Two distinct approaches to economic development in communities have evolved over recent times: industrial recruitment and self-development. The traditional approach to community reinvention or improvement has been industrial recruitment. This form of economic development still has a large following among local and state economic developers, despite studies that show that governments seldom gain back their investments in terms of public revenue generated. In this process usually a large economic venture such as a “big box” store or large industrial complex is recruited into a region with the hopes that other economic development and jobs will follow.
But self-development, including supporting local entrepreneurship, is a community economic development (CED) strategy of increasing interest to a variety of technical assistance providers and rural communities. This tactic embraces participatory approaches that focus on civic engagement to first identify and then mobilize multiple resources (forms of capital) for widespread social and economic benefits – an asset-based improvement approach with a focus on local capacity building.
Assuming that the assessment of community capacity in different sustainability sectors can provide some understanding toward the development of communities, there needs to be a means of evaluating that capacity in each and all the environmental, social, and economic systems and their assets, that form the foundation of a community. The currency of such a methodology can be derived from the amalgam of community capital. Capital is a property that results from the characteristics of systems and their interactions. Capital refers to the condition and capacity of any stock, inventory, or accumulation of materials or resources found in economic, environmental, or social systems yielding a flow of goods and services that possess a value directly, or may be devoted to the production of other goods. This is one way to operationalize the general concept of sustainability from the 1987 Brundtland Commission, “meeting current needs without compromising the opportunities to meet the needs of future generations”. Capital is an economic term that has been extended by some into the natural and social realms to refer to usable inventories like resources, capacities, conditions, stocks, assets, or endowments. When we say capital in this context we mean to include all of these.
Capital is a measure of the resources invested to create new resources over a long time horizon, the capacity to produce a flow of value over an extended time, and thus expands the traditional definition of return on investment based on money alone. Capital is an appropriate measure because environmental, social, and economic systems all contain stored value and produce flows (or in other words a currency) of services, experiences, or goods over time. Self-development toward a goal of sustainability can be effectively assessed using a framework of criteria and indicators of environmental, social and economic capital.
For example, researchers recently outlined in a series of reports how governments, organizations and corporations are successfully moving away from short-term exploitation of the natural world and embracing a long-term vision of “nature as capital” – the ultimate world bank upon which the health and prosperity of humans and the planet depend. The reports, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that significant progress has been made in the past decade, and that people, policy-makers and leaders around the world are beginning to understand ecosystem services as far more than a tree to cut or fish to harvest.
In the reports Jane Lubchenco said that “valuing nature means understanding the myriad ways in which our communities, health and economies depend on ecosystems. There is now broad appreciation of nature’s values and we are learning how to incorporate that knowledge into policy and management decisions by governments, financial institutions and businesses. In 10 years we’ve gone from very little specific understanding to powerful examples, where working with nature is benefitting people now and in the future.”
The stakes are high. The world’s gross domestic product has increased nearly 60 times since the start of the Industrial Revolution, allowing a dramatic increase in the standard of living even as Earth’s population has surged.
But with global environmental threats in the future and a world population that may approach 10 billion by 2100, the health of nature will literally become a life-support system that no longer can tolerate short-term production and consumption at the expense of natural stewardship. Disasters such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are being evaluated not just based on the immediate damage, but also the long-term costs such as lost water filtration, hunting and fishing
Scientists say that just in recent years, we may be turning the corner toward approaches that could help the planet and all its natural inhabitants to live long and prosper. In the U.S., some coastal restoration practices have gained support as more people understood their additional value for carbon sequestration and storage. In Denver, a water board provided $32 million for forest restoration work to avoid damage to water quality caused by large wildfires.
Costa Rica has transformed itself from having the world’s highest deforestation rate to one of the few countries with net reforestation. South Africa has linked development and ecosystem service planning to better allocate water, reduce poverty and avoid disasters. China is creating a network of “ecosystem function conservation areas” that focus conservation in areas with a high return on investment. In the Brazilian Amazon, environmental protection has helped reduce the incidence of malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrhea. By appreciating all these different forms of ecosystem values we are more accurately able to place a tangible worth on all the services that the environment provides society and its economy.
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Moon Over Belize
Moon Over Belize