The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) is an enlightening blueprint for building the knowledge necessary for moving towards sustainability. The importance of ecosystem services for the poor and vulnerable, and the macro-scale economic drivers of ecosystem change are two important issues raised by the MEA. It is vital that these two points continue to be stressed by ecologists, economists, and decision makers is we are to strive for sustainability in a materially closed system… planet earth. For sometime, the over-consumption of the earth’s finite resources by the developed countries has been the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’
This elephant is big and getting bigger, examples abound. The destruction of mangroves, beach forests and coral reefs, all of which have been shown to reduce impacts of coastal disasters such as the 2004 Asian Tsunami are such a tragedy of the North’s consumption. Coral destruction to produce tourist souvenirs, mangrove conversion for shrimp farming, Amazonian deforestation for soy production as cattle feed, and tourism driven coastal land conversion are only a few such instances of over-consumption by the rich affecting the welfare, livelihoods and sustainability of those who more directly rely upon ecosystem services.
Also, the developed world’s over-consumption of the atmosphere as a carbon sink is likely to have devastating consequences such as sea level rise and possible increased storm potential. These will disproportionally effect the development of the poorer countries. The acknowledgment that often the underlying drivers of ecosystem conversion and degradation are over-consumption and market driven, not strictly local phenomena will be critical for developing a policies for equity and sustainability. A research agenda that inherently recognizes this connection between northern ‘wealth’ and southern ‘illth’ [what John Ruskin referred to as the opposite of wealth] will go a long way towards equitable and sustainable development.
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