The Sustainability Inequality


Although this topic was quickly glossed over near the end of our class in day 1 (July 21), I was intrigued by the dichotomy of sustainability between the rich and poor. Prior to any research  conducted, I’ve always had the idea that the poor could care less about being “sustainable” as they care more about the core needs in life (food, shelter, etc.). On the other hand, the poor can be more sustainable because of their near-subsistence lifestyle in certain neighborhoods. As for the rich, individuals have greater access to organic, local food, as well as energy efficient products like a Hybrid or solar panels.

Emily Alt argues in this article that it is less about the poor and rich, but more about whether the country is developing or developed. Although the article follows my personal beliefs, the call to action is the most important:

“The real question here is not who is more sustainable, but how can we influence everyone, poor and rich alike, to be more sustainable?”

An interesting video by the UNDP and UNEP below provides a possible answer to the question Alt raises. 




@NYTIMES #Sustainability #SDCA14

@triplepndit #Sustainability #SDCA14

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Posted in economic development, government policy
3 comments on “The Sustainability Inequality
  1. jeremy says:

    Interesting post Brannon. The lifestyle of the poor certainly means that they have a smaller ecological footprint, and the worry is that with economic growth under a business-as-usual scenario, this will present huge problems in the future. A new kind of economic development is required away from the take-make-waste model. The video clip you include hints at this.

  2. paulm7914 says:

    Rather than starting a new post (on this topic at least), I thought I could comment on “The Sustainability Inequality”. I find it amusing that many industrialised western nation are worried and concerned about the “unsustainable practices” of developing and under developed nations. Unfortunately, these nations seemingly seeking to better themselves have such a huge population that whatever they do will have a lasting impact on their immediate environment and ultimately the global environment.

    As Prof. Jeremy states they can’t take the same path that the already developed world has taken (ignoring what’s been done and how we got here) which is true. But on the other hand if their economies are let’s say 50 years or more behind, how and on what basis do we tell them they can’t grow their economies at whatever pace they see fit, under the guise that they are bettering their citizens (be it slowly killing them and/or the environment they live in).

    The fact that we are feeding these countries our ‘natural raw capital’ and then in turn buying what their producing and complain about their unsustainable ways, doesn’t make any sense. As discussed in the lectures how do you put a price on natural capital and does this sell price include the refinement and end product cost to society and the environment.

    Commenting on the video, we will always have a society based on classes and found it amusing and disturbing that they were advising people herding goats how to be more sustainable. Of course the message was even these poorer peoples want to preserve their environment, but they could live on this planet for many more centuries (if not millennia) before they would have to do anything to ‘sustain rather than maintain’ their survival, if it weren’t for the rest of us. Good on them for taking up the initiatives so quickly.

    Going back to the ecological footprint exercise, this highlighted who and where the real difference needs to be made. Will we have the courage to change our lives and that of our corporations’ to implement (breathe) sustainable practices, and to what expense (consequence), we will see. Please comment if I’ve missed something? Next post will be course materials related (fingers crossed).


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