The Other Side of a Disposable Lifestyle

The economic model of negative externalities has been used to support the fight for environmental justice, claiming that no innocent bystander should be put in harms way for a mess that he or she had no hand in making.

The application of this justification has been very successful in battling small-scale breeches of environmental justice – like a company trying to dump pollution into a lake, or a company that wants to build a power plant next to a small community. It’s easy to see why it’s so wrong; the invasion of good practice is clear.

But what happens when you try to apply the same model on a much larger scale? It becomes harder to grasp. But the logic is still there, and it’s still an issue that must be addressed.

Climate change has become an unfortunate reality of today, but it’s a reality that is easy to ignore. Covering up the problem has become so convenient that often we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It’s even more convenient because the worst damage that climate change has done has not unfolded right in front of us; it’s unfolding in developing countries.

So who is ‘us’? We are the people that are living in developed countries, and even though we may not be the CEOs of the big oil and coal companies we are still part of the problem. The fact is – we are living in countries that are using an astronomical amount of the world’s resources even though we have a small fraction of the world’s population. As a result, we are creating most of the global pollution problem. 

There’s something very wrong with the fact that an area so highly concentrated with funds and potential, is contributing more to the problem than to the solution. The bleak reality is that people in impoverished countries are now trapped in a web of poverty because of our actions. Even though they did not do much to contribute to global climate change, they are facing the worst of the changes that have occurred so far.

We have the responsibility as a nation, both as a source of power and as a large contributor to the initial problem, to help alleviate the mess other people are now living in. At this point, it’s not enough to just focus on giving economic development aid; if we continue our current output of pollution per capita, poverty will still persist. In order to make the real change that we have been striving for, we need to reach beyond international development and attempt to change our own lifestyles.

Although it’s a different approach than what we’re used to, working to accomplish a zero-waste lifestyle, both as individuals and as a nation, will contribute to pulling entire communities out of poverty.

We are planning the 2012 the Poverty Action Conference, which will take place at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA on October 5 and 6. We chose to design this conference with the goal of creating as little waste as possible. We do not want a conference that is hoping to be part of a solution for ending global poverty, to further contribute to the problem. To reach this goal we are challenging our participants to only use only reusable bottles and mugs, to avoid printing out information that we will provide at the conference, and to stay in alternative housing to rid the need of driving far distances to our events.

We encourage you to strive for the same idea of living a zero-waste lifestyle. If you have any ideas on changes you can make – small or large – to make your lifestyle more sustainable, please share them with us and others.

For more information on the connection between poverty and climate change please check out the following sources:

– Emily Sherman

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