It is widely known that both global poverty and the environment are very serious and high priority issues that should be addressed and solved as soon as possible.  Though separate in scope, these two issues are inescapably linked, usually in negative spirals caused sometimes by greed, but mostly by the simple human desire to survive.

For example, though the natural resources of the world have been used to sustain life through food, water, shelter and the like, they have also been used to create and preserve the economic well-being of millions of people, many times through environmentally damaging methods. To illustrate this, most of the food products produced by farms worldwide are introduced into the economic market, thus becoming available to meet consumer demands, namely to those who can afford them, and not the hungry or the poor.

Since food is a commodity, a great deal of the best agricultural land is put aside to: grow cash crops such as cotton, coffee, tobacco and cocoa (most of which are in high demand and non-food products), produce grazing land for cattle (an extremely inefficient way to use water) and grow grain to feed livestock. The effects of such usages are manifold and include: clearing forests to make way for grazing animals and farms, contributing towards driving native wildlife into extinction, wasteful use of water and land degradation from cash crops and livestock (both of which cause the loss of irreparable top soil), and increasing the effects of natural disasters as more and more environmental degradation occurs.

The other side of the coin involves nearly three billion people who live on less than two dollars a day and thus turn in desperation to the natural world around them due in great part, to their inability to buy food. Nevertheless, increased human numbers and pressure on the surrounding ecosystems, not poverty in and of itself, causes drastic global environmental damage. A number of factors influence population growth or landlessness in any given area, two of which are high reproduction rates and the movement of people, whether it be, among other things, to search for resources, land or to get away from war. In fact, the United Nations Refugee commission states that as of 2012, 45.2 million people are in situations of displacement (with a full 55 percent being caused by war), 15.4 million of which moved to other countries. 937,000 others sought political asylum and 28.8 million people were forced out of their homes but chose to stay within their home country.

One solution to both end hunger and preserve the environment would be to end poverty itself. Though simple to say, the implementation has proven elusive for centuries. One suggestion would be to find a way to allow the poor access to the food already being produced, especially through methods that would increase wages or permit them to grow their own. Such an endeavor would then require universal access to education concerning all types of resource management, training and tools to develop the environment more efficiently.  But that’s just a start.

– Scott Baptista

Sources: Team To End Poverty, Global Issues, International Food Policy, Berkley, NPR
Photo: Anno Pieterse