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9. Sustainable development is for all.

Yes! ...sustainable development is for you and all people.

Sustainable development is important to all human societies on Earth, yet now no one country can even claim to be sustainable in any sense of the concept, approach and practice.

The Ecological Footprint is a science-based, internationally-used, tool to measure “…how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology.”[63] Through use of the Ecological Footprint, it becomes clear that industrialised countries (often referred to as Developed or G8 countries) (un)sustainably use much more of Earth’s resources as compared to Developing Countries such as México.[64]

Even so it is still necessary that all countries of Earth, whether developed or developing, along with their people all do their fair share to help humanity achieve sustainable development. Yes it is true that the United States, with only 5 per cent of Earth’s human population, “...consumes nearly 40 percent of the Earth’s natural resources.”[65] So for sustainable development to be achieved in any degree by humans on Earth will necessarily entail a need for all human beings to collectively work together in a manner where developing countries, such as México, can raise our peoples´ standards of living while, at the same time, all peoples’ of the planet are together taking care of Earth’s natural environment.

In addition to considerations about distribution of resources, the social component of sustainability also includes considerations about the fair distribution of wealth in a country. Economic inequity does, of course, exist in every country. Yet today, “[t]he chronically impoverished 20 percent of the world’s people survive on just 1.5 percent of world income, while the richest 10 percent take home 54 percent. The richest 500 people in the world enjoy a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million....” [66]

Even with income inequality found across Earth, México is today statistically recognised as having one of the most extreme levels of income inequality of any country on the planet. This is a “socially extreme imbalance” publicly acknowledged by past President Vicente Fox.[67] Such a situation is fully unsupportive and completely unreflective of the sustainable development of our country.

According to The World Bank Group and its 2006 World Development Indicators, income inequality in México is extreme. While the top (wealthiest) 20% of our country’s population earns 55.1% of all of México’s income (consumption) – and of those people, the top / wealthiest 10% of our population earn an unbelievable 39.4% of all of México’s income / consumption - the lowest 60% of our population earns only 25.2% of all income (consumption) in México, with the fourth 20% earning the remaining 19.7% of all national income (consumption).[68]

Corner store (tienda) in the forgotten Cancun.

Extreme divisions of wealth ownership simply reflect an overuse of Earth’s limited natural resources by a select few, even psychologically greedy, people. The continuation of economically unhealthy divisions of wealth in any country can only serve to perpetuate an already (un)sustainable society, doing so through these very societies increasingly adding to - instead of solving - their own existing environmental, economic and social challenges.

As The Brundtland Commission observed in Our Common Future:

  • “...poverty itself pollutes the environment, creating environmental stress in a different way. Those who are poor and hungry will often destroy their immediate environment in order to survive: They will cut down forests; their livestock will overgraze grasslands; they will overuse marginal land; and in growing numbers they will crowd into congested cities. The cumulative effect of these changes is so far-reaching as to make poverty itself a major global scourge.”[69]

We do not at all suggest that Earth’s poorest humans are primarily responsible for the environmental degradation of our planet. Actually, we see this matter quite to the contrary.

  • “As the Delhi-based environment organization, the Centre for Science and Environment, points out, if the poor world were to develop and consume in the same manner as the [rich developing countries] to achieve the same living standards, ‘we would need two additional planet Earths to produce resources and absorb wastes … and good planets are hard to find!”[70]

What we do suggest is that serious, even extreme, conditions of income inequality - such as are found in México - serve to stall the ability of any country to achieve any real degree of sustainable development and also further serve to worsen the very ability of a country to achieve this same goal.

Of course, Earth does not see rich or poor, woman or man, young or old, skin that is coloured black or white or chocolate or yellow or red, or any other countless number of human differences. The environmental consequences of (un)sustainable human development patterns see no distinctions: they impact all humans in some manner as equals.

By with us humans living beyond Earth’s means, and with wealth inequalities contributing to the environmental degradation of Earth, human beings are simply and self-evidently inflicting harm upon ourselves as one, common, species.

[63] Global Footprint Network – Advancing the Science of Sustainability. (2007). Ecological Footprint: Overview [online]. Available from: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/gfn_sub.php?content=footprint_overview . [Accessed: 28 April 2008].
[64] ibid.
[65] Curry, Patrick. 2006. Ecological Ethics: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. (page 15).
[66] Rees, William E.. 2008. Toward Sustainability with Justice: Are Human Nature and History on Side? In Soskolne, Colin L., ed. SUSTAINING LIFE ON EARTH. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books (Page 81 - 93). (Quote on page 83).
[67] Presidencia de la República, Estados Unidos Mexicanos. (2001a). Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2001-2006: Mensaje del Presidente de la República [online]. Available from: http://pnd.fox.presidencia.gob.mx/index.php?idseccion=8. [Accessed: 14 April 2008].
[68] International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank. (2006). 2006 World Development Indicators - Chapter 2: People – Table 2.8 – Distribution of income or consumption [online]. Available from: http://devdata.worldbank.org/wdi2006/contents/Section2.htm . [Accessed: 28 April 2008].
[69] UN Documents Cooperation Circles. (1987c). Our Common Future, Chapter 1: A Threatened Future - Section 1.8: Symptoms and Causes [online]. Gathering a Body of Global Agreements [online]. Available from: http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-01.htm#I . [Accessed: 03 May 2008].
[70] Shah, Anup. (2005). Poverty and the Environment - Introduction. Global Issues.org, February 12, 2005 [online]. Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Development/PovertyEnv.asp . [Accessed: 23 April 2008].

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