Table of Contents:

Local, regional, and global assessments of natural systems, conducted by the MA (2005a-d) from 2000 to 2005 and Intergovernmental Platform on

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sendees (IPBES) assessments in 2017 (the catalogue of assessments), clearly demonstrate their fast decline over the last century (shown in Fig. 1.3). More than 50% of the forestland has been converted for agriculture (MA, 2005e) (Fig. 1.3a). And, this conversion has instigated high rates of species extinction (Fig. 1.3b). Both terrestrial and marine systems are being overused in meeting human needs. Consequently, human activities have caused land degradation, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and changes to climate (MA, 2005e; The Economics of Land Degradation initiative 2015; IPCC, 2014; World Resources Institute (WRI), 2017; UN, 2016), resulting in multifold socioeconomic and ecological consequences, including increasing inequality both within and between the developed and developing world (UN, 2016).

There are a number of consequences of modern societies using and exploiting natural resources to develop and maximize economies. One of the main ones is the growing inequality among people in the developing and developed world over the past 20-30 years. So much so that we face social mayhem (Daly, 1996; Humphreys, 2003; Keeley, 2015; Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2008; 2017; Sen, 1989; Shiva, 2013, 2016). For example, economic inequality is on the rise in most developed (OECD) countries. It is even more evident in nearly every developing country (Keeley, 2015; OECD, 2017). As Keeley (2015) points out, “the gap between rich and poor is at its highest for the last 30 years, with the top 10% now earning 9.6 times more than the poorest 10%.” Widening the income gap between the rich and poor, especially in the developing world, contributes to inequality in education, health, and other social services, setting up unjust and unfair social systems (Keeley, 2015; OECD, 2017 online database).

Our irony is that despite all the technological advances and extensive use of natural resources to support our material-based development over the last century, we still fail to meet the basic need for food for the millions of the world’s population who are undernourished (MA, 2005e; Human Development Report (HDR), 2016; UN, 2016).


To lead a life that is ecologically sustainable and aligns with our economic aspirations, can be a difficult proposition. However, it is perfectly possible

Decline of natural systems

FIGURE 1.3 Decline of natural systems: (a) conversion of terrestrial systems for cultivation systems; (b) extinctions of species.

Source. Reprinted with permission from Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005e. © 2005 World Resources Institute, https://www.millenniu- to match our economic and ecological aspirations. For this, we all need to explore a holistic meaning of life coupled with a diligent consideration of nature’s resources, which underpin our living, but how do we do it?

This chapter proposes three possible pathways to achieve development that is sustainable and enhances our quality of life as:

  • 1. Realizing our comiections with nature;
  • 2. Applying inclusive and integrated economic approaches to development;
  • 3. Practicing living in harmony with nature applying an ethical approach.

From an ecological perspective, the feeling of “oneness” and “relatedness” to land or nature among the local and indigenous people helps them to follow customs and practices that sustain land and water resources. This ethical approach seems to be the main reason for why several local and indigenous communities have not exploited nature’s resources; instead they integrated themselves with nature to coexist as one entity.

The view of “oneness” fosters the sense of harmony with nature, particularly when we realize the basic needs for our living are directly derived from natural systems (Fig. 1.4). It is something we are desperately missing in the modern world where our focus remains on materials and consumerism, using nature to produce more and more items to enhance our comforts. We often consider various aspects of human life, for example, the social, health or economics without deeming the linkages that exist between them and with nature.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Programme, a UN’s initiative commenced in 2000, was the first global effort of its kind and produced several seminal reports (MA, 2003, 2005 a-e). The MA work has significantly advanced our understanding of connections with the natural systems by proposing an overarching framework connecting ecosystem sendees to the well-being of people (Fig. 1.5).

Another UN initiative, an IPBES, 2017, now follows on from the MA for connecting science with policy. To date, 127 nations are signatories to the IPBES. The IPBES particularly emphasizes including the role of nature and its resources in to public policy through developing targeted policy documents and frameworks, thus showing the way to enhance human well-being for developing sustainable economies.

Dependence of human well-being on natural resources. Source

FIGURE 1.4 Dependence of human well-being on natural resources. Source: Adapted from Sangha, 2015.

Links between human well-being and ecosystem services

FIGURE 1.5 Links between human well-being and ecosystem services.

Source: Reprinted with permission from Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005e. © 2005 World Resources Institute.,documents/document.356. aspx.pdf


An integrated, modernized concept of development—focusing on people’s well-being enabling them to lead their lives as they want—is essential (Costanza et al., 2014; Sen, 1999a,b). To facilitate this, some key reforms are required. First, we need a new vision for development that focuses on enabling people, that is, enhancing capabilities, freedoms and rights, and better social justice, through offering appropriate opportunities, as suggested by Sen (1999a). Second, the notion of development needs to be linked with the supplier of the fundamental services that support human living, that is, nature, by incorporating efficient allocation, sustainable scale, and fair distribution of nature’s resources (Daly, 1996). Blending development and natural resources at a sustainable scale can help us develop the ideal integrated framework to improve both human well-being and the state of nature’s resources.

A simple integrated model of development focusing on people’s well-being and nature is illustrated in Figure 1.6. Nature is shown as the basis for supporting the socioeconomic and cultural fabric of households and businesses. The model shows the importance of continual flows (goods and services) from nature to human well-being. To sustain these flows, the waste (the throughput including recycled materials that also require energy and resources) needs to be matched with the carrying capacity of nature’s systems (Daly, 1996). At each individual business and household level, a balanced uptake from, and throughput to, nature becomes an integral part of the total economic activity, that is, input and output in order to operate at a sustainable, efficient, equitable scale to enhance human well-being. To do so, this model emphasizes integrating ethical principles with the economic activity to achieve development that we want.

However, this kind of development requires wise policy support and recognition. It also needs the policy makers and the public to think of development as supporting people’s capabilities, rights, and freedoms and opportunities for employment, beyond simply the material needs, while still valuing, caring, and accounting for the natural environment.


We need to find the ways to limit our material needs which are currently beyond the necessities. By limiting our needs, we will exert less pressure on natural resources that are already in declining state.

An integrated model for well-being focused development

FIGURE 1.6 An integrated model for well-being focused development.

One of the ways to think what materials we need and how to value the resources producing those materials is to cogitate on the greater meaning of our lives. Doing so will help us focus on the main aspects in life and will help us limiting our needs for materials.

Spirituality is an important part and parcel of human life that allows us to explore and improve ourselves. Spirituality cannot exist without nature. Thus, nature is a fundamental part of our spiritual experiences whether one believes in religion or not. This service by nature is irreplaceable, and it is beyond any price.

Our ancient scriptures guide us to explore the meaning of human life and to apply right ethics in day-to-day life. A prayer from the Athan-a Veda, one of Hinduism’s most sacred texts, suggests worshipping natural elements such as fire (agni), Earth (dharti; as mother), and water (pani) and asking for peace on Earth and peace for all the living organisms including plants and animals:

“Supreme Lord, let there be peace in the sky and in the atmosphere. Let there be peace in the plant world and in the forests. Let the cosmic powers be peaceful. Let the Brahman, the true essence and source of life, be peaceful. Let there be undiluted and fulfilling peace everywhere.”

In Hinduism, many mantras and preachings link us directly with Mother Earth, water, air, and fire; these elements are worshipped at many occasions. There are four Vedas which are large bodies of text in ancient India, and these connect human existence with nature and ultimately with God. Four Vedas and Upanishads indeed present a huge knowledge base for mankind that can help us coimect with the natural elements.

Other examples of Hindu mantras, which link people to Mother Earth, include:

1. От, that (Divine power) which pel-cades the BhuLoka (Earth as the Physical Plane),

BhuvarLoka (outside Earth/sky AntariksliaLoka) and SuvarLoka (Swarga Loka or heaven or the Celestial Plane),

That Savitr (Divine Illumination) which is the Most Adorable,

On that Divine Radiance we meditate,

May that enlighten our intellect and awaken our spiritual wisdom.

2. От, may there be peace in heaven,

May there be peace in the sky,

May there be peace on Earth,

May there be peace in the water,

May there be peace in the plants,

May there be peace in the trees,

May there be peace in the gods in the various worlds,

May there be peace in Brahman,

May there be peace in all,

May there be peace indeed within peace,

Giving me the peace which grows within те, От, peace, peace, peace.

Similarly, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, and Christianity preach to practice right ethos to be compassionate for all the components of nature as well as to fellow human beings.


Over the last century, exploitation and misuse of resources by people have caused significant environmental impacts in terms of climate change, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity to name a few that we all face today. However, to prevent further losses requires urgent action if we really want to continue benefiting from nature. This chapter explores the main pathways for how to reduce our usage of nature’s resources and how to better manage them especially when we are experiencing seriously limited supply and/or the consequences. Transforming our ways of living, reducing material needs and usages, thinking of holistic development, and valuing and mainstreaming nature’s services into policy decision-making are the key elements to bring in this much needed change for maintaining and preserving nature’s resources.

As outlined and argued in this chapter, an integrated approach to modernize economies, which is focused on improving peoples’ well-being, is required at a local, regional, and global scale. Moreover, there is a need to commence a public awareness movement to understand the value of nature and the nature of value to collectively proceed toward sustainable development that is focused on human well-being. As Shiva (2016) says, “it is time to create a new economy and new democracy with life and people’s freedom at the centre of the human enterprise.”


  • human well-being
  • value of nature's services
  • ecosystem services
  • modern economy
  • integrated development model
  • ethical approaches to economics and nature


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