Poverty and Pollution: A Vicious Circle
It is a widely accepted idea that the poor suffer more from the environmental damage and pollution. It is the poor who are the most dependent on the nature and the resources around them for survival, through foraging for food or other resources and plantation etc. There is an inseparable link between poverty and environment that has been studied very closely ever since the Stockholm Summit on Human Environment in 1972. It was here that the then Prime Minister of India had very famously quoted that the “Poverty is the worst form of pollution”. Around the world, it is the poor who account for the most deaths due to pollution and are arguably the greatest victims of the degradation of the world (Lean).
It has also well known that businesses around the world, with the aim of making more profits move towards the third world countries with lax environmental laws and cheaper labor. The greed of such corporations has in many ways accelerated the rate of pollution of the developing regions in the world and brought about rampant and reckless pollution, owing to non-existent or much simpler laws on environment. So one can expect pollution to be higher than other places, if the region is less strong economically. It has also been scientifically proven that the destruction of the environment in turn is triggered by factors like poverty and hunger (Haab,2005). Thus it is obvious that the two are interlinked in more ways than the people understand in general.
Any business is started with a motive to make profits. As the company grows, it also has to constantly face the completion and increase profits so as to keep growing. With globalization now a major phenomenon controlling each and every aspect of our lives, it has given opportunity to bigger corporations to invest and set up facilities in pooper countries. Such businesses set up such manufacturing, production and service facilities in such regions as the cost of labor is much cheaper and also the natural resources in the region might be
abundant and available at a much lower price. This way, a company can get its product made for a fraction of a price than what it would cost in a developed country. On the surface, it looks a good deal for both the company and the developing and poorer country. The company gets it product made at a cheaper price and increases profits, while the country gets opportunity for employment to the people in the region. However, the cost of this globalization that the poor end up paying is much more severe and evil. The first evil is with the exploitation of labor. Naomi Klein (2002) in her book No Logo cited that in a survey of special economic zones conducted in China in 1998, it was found that companies like Adidas, Nike, Ralph Lauren were paying as little as 13 cents per hour as against the minimum wage of US$10 paid to workers doing a similar job in United States. This results in rising of inequality in the society and propagates social injustice. Social injustice has a direct link with the crime rate in a city and thus propagates more evil.
Raphael Kaplisky (2005) argues that “for many - particularly for those living in Latin America, Asia and Central Europe - poverty and globalization are relational. It is the very workings of the global system which condemn many to poverty.”
Paying a worker in a poorer region less for the same amount of work seems unjustified and reflects at the greed of the corporation. The story does not end there. The greed of such corporations spreads to getting the resources available in these regions. Africa is rich with mineral resources and is perhaps one of the most under-developed regions in the world. Corporations aim at harnessing such resources and since the regulations in such places are usually lax, the environmental laws are blatantly flouted. This results in a steep rise in the pollution levels while the poor workers in the region get poorer due to exploitation.
A counter argument of such corporations is that they bring about opportunity to a land where there was none. However, in my personal opinion, it is the ethical obligation of the corporations and the organizations in the developed country to safeguard the rights and
interests of the workers in the developing regions. A global organization is much more than a money making machine and must look into ways to alleviate the people from poverty.
It has been argued many times that the pollution is the price for progress that one has to pay. Some economist are even of the opinion that it makes sense for the polluting forces and companies to move away from already polluted places like Los Angeles to newer places and start polluting them. The forces that bring about the progress are the ones that are chiefly responsible for polluting the environment as well. In an effort to bring about more employment, the political forces attract major corporations and production houses into the country to set up facilities. This would promise employment for the locals and also speed up the development process. However, many companies see investment in the developing countries solely as a way of making more money and increase profits, even if it is at the expense of exploiting the local environment and its people. Such corporations do not spare any opportunity to flout the economic standards that would have been otherwise difficult to bend in their own companies. This has an immediate effect on the poor on the region. The depletion of natural resources plunges them into further despair, as it affects their source of livelihood or food. For example, with the exploitation of the rivers and seas by the fisheries, it not only causes ecological imbalance, but also results in the poor being devoid of fish they catch for food. Other examples include large deforestation that might occur for harnessing the lumber and other natural resources. Degrading the natural environment hits the poor first and hardest since about a third of the world's people, survive on what they can grow, gather or catch. The happen to be mostly the poorest. Due to deforestation, productive cropland the size of India and China combined has turned to dust since the second world war. The most destitute live on the most vulnerable marginal land which is the first to be washed and blown away (Lean, 1998)
Progress does speed up the progress in the developing countries, but the benefits are usually reaped by the richer in the region. The poor keep getting poorer. The example is in the city of Mumbai, which is the economic capital of India. The city of Mumbai has the largest slum in the world and houses a large percentage of poor in the country. The living conditions of many are appalling with many living much below the economic poverty level set by the government.
Poverty in turn also attracts pollution. Since the poor have much bigger concerns in their lives and cannot be bothered with keeping the environment clean, such places are often filthy and even lack basic sanitation facilities, clean drinking water and proper housing. This pollution turns deadly and is responsible for a large number of deaths among the poor and can lead to further plunging them into poverty, by for example, death of the bread earning member in the family.
Now that we have looked into the possible reasons for pollution in the developed world and how it condemns many to poverty, and also how poverty attracts pollution, we can now argue how fair it is for the people in a poor country to be condemned to such misery. I believe that just because a person is born in a less economically strong country does not mean that he/she should be deprived of even the basic human rights. Every human being has the moral right to live and the rich have a moral obligation towards ensuring it. The poor are often the illiterate and ignorant, which has been exploited by the rich and the privileged to fuel their own greed. The argument that all human beings are born equal makes no sense if the rich continue to thrive while the poor are exploited by them and live in appalling and inhumane conditions. It is the need of the hour to bring in more awareness in the world so that more efforts can be directed towards alleviating the poor and decrease their sufferings due to pollution. The media is also to be blamed for the disconnect between the societal problems and the possible solutions (Kensicki, 2004). Coverage overwhelmingly indicated no
specific cause, effect, or responsible agent for each problem, and rarely mentioned any specific names. Media coverage also rarely discusses the solution of the problem and points towards the political apathy due to a lack of connection between the social problem, nonprofit citizen organization activities, and individual behavior (Kensicki, 2004).
It is noted that the a country after it becomes economically strong enough, it can then dedicate a few of its resources towards cleaning up the environment (Singer, 2003). It is thus the moral duty of the richer nations to train the poorer of the ill effects that the poverty can bring about on the pollution and the other way round. There should be rules, regulation and procedures that the corporations have to strictly follow, irrespective of the region they operate in. Also there needs to be proper awareness among the developing countries of the ill effects that are brought about by the globalization.
Trevors and Saier Jr. are of the opinion that the education is the best way to ensure a better future. They cite that awareness among the literate about climate change and pollution will help in curtailing its rampant spread and find ways of being environmentally friendly. The way to do it is to include issues like the importance of resource conservation for the preservation of our finite Earth and ill effects of global pollution which threatens the health of the people and ecosystems upon which we all depend (Trevor sans Saier Jr., 2010). Also the education should teach high moral values and teachings of preventing exploitation of individuals or groups of people for the benefit of a few. The movement of curbing pollution has to come from the middle class (Lean, 1998).
In terms of initiatives from the business houses and corporations, one has to make them understand that it is in fact in their interest to be environmentally friendly. Environmental sustainability is the latest buzzword among the corporate houses and it indicates towards the efforts of organization to be less polluting through use of technology
and other practices. Eco-sustainability is now a major exercise and even forms a part of the annual report and the corporate social responsibility program of the company. It is here that the company points out its green initiatives and cites examples of how it helped the community in becoming a better place and also how it helped the under-privileged. A notable mention goes to Green DMV whose aim is to create green jobs for low-income residents in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia while transforming the community through green education (Utsey, 2011). Such initiatives that bring together economic development and eco-friendly practices are of utmost importance as they reveal that the cost of development does not need to be necessarily pollution and subsequently poverty. It is through such initiatives that the vicious circle of poverty and pollution can be broken and wholesome prosperity of every individual can be brought about to reality, irrespective of the place he/she lives in.
Haab, A. (2005, July 6). Poverty and Pollution: A Chicken and Egg Story. Environmental Economics. Retrieved from http://www.env-econ.net/2005/07/poverty_and_pol.html
Kaplinsky,R. (2005). Globalization, Poverty and Inequality: Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Cambridge: Polity
Lean, G. (1998). It's the poor that do the suffering.. New Statesman, 127(4407), 10.
Naomi Klein. (2002). No Logo. New York: Picador
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Singer, S. (2003). Poverty and Pollution. Regulation, 26(3), 68-69.
Trevors, J. J., & Saier Jr, M. M. (2010, January 2). Education is Our Best Future. Water, Air & Soil Pollution. pp. 75-76.
Utsey, M. (2011). Fighting Poverty and Pollution the Green Way. Crisis (15591573), 118(2), 8.