problem since eliminating capitalism or halting its progress are not feasible at all. Nevertheless, studies concerning the redefinition of environmental sustainability are coming up to help the environmentalists work together with economists towards a life-sustaining world. For instance, Chelstowski determines that redefining environmental sustainability is the only way to link individualism and social change and subsequently achieve long-term human-life sustainability.

The Economists’ Perspective

The Economists hold that the capitalism should be upheld as it is the main component of human sustainability. The human population keeps on increasing which means that the natural-stock or resources cannot continue sustaining the population fully. Therefore, the natural resources should be sold to provide capital stock that promotes human sustainability. The assertion is amplified by Ang and Van Passel in their work “Beyond the Environmentalist’s Paradox and the debate on the weak versus strong sustainability.” The article determines that while the environmentalists argue that the ecosystem depletion reduces human sustainability, the opposite is true since the increase in man-made capital increases human sustainability. The authors term it as a paradox since the expected reduced sustainability does not happen but instead capitalism promotes human sustainability. The article links the paradox to the weak sustainability and the strong sustainability discussion to show that indeed, the world should not forego capitalism for the sake of sustaining ecosystems.

The credibility of the article’s author can be ascertained and subsequently used to revert the admissibility of the presented evidence. Ang is a professional researcher while Van Passel is an economist assistant professor at the Hasselt University in Belgium. Their expertise is clearly visible in the articulation of the issue. The authors use numerous researches from different authors to drive the argument of the paper and finally prove the ecosystems depletion does not reduce human sustainability. For instance, the most important research they use is the study which documents the paradox between the environmentalists’ claims of depletion and its negative relation to sustainability. Clear evidence on the relation between ecosystems and sustainability shows that in the actual world, the ecosystem functions as a complement to capitalism and not that capitalism complements the ecosystems as perceived by the environmentalists. It means that the ecosystems cannot solely sustain the humans across the world, thereby making capitalism a necessity. Therefore, the research disputes the environmentalists’ arguments that the environment is the most important form of life sustenance in the world and its depletion is equal to human damnation. The researchers ensure that the material used to develop the research is derived from other articles and books hence the assertions are credible. They do not use their opinions to drive the work which further increases their credibility and that of their work.

Thus, the article’s arguments can be verified. The authors use a wide pool of resources to propel their argument on the economist paradox. The research shows clearly that although the ecosystems continue undergoing depletion, the human sustainability improves paradoxically courtesy of the progressive capitalistic tendencies. The use of the weak sustainability and the strong sustainability discussion is important in the elucidation of the matter. The weak sustainability proponents argue that natural capital is substitutable to the human-made capital. Thus, despite the depletion of the ecosystem, capitalism can generate a technology that will instead sustain the environment. However, the natural and human-made capital may be substitutable in an ideal world (empty world) since the natural capital is superabundant and the human-made capital is the limiting factor. In the real world (full world), on the other hand, the naturally occurring capital limits sustainability while the human-made capital is the abundant resource. The two arguments lead the researchers to conclude that while human-made capital is life-sustaining even with the depletion of the ecosystems, the ecosystems could still be preserved to complement it and make sustainability stronger. Further, the authors use their deduction to offer appropriate recommendations for a strong sustainability.

Comparison of the Perspectives

The two perspectives are critical hence there is a need to elucidate them as explicitly. The environmentalists’ perspective that the ecosystem should be conserved is good since with a good ecosystem the human sustainability will be strengthened. However, the proponents of the perspective do not bring out the perspective out in a clear way which limits its effect in the outside world. They are so bent on showing the ills of capitalism that they forget to explain why people should be inclined to forego capitalism and instead focus their energies on conserving the environment. Conniff (n.p), for example, shows that the environment should not be tampered with as putting a price on it will lead to reduced sustainability. The environmentalists point to issues like degradation through pollution, depletion of resources such as fossil fuels amongst other pertinent issues of capitalism. In doing so, they do not give a progressive argument for their course. Moreover, from the perspective, the environmentalists do not want to compromise their stance and can only settle on the eradication of capitalism or halt it from continuing. It shows that they do not appreciate the good things that capitalism brings into the equation such as man-made capital, which the ecosystems could not bring.

The economists’ perspective is explicitly stated and developed. The researcher first discredits the assertion that capitalism leads to reduced sustainability through the environmentalists’ paradox. The argument is convincing as it is not intended to discredit the importance of ecosystems. Instead, it focuses on establishing the best way to provide a strong sustainability. Therefore, the authors use the weak sustainability and the strong sustainability discussion where they determine that the two forms of capital, natural or man-made, do not substitute each other but act as complements. The article further notes that while capitalism promotes increased sustainability even when depleting the ecosystems, sustainability would be stronger when the environment is sustained. Therefore, the author gives the recommendations to complement natural and man-made capital in strengthening human life sustainability.


Conclusively, the economists’ perspective is the desirable one between the two. It is not only exhaustive in the analysis of the human life sustainability but seeks to optimize human life and achievement. It seeks to establish ways through which the human life can be sustained with the minimal impacts on the environment. Instead of concentrating on the dangers of sustained ecosystems, it shows that indeed the conservation of the environment is a good thing and should be pursued as a complement to capitalism. Further, it discredits the assertions that capitalism inhibits human life as postulated by the environmentalists. Instead, it shows the supremacy of man-made capital over the natural capital justifying the fact that land and wood should be sold to create more capital that will sustain a larger number of individuals than the natural resources would have sustained. The environmentalists’ perspective, on the other hand, is not satisfactory. Its proponents seek to discredit the importance of capitalism in the world. They concentrate on the ills of capitalism instead of focusing on the goods it brings to the society and finding ways to eliminate them. It appears that the environmentalists are trying to impose their perspective on the world by stating that the only way to ensure sustainability is through halting the progression of capitalism or eliminating it. Therefore, the economists’ perspective seeks more life sustenance in the globe as compared to the environmentalists’ perspective.

Reflection and Evaluation

The research produces reliable information on both perspectives under study. The first source is critical in its analysis of the issue of capitalism and its environmental degradation. It proposes the recommendations to do away with the issue. Similarly, the second source on the economists’ perspective is evaluative of the whole issue and seeks to establish the remedy for human life sustainability. While it determines that the depletion of the ecosystem does not affect sustainability as it paves the way for man-made capital which is more life-sustaining, it recognizes the role that the ecosystem conservation would play in strengthening sustainability. The economists’ perspective thus seems to be more objective on the issue as compared to that of environmentalists who are subjective and only focus on shooting down capitalism. For instance, Everett argues that the economic growth must go hand in hand with environmental conservation for strengthened sustainability. Moreover, the environmental regulations proposed by the environmentalists have dire financial consequences to capitalism which limit sustainability hence there is a need to eliminate them. While the two sources serve their purposes, the topic would be more comprehensive if more sources were used. Increased sources would bring out a common argument from each side, which would be the core of the debate between the two perspectives. Particularly, more researched articles on the environmentalists’ perspective would be important to the debate as they would establish measures through which the environment could be conserved without affecting the sustainability that results from capitalism.

Further Research

The debate between the environmentalists and the economists on environmental conservation and capital generation is contentious, which warrants further research on the issue. It is evident that the conflict in ideas and actions relating to the issue of the degrading nature of capitalism will not go away until it is addressed comprehensively. Thus, scholars from both divides should embark on articulate studies to ensure that they determine how the two can inter-relate and create stronger human life sustainability. The economists have already ventured into that route especially through the weak sustainability and strong sustainability discussion. Their efforts to reconcile capitalism started as early as 1996 as seen in the book “Economics and the Environment” by Curt L. Anderson that shows the importance of reconciliation of the two. However, they need to determine how they can continue being capitalistic in the best way and conserve the environment at the same time. At the same time, the environmentalists need to change their stance that capitalism cannot amount to any good towards the sustenance of life. In fact, they should recognize that all forms of capitalism are not environmentally depleting and chart a reconciliatory path using that fact. Ultimately, research will help in linking the two important life-sustenance mechanisms together.