The natural environment, or biosphere, is the part of the earth and its atmosphere in which living organisms exist and that supports life. In the biosphere, there are no inflows of new matter: all emissions and ‘waste’ are transformed into resources in cyclical processes powered almost exclusively by the energy of the sun. It represents the ‘envelope’ around all human activity. The current economic/technological system relies on an increasing extraction of high-quality energy and raw materials from the biosphere’s sources, and on an increasing transfer of low-quality emissions and waste back to the biosphere’s sinks. These growing flows are leading to the erosion of the environmental carrying capacity over time.
The two basic tasks of an economy are the production of goods and services, and the organisation of their distribution. Today, predominant production systems are industrial and rely on continuing growth, and the distribution of their products is increasingly organised through (global) markets. This is not the only way, different societies throughout history have had many different ways of organising production and distribution.
Development is a process which should be directed towards the satisfaction of basic human needs, material and non-material, starting from the needs of the neediest in order to reduce inequalities between countries and within countries. Secondly, it is a process that should be directed towards endogenous self-reliance based on social participation and control. Thirdly, it must be a process which should be in harmony with the natural environment. Development should not be confused with economic growth: growth is quantitative, development is qualitative.
Departing from the perspective that development is in the first place about improving the quality of life, this quality depends on the options people have to adequately satisfy their fundamental human needs. Technology is one of the means to this end. However, within the current economic system, technology often serves as a vehicle for worsening social and environmental trends. It can also reinforce existing power relations and worsen inequities; it can also aggravate or accelerate ecologically unsustainable economic activities.