How is the damage to the environment an inevitable consequence of worldwide improvements in the standard of living?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Most research suggests that a consequence to worldwide improvements in the standard of living is environmental damages.  As more people partake in an increased standard of living that arises from globalization and greater consumption, the environment takes more damage and assumes a greater impact.  This is almost inevitable, in so far as it continues the Status Quo that has already played a role in damaging the environment.  An improved standard or quality of life translates to increased uses of technology and draining of resources.  As more people become driven to increase their own economic quality of life, the damage to the environment becomes more pronounced:

People in developed countries have the greatest impact on the global environment. The 20 per cent of the world’s people living in the highest income countries are responsible for 86 per cent of total private consumption compared with the poorest 20 per cent, who account for a mere 1.3 per cent. The richest fifth account for 53 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, the poorest fifth, 3 per cent. 

The proliferation of Carbon Dioxide gases as well as greater consumption of elements that impact the environment help to create a condition in which improved quality of life creates more environmental damage.  Environmental exploitation is almost an expectation in a population that wishes to experience greater material success.  This scale is unprecedented given the greater desire for economic growth that exists throughout the world.

The only area where I think that some ambiguity might lie in the wording of the question would be in the "inevitable" aspect.  The notion of "inevitability" is something that can be debated.  As greater desire for material notions of the good increases, there can also be greater awareness as to how environmental protection can enter into the equation.  The massive amount of consumption does not necessarily have to be synonymous with environmental exploitation.  In previous times, the exact impact on the environment was never clearly discussed or it was not widely known.  Yet, we now know of this reality and can use it as part of our calculation as people, societies, and governments reckon with both realities of economic growth and environmental protection.  Certainly, the drive to increase standard of living has environmental consequences and many of these are negative.  Yet, to presume that these realities are inevitable locks individuals in a position where change is impossible and this is where some level of discourse can result.

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