Poverty and sustainability
Basing information on the Earth Council website, the world has 2.1 hectares of biologically productive area per capita at a population level of 6 billion people. That population is currently using the resources of 2.8 hectares per capita, meaning that humans are consuming more than can be replenished. In the U.S., we consume the equivalent of 10.3 hectares per capita.
In order for the world to be sustainable, in theory anyway, humans would have to reduce consumption of resources by over 33% from current levels. For comparison, we would have to maintain a lifestyle similar to the average person in Turkey or Jordan. And this is assuming zero population growth. If population growth is factored in we would need to live like the average Chinese peasant.
In order for Americans to acheive the level of 2.1 h/cap, we would have to reduce our consumption by 80%. I do not see how by simply being green we can acheive that drastic reduction. I think we delude ourselves when we think we can live sustainably while maintaining our standard of living. Technology alone cannot bridge the gap. Take a look at your own lifestyle and think through what it takes to maintain every aspect of it.
The other drawback to technological innovation is the hidden cost of that development. I would venture to guess that most of the technological devices were are relying on are not sustainable: raw materials, environmental problems around production and disposal, energy for production and transportation, reliance on third-world labor, etc. Just like cheap oil, someone else is paying the price for our gadgets.
For the sake of argument, if humans were able to achieve an average 2.1 hectares per capita consumption, we could in theory live sustainably. We would then consume the equivalent of the average Jordanian. Since we are talking averages, then that assumes some disparity. So, lets say that the less well off would consume the equivalent of the average Egyptian (1.2 h/cap) and the better off would live like the average Brazilian (3.1 h/cap). Seems fair.
My argument is that we cannot eradicate poverty. We have to become impoverished (in a sense) in order to live sustainably. We have to go down and not them up.
I don’t see many volunteers for that. The mega-consumers are going to prefer taking what they see as rightfully theirs and the rest be damned — while the rest of us figure out how we can give up a little but not too much and feel sorry for the poor suckers at the bottom. It won’t change until it is forced on us, and then it is everyone for themselves.
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