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Realities of Sustainable Development--continued

10,000 million devoted annually to halting the wanton destruction of these rich ecosystems would be a drop in the ocean compared with their 'worth', yet arguably an adequate start on the road to sustainability.  The money might best be given to NGOs with a track record of global reach, increasing their budgets more than tenfold in the first year.

What price a privileged lifestyle? 
One difference between energy conservation and sustainable development is that the former can be neutral or positive on the 'status quo' economy - you can (up to a point) create more jobs than you destroy by using less energy and transferring wealth to be consumed elsewhere.  Notwithstanding official double-speak, sustainable development is far more about questioning the need to produce and transport so many unnecessary products rather than merely addressing narrow aspects of the efficiency of these processes.  For this reason it is more challenging, and less likely to be seriously addressed by government.

Yet even sustainable development could be implemented without compromising core services.  Ample surplus money exists in the world and is utilised in the purchase of an increasing range of frivolous goods by people whose only desperation in life is what to buy next.  There are nearly 60,000 people whose individual investable wealth (excluding property) exceeds 20 million.  Their total wealth is nearly 6 trillion.  One in every 850 people in the world is a millionaire (in dollar terms and again excluding property).  As noted above, the problem is getting sufficient money deployed to critical sustainability areas before it is too late.  Assuming that governments will continue to vacillate, this could (on paper) be achieved by convincing rich people that their lifestyle is seriously at risk from the global instabilities and conflicts that might result from widespread environmental degradation.

10,000 million is the GNP of the world for a few hours, and about 1.50 per head.  If only the 60,000 richest people were made (or asked) to contribute, they would need to sacrifice less than 20 minutes per week of their wealth.  As a class, the rich have become richer and far more numerous.  Yet the conservation movement seems mired in the raffle ticket age.  It needs to set its sights on a huge and rapid increase in global achievement.  Urgent first steps include credible programme formulation, warning of the dire consequences of failure and outlining just how painlessly the money could be obtained.

The author is an environmental scientist living in Sidmouth, Devon, UK .  During his years in the Civil Service he met a range of ministers and mandarins.  His opinions of them have not changed.

Copyright 2002

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