Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment

By Paul R. Ehrlich; Anne H. Ehrlich et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 15
Rich Nations, Poor Nations,
and International Conflict

A planet cannot, any more than a country, survive half slave, half free, half engulfed in misery, half careening along toward the supposed joys of almost unlimited consumption. Neither our ecology nor our morality could survive such contrasts. And we have perhaps ten years to begin to correct the imbalance and to do so in time.

-- Lester Pearson, 1969

Throughout this book we have been referring to developed and less developed countries -- the rich and the poor nations -- because this is the fundamental division of humanity today. In our view, it supersedes the more recognized political-economic division between capitalism and communism. The growing gulf between rich and poor nations is fairly recent. For most of the history of industrial civilization (and before), there was a continuum from the poor to the rich; and most nations and their peoples were poor. Then, as geochemist Harrison Brown of the California Institute of Technology described it, since World War II, "a striking pattern has evolved amounting to no less than a fissioning of human society into two quite separate and distinct cultures -- the culture of the rich and the culture of the poor, with very few people living in between these two extremes."1 That fissioning between nations can be seen quite clearly, for example, in trends of per-capita energy consumption and per-capita steel consumption (see Figure 15-1). But many other differences exist, most of which have been enumerated in previous chapters: rates of population growth; levels of nutrition, health, education, and general well-being.

If current trends were to continue, by the year 2020 there would be about 10.5 billion people, of whom 1.4 billion would be rich, 8.5 billion poor, and 0.6 billion in

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1
Population growth and affluence: The fissioning of human society.

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