Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Poverty Reduction and Consumption, the Inverse Relationship

A marriage from hell?
Millions of people are being pulled out of poverty every year, faster than ever before, although not true for the entire planet, this trend is undeniably awesome. It, of course isn't all a big love story. The World Environmental Databook (2010) shows increasing per capita consumer trends globally, with middle and low-income countries taking the cake. To feed its massive engine China is consuming resources at breakneck speeds without consideration for the irreparable damage it is causing in both its own backyard, and across Africa (Angola, Sudan...). The same databook tells us that China was consuming 95% more electricity provided by fossil fuels than the prior year, this compared to Canada's fossil-fuel electric production reduced by 3.5%. Not that Canada is a prize-pig in the environmental awards of 2012-13 either, but the speed at which resources are being consumed globally is dubious at best, horrifying at worst. What are the options that exist? I won't be the one to tell someone they can't work, or can't have electricity in their homes because it's generated by fossil fuels. A middle-ground exists where resources can be sustainably extracted, and all I believe it would take is a large short-term investment, heavy environmental assessment laws that are enforced and some bloody common sense.

Elizabeth Economy wrote in 2010 that the extreme levels of water supplies in China pose the "greatest social, economic, and political challenge of the the 21st century". When we have the professionals, skills, and technology to prevent disaster and certain economic and political crises from erupting across the planet, we should be using them, not ignoring them. For all of you flying across the planet to go to Kenya for 2 weeks to install solar panels, I need you to think really hard if what you're doing is best for the environment, or best for yourself.

In one of the greatest books on development I've read recently, "Growth, Inequality and Poverty: Prospects for pro-poor development" I found out that "there is no systematic link between the level of development and the importance of consumption inequality for poverty reduction". Consumption isn't used as a sole measurement of development, and if we define "developed" as "high consumption" (which we virtually do), then we are looking to change more than poverty reduction in the future. If poverty reduction strategies are successful in parts of the developing world, be it through economic growth or adequate government support mechanisms, then those countries should be immediately thinking of sustainable waste, energy and production methods. it should be built into their systems, not needing to be adapted for the changes that will come to our production chain, if they like it or not. Because we have to adapt our entire supply chain/production systems within the next few decades, and the private sector is definitely not fully embracing the change.

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