More than seven billion people inhabit this planet. Of those inhabitants, about 3 billion live on less than $2.50 a day. So despite the world’s leading governments pouring funds into attaining richer lives, there’s a disparity between the perception of development and reality.
Why is this? We’re still making money — more than ever, in fact. Our world’s GDP has experienced 3 percent growth annually, which means every 23 years the global economy will double in size. Shouldn’t this statistic be a directly result of a flourishing world?
Anthropologist Henrietta Moore, who spoke on a recent BBC broadcast to students and faculty at Oxford, says no. It should and does not. Her lecture was titled “The End of Development,” and a basic synopsis could be rendered thus: Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.
It’s a solid premise, and the conclusion is hard to contest. So if Moore’s argument is correct, then why does every entity — governments, businesses and individuals — revolve around this financial growth that is doomed to hit a wall? Knowing we can’t go on like this in perpetuum, we still seek to spread wealth in the form of dollars. But maybe the growth in the financial sector we’ve been creating for so long isn’t the correct answer.
For roughly the past 60 years, we’ve undergone an economical experiment in which value has flowed from the global north to the global south. This value includes technology, knowledge and of course finances. And this systematic trickle-down effect has worked fine for us because of our geographical advantage from birth. But the gap between our reality and the reality faced in countries on the southern half of the globe is becoming wider.
Using growth and economic development as a panacea clearly hasn’t worked. Actually, it’s accomplished the opposite. A growing population and therefore rate of consumption are both directly proportional to the extent to which we feel the need to develop and expand. One of the largest problems with this is finding the energy required for such expansion.
While it’s true that the push for renewable energy in recent years has been strong, the demand for fuels like coal, oil and gas still hold sway over the marketplace. These fossil fuels supply about 86 percent of our world’s energy.
Pursuing development in the field of exhaustible resources will continue to the point of depletion, and when that time comes, we’ll be faced with the same problem as we are today: Do we continue developing based on the pattern we’ve created? Or do we branch out into new fields that place far less emphasis on monetary gain?
Food production adds another variable the complex equation of our planet’s development. Economic growth in today’s world feeds increased levels of CO2 emissions that have brought about a rise in temperature.
Currently 60 percent of the world’s calories consumed come from just three crops: wheat, rice and corn. These crops are also among the most affected by humaninduced global warming. If the yields of these crops begin to fall, a widespread dearth we’re unequipped for could occur. Endless economic developments would cause the loss of our own sustenance.
Already, about 850 million people, 15 percent of the world’s population, live in hunger. Most of these people live in the global south, and, ironically, the majority of the crops these countries produce is exported to, well, us.
To switch the focus from financial to environmental development seems not only a given, but a necessity that cannot be ignored. Maximizing capital can only take a species so far before society requires a change that focuses on the preservation of the natural world.
And this change must take place sooner than later. Access to clean water is not regularly possible for 600 million humans, and by 2050 it is predicted that 54 countries will suffer from water shortages.
Water usage has accelerated at twice the rate of the planet’s population, suggesting it is a result of emphasizing our economic capacity to develop while blinding ourselves to the end in sight.
The problem doesn’t lie in development itself, but rather in what aspects of human life we choose to cultivate. Once we stop assigning value to the valueless, the shift in our societal framework will become imminent. We must change the way we think, and only then can we change the way we develop our world.