Environmental problems created by economic development can damage human welfare either directly or indirectly. Direct damage includes damage to health (from lead poisoning, for example, or lung disease aggravated by air pollution), social disruption (for example, displacement of people by mining operations or hydroelectric projects), and damage to the "quality of life" through congestion, noise, litter, [etc]. Indirect damage to human welfare occurs through interference with natural biological systems. For example, the filling of estuaries and the pollution of coastal waters diminishes ocean productivity; and logging or overgrazing can accelerate erosion. The long-term consequences for human beings of chronic exposure to low concentrations of environmental contaminants may be more serious that those of acute pollution. A deteriorating relationship between human populations and the natural systems that sustain them is a major contributor to deepening poverty in many regions. The most serious threats of all, however, may well prove to be indirect and generated by human disruption of the functioning of the natural environment.
In some areas environmental degradation is due to large-scale commercial farming, ranching or forestry, in pursuit of short-term profit without regard to conservation - for example: destructive logging in Southeast Asia; conversion of Latin American rainforest to pasture for beef cattle intended for the North American hamburger market. Any economy which has grown to the point where it cannot be sustained on ecological ground for a long future is overdeveloped and endangers all other economies.
2. A disconcerting conclusion about the most recent period should serve to enlighten us: side-by-side with the miseries of underdevelopment, themselves unacceptable, we find ourselves up against a form of super-development, equally inadmissible. Because like the former it is contrary to what is good and to true happiness. This super-development, which consists in an excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of "possession" and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better. This is the so-called civilization of "consumption" or " consumerism ," which involves so much "throwing-away" and "waste." An object already owned but now superseded by something better is discarded, with no thought of its possible lasting value in itself, nor of some other human being who is poorer. (Papal Encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 30 December 1987).