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close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentForeword
close this folder1. Introduction
View the documentGlobalization and the ways of nature
View the documentThe new globalization processes
close this folder2. Global trends and their effects on the environment
View the documentThe information revolution
View the documentDevelopment of global financial markets
View the documentDevelopment of more effective transportation networks
View the documentMovement of people
View the documentGlobalization and the unequal distribution of wealth
View the documentInternational migration
View the documentThe development of free markets
close this folder3. Planet-wide deterioration
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOur sister planet
View the documentThe unusual, oxygenated planet
View the documentThe paradox of ozone
View the documentOceans can be degraded too
View the documentThe rivers are becoming muddy
View the documentOvershooting
close this folder4. Forests under attack
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDeforestation in the 20th century
View the documentRain-forest environments
View the documentTemperate forests
close this folder5. Grasslands
View the documentSavannas
View the documentThe temperate grasslands
View the documentModifying grassland ecosystems
View the documentEnvironmental balance in grassland ecosystems
close this folder6. Aquatic ecosystems
View the documentExtractive exploitation
View the documentThe future of fish production
close this folder7. Managing planetary thirst
View the documentSome basic facts
View the documentWater supply and options
View the documentThe demand side of the issue
View the documentWater issues throughout the world
close this folder8. Protecting air quality
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAir and its principal contaminants
View the documentProcesses of contamination in industrial and urban areas
View the documentCurrent and future trends
close this folder9. Clean energy for planetary survival
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe industrial revolution
View the documentThe use of hydroelectricity
View the documentThe age of petroleum
View the documentNuclear power
View the documentThe clean options
close this folder10. Africa in the 21st Century: Sunrise or sunset?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe causes of poverty
View the documentHistorical causes of the current situation
View the documentWars are environmentally unfriendly
View the documentEvolution of environmental management in Africa
View the documentOld and new development models
close this folder11. Latin America and the Caribbean: A history of environmental degradation
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIndigenous cultures
View the documentThe colonial period
View the documentExploitation of natural resources after independence
View the documentEffects of globalization on the environment
View the documentThe maquiladora phenomenon
close this folder12. The urban environmental challenge
View the documentThe development of modern cities
View the documentLarge cities in the Third World
View the documentThe megacities of today
close this folder13. Diversity and human survival
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDocumenting diversity
View the documentResources for the future
View the documentDiversity of living systems
View the documentCauses and effects of the loss of natural diversity
View the documentDiversity and culture
View the documentRestoring what is lost
View the documentBiodiversity and research
close this folder14. Strategies for the future
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDecentralize decision-making
View the documentPeople value their environment
View the documentProblems and responsibilities are global
View the documentBibliography

Globalization and the unequal distribution of wealth

As described above, globalization is resulting in less differentiation among many aspects of society and life. At the same time, a rebirth of diversification is being promoted by the democratization of information through the expansion of electronic networks and the increasing number of channels of communication. Some important elements in both national and international spheres, however, do not seem to be profiting from either trend. Instead, these processes lead to the unequal distribution of resources, products, and access to money among much of the world’s population. International economic disparities do not appear to be decreasing as a result of recent developments; on the contrary, they seem to be growing.

Table 1. The human development index (HDI): 10 highest and 10 lowest.


























United States






United Kingdom





















Sierra Leone






Burkina Faso





Source: UNDP (1994). demonstrates the abysmal gap that exists between the richest and poorest countries in terms of quality of life.

People in developed countries are better fed and live in a healthier, less contaminated environment, with fewer infectious diseases. Therefore, they are sick much less frequently; in addition, these relatively healthy people have easier access to a much more efficient health-care system containing the best human resources, expensive medicine, and sophisticated equipment for diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.

The average person in a poor country often works long hours in an unhealthy environment, in a confined space, and in an uncomfortable position; breathes toxic substances; is faced with long trips on crowded buses or trains; and must support a large family on an insufficient salary. In addition, he or she frequently lives in a degraded environment, where there is a high risk of natural catastrophes, such as landslides or floods.

The average person in a rich country has more free time and more options for using it. He or she can take up a sport or other exercise and has access to a range of health products that allow him or her to maintain a healthy life-style. A person in a poor country has little free time; he or she has an unbalanced diet and less resistance to disease. Often, living in high-density areas where appropriate hygiene may be difficult or impossible, the poor are faced with a much higher prevalence of infectious diseases.

To be objective, we must recognize that these situations and evaluations do not apply to all social sectors in rich and poor countries. There are poor sectors in rich countries and very rich sectors in poor countries. The standard of living of the upper classes in some poor countries may seem sumptuous, even compared with that of the average person in developed countries. However, a huge gap exists between the two worlds that appears to be increasing daily.

There are several reasons for the increase. First, the populations of poor countries are growing much faster than those in rich countries, making it increasingly more difficult to provide employment and services for all. Second, the environment of poor countries is being degraded faster and, as a result, their production base is shrinking. Third, poor countries are losing their best human resources to the North. Finally, goods and wealth produced in poor countries are being systematically transferred to the rich through export of capital; payment of royalties, profits, loans, and interest; deterioration of the terms of exchange; and processes of cultural alienation that are promoting unnecessary and frivolous types of consumption, again favouring the transfer of money and resources from the poor to the rich.

Effects of international disparities on the environment

The huge differences separating the rich and poor populations of the world are having an unmistakable effect on the environment at all levels. Poverty is a prime cause of many of the world’s serious environmental problems. In most countries, the urban poor must survive in crowded conditions, without appropriate sanitation and waste-disposal services. As a result, poor neighbourhoods are becoming a major cause of water and soil degradation, both in their immediate areas and “downslope” or downstream. In some countries, landless rural poor are forced to move into inappropriate locations, cutting and burning trees to clear land for subsistence farming or raising cattle, or excavating the soil and sediments to extract the minerals that allow them to survive.

A large part of environmental degradation, including desertification, erosion, and contamination processes, is the direct result of the efforts of poor people to make a living - often, simply to survive. The issue, however, is not why these people are harming the environment and how they can change their behaviour; the real issue is why they are in a situation where this is their only recourse.

Not all environmental problems are the result of poverty. Many (perhaps the most acute and wide-ranging problems) result from economic affluence and indiscriminate consumption. Wealthy countries are responsible for burning most of the world’s nonrenewable fuel. They produce the largest volumes of solid and liquid wastes, produce enormous volumes of unnatural gaseous emissions, possess the largest deprecatory fishing fleets, and consume most of the goods produced in environmentally unfriendly ways in the poorer countries. Finally, through the promotion of export-driven economics in developing countries, the wealthy nations force these countries into positions in which environmental degradation becomes unavoidable.

There is a strong relation between the inequitable social structure of the world and the main processes of environmental degradation that are taking place across the planet. A sustainable approach to environmental management must address the paramount need to restructure the distribution of wealth among countries and among people. Harmonization of production-consumption and the more equitable distribution of wealth are preconditions for sustainable environmental management.