Ecological debt refers to the consumption of resources from an ecosystem in a way that exceeds the system’s replenishing capacity. It the overall consumption of the global resources surpassing the earth’s ability to regenerate them.
The term is closely related to the carrying capacity which is the capacity of a biological species in an environment or the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely given the food, water, and other necessities available in the environment.
Ecological debt reverses the concept of financial debt and it demands social, cultural, economic justice to those who are marginalised in the third world.
Obligation and the responsibility that industrialized countries have towards ‘Third World’ countries, because of the plunder of oil, minerals, forests, biodiversity, marine resources, because of the occupation of their environmental space and the destruction and pollution of their natural capital and sources of subsistence is narrated through the idea of ecological debt.
Some countries, especially the colonial countries like England, Germany, France, Spain etc have developed on a large scale and they developed at the expense of other countries.
Ecological debt is the cumulative debt owed by the rich global north (North) to the poor global south (South), a payback for the resource plundering and environmental and social degradation caused by colonialism and globalisation. It is impoverishing, displacing, marginalising, enslaving local communities.
An important element constituting ecological debt is the practice of exporting resources without taking into account social and environmental damages, there is an ecologically unequal exchange.
Example: The European Union imports four times more tons than it exports, causing displacement of environmental loads from North to South through trade. We also import cheap exhaustible resources. Questions are more relevant every day because we take a ‘social metabolic’ view of the economy.
The politics of unequal trade is an important concept in the world-systems approach. The developed nations with affluent capital dematerialise their economies and outsource the material production to foreign countries which have low labour costs to availing value-based consumption services.
This export trade by shifting production units of material goods in poor countries is unbalanced and not a fair deal. While the poor nations export the products, they are underpriced because the exported products value doesn’t include the scale of environmental and social costs of their extraction and processing.
The resources are being exploited and exported from the developing countries at the cost of the livelihood of millions of poor. The resources available in poor countries have been stolen out in some sense here. Social and environmental accountability is not taken into consideration.
The developed OECD countries are focused on service-oriented product designs and outsourcing material production to developing countries. This trend is increasing and more developed countries are putting the cost consumption-based environmental loss to underdeveloped countries by exploiting their resources.
The liberalised global economy because of globalisation has opened up the doors for putting the cost of developed countries’ consumption behaviours’ environmental cost onto the underprivileged resource-rich developing countries. Those developing countries are now the net importers of carbon-intensive goods.
The unequal exchange is a kind of colonisation of modern time. The overutilization of environmental resources is a threat to global sustainability. Along with the environmental resource depletion consequences, the unequal exchange will prevent the resource use and consumption of bottom group communities of less developed countries, who are using the resources for their subsistence level of living and livelihood.
The measures of the surplus-value extraction from the underdeveloped countries are transferred under the guise of ‘international trade’ to capitalists to the core. Such exchanges have always been in favour of developed countries.
Unequal exchange means that the underprivileged countries are always the losers when it comes to trade because this unequal exchange is sending disproportionate ‘surplus value’ to the capitalist economies through a new structural influence.