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Environmental Paradox

For many well-off Westerners, environmental problems at the forefront of their daily lives include whether or not organic mustard greens are available at Whole Foods that day, or if they should drink carbon filtered tap or artesian spring water.

While organic produce and fresh water are legitimate concerns, there is a growing paradox in the world of environmental issues. The fact is that the people most truly affected by problems of the environment are the poor. In the developing world, the confluence of extreme poverty and extreme environmental degradation has been creating devastating effects for years. Even in a developed nation like the United States, the smaller your paycheck, the more likely you are to be living or working in an environment where you are exposed to toxins. It also means you are less likely to be able to afford fresh and nutritious foods and that very likely, you can’t afford to live in an area that provides an appealing and safe environment to exercise and breathe fresh air.

When the environment deteriorates, the poor are placed in harm’s way. The effects are devastating on homes, families and on individuals who literally can’t afford to be healthy and well. Poverty is the worst form of pollution. It’s a shame, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Hard Facts

The idea of resource sustainability and sustainable development grew out of the environmental movement that started a few decades ago.

The basic premise is that development should meet the goals that we have as society, but it should do so in a way that does not harm our environment today, or jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs. When considering ways in which to reduce environmental degradation, it is equally important to factor in the need for poverty alleviation. Consider that the richest 20% of the world’s population accounts for over 85% of the private consumption expenditures of the world. There are 820 million people in the world who are suffering from hunger and 3 billion people in the world who suffer from a severe lack of vitamins and minerals. A billion people live on less than one dollar per day and half the world lives on less than two dollars per day. It only takes the tally of the wealth of a few hundred millionaires to total the combined wealth of the poorest 2.5 billion people on our planet.

The bottom line is that the precious environment is being used in an unsustainable way to enhance the lives of the richest few and precious resources are being stripped away.

Stripping Resources

As a result of poverty in the poorest countries, third world debt has resulted in the stripping away of precious resources.

In order to pay off debt, countries like Bangladesh engage in large-scale deforestation of their land to sell the timber. Such activity results in major environmental problems including increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide, loss of biodiversity and increase of flooding. This is a major cause of concern since the fate of global sustainability is absolutely dependent upon the fact that developing countries that still have abundant natural resources intact do not follow in the footsteps of industrialized nations. Adding to the complexity of this issue is that the conservation of natural resources is directly linked to the sustainability of high populations in the future. The fact that technology in a number of critical areas is rapidly advancing means that we will likely come up with ways to do more with less as time goes by.

Even with rapid population growth, we will still have the resources to produce enough food to feed the entire world, if we proceed carefully.

Unnecessary Hunger

Rapid population growth has been attributed to the fact that developing nations do not have enough food to eat. However, if the food produced by the entire world was distributed evenly, there would be no hunger anywhere.

It is sad but true that the business of agriculture today is designed to provide food to those who can afford it, not to those who need it. A much higher value is placed on the demands of consumer’s desires than the needs of those living in poverty. In the current world agricultural scenario, resources get wasted on a massive level because food is thought of merely as a commodity. Huge swaths of the most agriculturally friendly land in the world are used to grow products that have little nutritional value and are not critical to survival. Production of commodities like tea, coffee, tobacco and cocoa on such a large scale make it easy to see why there is so much hunger in the world. Millions of acres of land are used to raise cattle, a luxury food for the rich, which also happens to be a hugely inefficient way to use land. In the United States alone, more than half of all grains grown are not used to feed people, but to feed livestock. Use of agricultural resources does not get anymore unsustainable than that.

Short of changing the way the entire economy works, the only way to end hunger is to eradicate poverty. Because if poor people can’t afford to buy food, who is going to want to grow it for them?

Basic Human Rights

It should be the basic right of every human being to breathe clean air, eat nutritious food and sleep safely and soundly at night. For much of the global population, some or all of those rights do not exist.

Among many other things, the nations of the world that have deep pockets and are holding developing nations accountable for debt that they will likely never be able to repay are contributing to an environment of unsustainable resources. We do not live in a world of infinite resources, and creating a global action plan for resource sustainability is in the best interests of all of us.