A report published on the 2nd of February 2021 titled ‘The Dasgupta Review’ is being considered as a landmark publication by pretty much every environmental activist around. In fact, Sir David Attenborough wrote the introduction to the review, and described it as a “comprehensive, detailed and immensely important report.” Adding: “Economics is a discipline that shapes decisions of the utmost consequence… The Dasgupta Review, at last, puts biodiversity at its core… and provides us with a compass that we urgently need”.
The review was put together by Sir Partha Sarathi Dasgupta, an Indian-British economist at the University of Cambridge. The humungous piece of work features contributions from dozens of academics, governments and agencies from all around the world. Despite this, it was pulled together in less than 2 years due to the importance of the topic.
What is ‘The Dasgupta Review’
It’s a big ask to summarise this report in a few hundred words, but to simplify it, there are two big questions the report asks: why are there so many resource-rich countries that are poor? And, how wealthy can the human race become while still acting in a way that is sustainable for the Earth?
The average person in the world was mind-blowingly poor right up to the beginning of the 17th century – approximately of course. In the Middle Ages, the average income pretty much everywhere was not much more than $1.90 a day, and often this number was much lower. In 2015 the World Bank used this number as the threshold of extreme poverty, meaning if you earned less than $1.90 a day you were extremely impoverished.
As you can see from the graph below, on a global scale the average person’s income has skyrocketed in recent years. However, this has come with its costs…
The shape of the curve gives us a clue to the nature of the problem. Although people in the world are (generally) getting very rich, very fast. It’s required us to use up a huge amount of our most precious asset, nature. In fact, the rate at which we are using up our environmental materials is so fast that drastic change is required for it to be sustainable. We have never had it so good, but in the process “we have degraded the biosphere to the point where the demands we make of its goods and services far exceed its ability to meet them on a sustainable basis.”
How ‘The Dasgupta’ Review Changes our Perspective
Dasgupta takes a very objective and business-like approach to the situation, assessing as a planet, how we can balance the ‘assets’ we hold (like cars, homes, machines, offices and factories) with what nature provides (like vitamins, minerals, metals, woods, oxygen and wildlife.) Although we like to see our economies as independent man-made systems, it, as well as our well-being, all dependant on Nature. Therefore the economy is not something outside the natural world but something embedded within it.
For example, we don’t value the Amazon forest until it is raised to the ground and turned into a wood crop, even though the loss of the Amazon forest has a cost which goes far beyond the value of the wood that it provides. This kind of thinking makes it easy to see why we value Amazon.com more than Amazon.forest.
The report states that “nature is more than a mere economic good. Nature nurtures and nourishes us.” By neglecting that we have undervalued it, inevitably leading us to make crazy decisions that might take us up the curve, but leave us stranded without clean air to breathe.