Nothing Sustainable about Poverty

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 22, 2003 | Go to article overview

Nothing Sustainable about Poverty


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

China's leaders hope to make the nation rich, to quadruple the size of its economy by 2020. It's a laudable goal, given the increased life expectancies and better environmental protection that such wealth brings, even though truly sustainable prosperity may only come to that country once fundamental democratic reforms have been made.

However, sustainable prosperity is not synonymous with sustainable development. It may even be its opposite, according to Klaus Toepfer, the head of the U.N. Environment Program. He recently told a group of reporters that the Earth does not have enough resources for China to meet its goals, asking rhetorically, "Quadrupling the GDP of a country of 1.3 billion, can you imagine what are the consequences?" He went on to argue that China could only meet its goals if developed nations radically altered their patterns of consumption.

Yet the sort of developmental stasis envisioned by Mr. Toepfer is the last thing that the environment can truly sustain. After all, protecting the environment and the species therein requires prosperity. Starving people don't often worry if their next meal will be made from the last member of a species, just so long as its not their last meal. As "Skeptic" publisher Michael Shermer noted in the current issue of Scientific American, "the noble savage remains one of the last epic creation myths of our time," but that simply isn't the case. "Given the opportunity to hunt big game animals to extinction," Mr. Shermer wrote, "[Native Americans] did."

Relatively poor countries do not often have the resources to put into environmental protection - ranging from pollution control equipment to national parks - and they show it.

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