Proyecto Tesis (Disertación)


A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree

State University of New York
College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Syracuse, New York

Spring 1993

Graduate Program in Environmental Science


Angel M. Ríos González


    This study looks at the relation between development strategies and industrialization programs and their repercussions in the natural resources, natural productivity, quality of the environment, and living conditions. In it I describe these interactions in a systematic way and assess different kinds of arrangements through which the processes involved occur. The overall analysis adheres to the ideological framework of sustainable development. The concept of self regulation and limits inherent in the carrying capacity idea serves to describe interactions between economic activity and the biophysical context in which it takes place.

    A major goal of this study is to describe elements of sustainable development in the context of dependent industrializing economies and the environmental costs of other patterns of development. Another goal is to describe and assess the economic-environmental interactions in the Puerto Rican case. For the description of economic-environmental interactions, I rely on the identification of macroindicators such as: land use related to change in primary productivity, toxic waste released per unit of product in the manufacturing sector, toxic waste release per employee by the manufacturing sector, energy yield, energy use and GNP correlation, employment and GNP ratios. These indicators are developed with the objective of assessing the interactions previously mentioned.

    The thesis is divided into six chapters. The first is a revision of the concept of development and the idea of economic-environmental interactions. In this part I set the conceptual basis and framework for the rest of the study. This part describes the basis of the perception of the need for alternative frameworks to describe comprehensively the development-environmental interactions in policy and planning analysis.

    In Chapter One I do a review and exposition of the idea of development and the two major related philosophies of the last decades. The ideological context in which the need for alternative development schemes evolved is reviewed. I describe the idea of sustainable development as a form of alternative framework evolved within the ecopolitical economy approach to development analysis. This chapter establishes the theoretical basis on which this study stands.

    Post Second World War development programs in industrializing countries intensified the allocation of resources to productive export-oriented activities. The rationale behind these programs is illustrated by the modernization theories. Post-industrial perspectives, however, show that the negative impacts on the quality of "vital" resources, depletion of productive resources, and disruption of the ecological structures as well as the intensification of social inequalities were not internalize by economic structures. Disruption of the productive resources reduced the potential for the development of independent sustainable alternatives that could enhance the quality of human life.

    The rest of the dissertation focuses more specifically in the description and analysis of the case study, the Puerto Rico model of development. It specially describes Puerto Rico's manufacturing industry based development programs and their environmental implications. The goal of this section is to analyze from an integrated approach some socioeconomic and environmental factors and costs of the development pattern, assessing these through aggregated indicators of impact.

    The Puerto Rican development model evolved based on the promotion and expansion of an export-oriented manufacturing sector. In this part I identify interactions within this sector, i.e. main economic activities, energy use, land use change and natural productive capacity, and toxic waste release. The description uses historical information, empirical data, the description of indicators, a systematic description of links between environmental and economic parameters, and projections of some of these parameters into the future.

    The case study describes and analyzes Puerto Rico's model characterizing it as a "heavy and semi-heavy manufacturing sector based small island" development. The description identifies and sometimes evaluates the impact of institutional arrangements, including those with comprehensive planning objectives.

    A conclusion of the case study is that development programs and strategies were instrumental in the achievement of higher levels of economic production and higher standards of living. However, these programs and strategies did not integrate the protection of the long term productive capacity and therefore are having an impact on the resource base on which productive activities, directly or indirectly depend, as well as on the quality of life of the island residents.

    Chapter Two is a revision and analysis of the model of development history of the last four decades (1950-1990). It serves as a retrospective review of post-Second World War development, its links to natural resources, and social factors such as employment. In this chapter I describe the role that environmental factors played in formal development planning and describe how institutional planning was instrumental in achieving economic growth, but did not achieve its objective of creating jobs.

    This chapter illustrates that development programs in Puerto Rico were not structured based on local natural resources and proposes that this is one of the major reasons resulting in an absence of environmental protection initiatives. This situation created the illusion of independence from the scarce per capita natural resource base. Puerto Rico's development model promoted imported energy-, capital- and resource-dependent manufacturing sectors. It did not incorporate the pollution assimilation capacity needed as a resource, and until recently, as imposed by Federal law, did not integrate long term environmental and resource quality impacts.

    Chapter Three, Four and Five develop a systematic analysis of environmental-economic relations. The analysis begins in Chapter Three with an introduction and characterization of the system with diagrams. It presents parts of the system as state variables and flows within, in and out of the physical boundaries of the system. Chapter Three also describes in more detail two of the components of the system characterized as growth inducing factors: population, and the manufacturing sector.
The island's schematic representations draws attention to relevant aspects and relations, i.e. impact of manufacturing sector growth on employment, toxic waste release and capital benefits exported, and land use productivity dependence vs import dependence.

    In Chapter Four, I continue the description of components focussing on three others: land, energy, and toxic waste. These are chosen because of their significance as indicators of environmental-economic interactions. This description emphasizes change in the first two of those variables. Waste generation is describe as a limiting or restraining factor in the structuring of a manufacturing sector.

    In Chapter Five, based on the previous description, I identify patterns of change within the system and project, based on historical tendencies, future patterns of change for some variables. Some of these variables are: toxic waste release estimates based on employment and economic production, biological carrying capacity and agricultural production potential, and change in an aggregated index of extended carrying capacity. These scenarios could serve as a basis for a discussion of alternative strategies or mechanisms for the coupling of economic activity and resource use. I consider the factors and relations chosen, relevant indices for the evaluation of development programs within the conditions of highly populated small islands. These factors are described in an integrated mode taking in consideration not only environmental repercussions but economic and social variables. This chapter integrates in analysis aggregated indices of economic productivity, employment as a measurement of social well-being, land use and natural energy assimilation capacity, and toxic waste release. Some of these relations can be described as indicators of the potential of the socioeconomic processes to be sustainable.

    This dissertation tries to answer some basic questions regarding the development-environment interdependence for small dependent industrializing economies. How is development sustainability potential affected by sociopolitical arrangements in small countries with open economies? Can sustainable development and carrying capacity provide an alternative framework for the analysis of environmental-economic interactions? How are the patterns of environmental and resource disruption in Puerto Rico related to development programs and more specifically to the manufacturing industry base? What conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of development patterns when assessed within a carrying capacity framework? These questions, my perception of the need to apply ideas related to the sustainable development paradigm to industrialized dependent economies, and the need to improve our general understanding of the political economy of environmental degradation and natural resource misuse in these regions, are my main inspirations for developing this study.

    In Chapter Six I present a discussion and conclusions based on results and my analysis of the significance of carrying capacity and sustainable development as frameworks in the analysis of economic-environmental interactions. I conclude that although the framework has limitations in methods for integration of data and information, it provides a common basis for the description of interactions such as food production capacity and toxic waste release. In relation to the case study my major conclusion is that the volume of toxic waste released on the island and the substitution of agricultural land by permanent development has had an impact in the long term capacity of the system to sustain expected population growth, and economic activity.

    During the development of this study many questions arose about specific impacts, policies, other interactions, the potential for environmental and social sustainability of small islands, and Puerto Rico. These remain on my research agenda. I list some of those in this last chapter.

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