Does Conservation Matter to the Poor? (New Article by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs) - U2 Feedback

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Old 06-26-2006, 07:53 AM   #1
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Does Conservation Matter to the Poor? (New Article by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs)

The Nature Conservancy, one of the most reputable envorinmental organizations, has a feature segment in its Summer 2006 edition about Environmentalism and Global Poverty.

It's a GREAT organization, a great magazine and a VERY IMPORTANT series of articles for those who profess to care about the world's poor.

Here is the article that Prof. Jeffrey Sachs did for this edition.

It's very good.

Does Conservation Matter to the Poor?

(Environmental degradation can worsen poverty, just as deepening poverty can accelerate environmental degradation.)

By Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of The End of Poverty

The poorest of the world’s poor tend to live in rural areas, and often depend directly on natural resources for their livelihoods and very lives. Most are farmers, and most collect their own drinking water, fuel wood and building materials for sustenance and survival. If their environment fails—through drought, land degradation, over-exploitation of forests and fisheries, poisoning of streams and water supplies, destruction of biodiversity, or the spread of diseases like malaria—hunger and illness are direct consequences. Sustainable environmental practices, therefore, are vital for sustainable livelihoods, physical well-being and even survival.

This does not mean the poor are necessarily effective conservationists. Alas, such a simple conclusion is misleading and too often false. The realities of everyday life for the poor limit their capacity to protect the environment. The struggle of survival precludes investments in the future, including investments in natural capital. For example, the poor routinely “mine” soil nutrients because impoverished farming households lack the resources to restore them through chemical and organic fertilizers. The poor are often agents of deforestation, as they overharvest the forests for fuel wood and construction materials. The poor often push large mammal populations toward extinction by overharvesting bush meat.

In these cases, poverty is a risk factor for environmental degradation, just as environmental degradation is a risk factor for poverty. The causation runs in both directions. There is the ever-present risk of a downward spiral in which environmental degradation worsens poverty and in which deepening poverty accelerates environmental degradation.

Poverty threatens the environment in other ways besides the direct over-exploitation of local resources by the poor themselves. The poor are vulnerable to manipulation from rich countries and powerful corporations, which often irresponsibly mine minerals, cut down forests and overexploit biodiversity to service rich-country markets, all without effective policing and control by the poorest countries. With desperate people fighting to stay alive, it’s hard to set and enforce long-term “rules of the game” that stop exploitative interlopers from adding to the environmental damage.

For all of these reasons, poverty alleviation is a necessary condition for environmental sustainability. But we should also be clear that even dramatic reductions in poverty levels will not automatically bring about environmental sustainability. The world’s richest countries are leaders in the emission of greenhouse gases and the over-exploitation of critical terrestrial and marine resources, and are thus responsible for the most serious man-made threat to the Earth’s environment at a global scale.

Fast-growing developing countries such as China and India will have to adopt best practices to minimize the adverse environmental impact of economic development, without compromising the sustained growth that has lifted millions out of poverty. As the world’s population grows to 9 billion people by 2050, and as global incomes continue to rise, the stresses on the environment will surely intensify. Unbridled economic growth, undertaken without increased regard for the environment, will lead to catastrophic consequences for natural resources and ecosystems. An integrated approach linking poverty alleviation with responsible management of ecosystems and biodiversity is vital to a sustainable future of shared global prosperity.


As always, Jeffrey Sachs right on target.

I would love to DISCUSS this article and this idea with others.

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Old 06-26-2006, 09:50 AM   #2
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I like this article.... In my country (a developing one), there isn't a strong commitment with a rational and non destructive use of our natural resources.

the destruction of the illegal crops with chemical sustances, and the violence in the rural zones isn't helping either. Also the free market, which leaves behind the colombian farmers who can't compete with the larger (and cheaper) products from other countries. We still are lucky to have lots of water and good quality soil, but not many people can work the land, and even less work the land in a sustainable and efficient way.

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Old 06-26-2006, 09:08 PM   #3
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Thanks Muggsy for your very personal and important comment.

I really liked the article too. It has the right balance of ecological awareness and concern for the practical needs of developing countries.

Jeffery Sachs is really making this issue a major concern of his.

Here is another article of his (posted today) concerning the Environment, Poverty and Political Upheaval:

June 26, 2006

Ecology and Political Upheaval

(Small changes in climate can cause wars, topple governments and crush economies already strained by poverty, corruption and ethnic conflict.)

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Careful study of the long-term climate record has shown that even a minor shock to the system can cause an enormous change in outcome, a nonlinear response that has come to be called "abrupt climate change." Less well recognized is that our social and economic systems are also highly sensitive to climate perturbations. Seemingly modest fluctuations in rainfall, temperature and other meteorological factors can create havoc in vulnerable societies.

Recent years have shown that shifts in rainfall can bring down governments and even set off wars. The African Sahel, just south of the Sahara, provides a dramatic and poignant demonstration. The deadly carnage in Darfur, Sudan, for example, which is almost always discussed in political and military terms, has roots in an ecological crisis directly arising from climate shocks. Darfur is an arid zone with overlapping, growing populations of impoverished pastoralists (tending goats, cattle and camels) and sedentary farmers. Both groups depend on rainfall for their livelihoods and lives. The average rainfall has probably declined in the past few decades but is in any case highly variable, leaving Darfur prone to drought. When the rains faltered in the 1980s, violence ensued. Communities fought to survive by raiding others and attempting to seize or protect scarce water and food supplies.

A drought-induced famine is much more likely to trigger conflict in a place that is already impoverished and bereft of any cushion of physical or financial resources. Darfur was also pushed over the edge by ethnic and political conflict, with ambitious, violent and unscrupulous leaders preying on the ethnic divisions. These vulnerabilities, of course, have not been unique to Darfur. Several studies have shown that a temporary decline in rainfall has generally been associated throughout sub-Saharan Africa with a marked rise in the likelihood of violent conflict in the following months.

Africa is certainly not alone in experiencing the linkages of climate shocks and extreme social instability. Rainfall shifts associated with El Niño cycles have had similarly catastrophic consequences. The massive 1998 El Niño produced huge floods off the coast of Ecuador, which destroyed a considerable amount of export crops and aquaculture. That led to a failure of loans to Ecuador's already weak banking system, which in turn help-ed to provoke a bank run, an unprecedented economic collapse and eventually the ouster of the government. Halfway around the world the same El Niño caused an extreme drought in Indonesia, coinciding with Asia's massive financial crisis. Indonesia's drought and resulting food shortage contributed to financial and political destabilization and to the end of President Suharto's 31-year rule. As in Ecuador, the short-term economic collapse was by far the largest in Indonesia's modern history.

Climate skeptics who ask impatiently why we should care about "a degree or two" increase in the global mean temperature understand neither the climate nor the social and economic systems in which we live. Both climate and society are subject to great instability, nonlinear responses and high unpredictability. Climate changes may influence storms, droughts, floods, crop yields, disease vectors and much more, well beyond what the current "average" forecasts suggest. And the resulting ecological effects, especially on societies already facing hunger or financial and political fragility, can be enormous and dire. Our public debates tend to neglect these powerful effects because we focus on politics and only rarely on the underlying environmental pressures.

Once we recognize the ecological risks to our economic well-being and even to our national security, we will begin to look much harder for practical approaches to mitigating the pressures that our global society is now placing on the earth's ecosystems. We will then need to increase our preparations for the intensified shocks that are surely on their way. The intertwined strategies of mitigation and adaptation will be the topics of future columns.


All I can add to this article is

Thanks, Prof. Sachs!
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Old 06-27-2006, 03:32 PM   #4
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Old 06-28-2006, 12:56 AM   #5
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I dont like the idea of tackling only one aspect of the ills of the world. Poverty, in mine, stands right next to conservation as a need which needs urgent addressing, but does not get it. It pisses me off, though, that conservation becomes an issue as a result of something else. When will people wake up?
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