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Can Environmentalism Alleviate Poverty?

Does environmental protection reduce the well-being of low-income people? A new discussion paper from Oxfam says it's possible to improve the health and income of people living in poverty worldwide while still making environmentally sustainable choices. However, individual environmental policies may or may not help social justice.

Oxfam uses an infographic to show the zone of sustainability required for global well-being. The graphic is in the shape of a doughnut; the inside ring is the requirements for human health and survival, while the outside ring is the requirements for reducing environmental impact. The paper's author, Kate Raworth, believes we can live "within the doughnut."

Diagrams in the report show how close we are to living within this zone of sustainability today. Raworth recommends reducing food losses, improving transportation efficiency, insulating homes, and expanding women's reproductive rights.

According to Raworth, environmental policies can be socially sustainable because the resources needed to improve the health and income of the poor, globally speaking, are much less than the resources used by the wealthy. The massive environmental impacts we face today are directly related to global disparities in wealth.

Advocating a reduced standard of living for the upper and middle classes is unlikely to win many allies in the United States. The Oxfam discussion paper has received no press coverage in the United States, according to Google News. I found the link to the paper on George Monbiot's blog at The Guardian.

It's reassuring to hear this "yes, we can" message amid the cries of concern over global warming.