Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Should Developed Countries be allowed to mandate environmental policy in third world countries?

This is an incredibly loaded question beginning with the assertion that developed countries owe their "success" to destructive environmental practices. To assert that some first world economies owe their leverage on the global economy to non-sustainable environmental resource exploitation is essentially to accuse the citizens of those countries of either ignorance, and thus apathy, or complicity. The issue is simply not that black and white. Geopolitical forces, Weather patterns, Historical time-lines, and availability of accurate information, all play roles in determining whether a resource is used responsibly or abused prodigiously by any culture or government. To draw a line of causality from resource exploitation to continued cultural advances, economic parity, infrastructure development, or even spread of democracy/free trade etc., is a formidable topic for a dissertation, a herculean topic for a political debate or discussion.

If our goal is to develop incentives that will lead to the pursuit and practice of sustainable resource consumption it seems that, at the very least, it would be extremely reasonable to begin in the third world where any economic stimuli would be as much a factor in the efficacy of the incentives as their inherent environmental worth. It also seems that in almost every successful case of intervention on behalf of the commons by a public group or an individual there has been some element of economic incentive. Would that it were untrue of humanity that we require immediate and obvious incentive, but alas, foresight has never been our strong suit as is evinced by our current predicament. While it seems lamentable, using this to our advantage seems very reasonable and easier to do if it occurs first as an honest attempt to stabilize and develop the economies of the third world.
If we see it as legislating a specific environmental course for our inferiors it will be doomed to fail both because of the reprehensibility of that sentiment and because of the errors of judgment that underpin it. If, on the other hand, it is viewed as aid to instigate positive and sustainable practice and reform in the third world in order to level the playing field then it is both more likely to succeed, and a more honest approximation of the truth that we are all intimately bound up in this regardless of political or religious affiliations. I am essentially arguing that it is better to approach increasing sustainability in agriculture and community at the grassroots level where the immediate benefits are rapidly and plainly visible and then shaming the first world into following suit. That may seem distasteful but it seems it will work, and the stakes are to massive to take the high road here.

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