The basic premise of this website is that since we have already overshot the earth’s biocapacity and much of the world is still poor, it is simply impossible for all seven billion of us to enjoy a consumer lifestyle. Those of us that live in rich countries need to downsize our lifestyles towards a sustainable level, and create the ecological space for development. Making poverty history has a flipside for the overdeveloped world.
I’ve spent the last four years exploring that topic, and it’s always great to come across other people saying the same thing. Yesterday I downloaded a new discussion paper jointly issued by WWF and Oxfam, entitled Resource scarcity, fair shares and development. It contains this spot-on summary:
“If total consumption is to fit within sustainable levels and low income countries are to grow their economies and improve their material standard of living – both precursors for sustainable development – then major issues of fairness arise, above all the need for developed countries drastically to reduce their footprints so as to provide a ‘fair share’ of limited environmental space for developing countries.”
The paper is not the stated position of WWF and Oxfam, but the work of Alex Evans of NYU and the co-editor of Global Dashboard, one of my favourite blogs. You can download it here (pdf)
The paper includes ten policy recommendations, centring around better information and awareness of resource scarcity and its role in development. Evans also points out that this is not just about rich and poor countries, but also a matter of inequality within countries, especially the middle-income ones.
Evans also sounds a note of caution about the limits to growth – economic growth is advancing faster than decoupling, he warns, and there may be limits not just to resources, but to growth itself. However, “while campaigners should not try to duck the question of whether there are limits to growth, neither should they risk polarising the debate by taking too definitive or didactic a tone at the outset.” Absolutely. I can get away with it because I’m a blogger, but if WWF or Oxfam were to come out strongly for post-growth solutions, it would isolate them. Evans suggests “they should play a long game” and encourage the debate without immediately taking sides, and that’s sound advice.