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So far in this course you have been introduced to concepts such as “carrying capacity,” “overshoot,” hunger, “needs” created by patterns of consumption, decisions that have been made and actions that have been taken by governments, corporations, and individuals that have environmental consequences. You have also been introduced to the concept of affluence and you have learned about the economic growth and development of which it is a product. Moreover, you have learned that supporting a more affluent society, has consequences, both intended and unintended.

oil spill cleanup Figure 1. How many harmful effects can you list that would be caused by this oil spill?

In Lesson 8 you will learn about the interconnectedness of corporate actions and personal behaviors, policy, environmental impacts, health impacts, and social inequalities globally, and then specifically through a case study of the Environmental Justice Movement in the U.S.—a response to the unintended consequences of the actions taken to support affluence, and especially affluence in the MDCs, particularly here in the U.S.

First, however, we will discuss examples of environmental risks and environmental consequences outside of the U.S., in the LDCs. Though occurring in the LDCs, many of these stories of environmental degradation and its consequences, such as poor sanitation, decreased water quantity, and poor water quality have their origins in the MDCs. Referring back to “Trend 1” from our “Difficult Trends, Hard Questions” perspective, [cite lesson] you will remember that it stated: “MDC populations are not growing much (except U.S.), but their consumption levels are much higher than in LDCs and in many cases continue to increase. 20% of people consume 50–80% of almost every resource and are responsible for similar level of waste.” In short, there is a great disparity between the amount of resources consumed in proportion to the distribution of the world’s population. The MDC’s represent 20% of the world’s population but they consume 50–80% of the world’s resources. Moreover, they generate corresponding levels of waste. Often this waste in its many forms ends up in the LDCs, where the other 80% of the world’s population lives.

What about the other 80% of the world’s population? We will now examine the second trend which prompts difficult questions. Continuing to examine disparities in consumption patterns and the consequences, trend 2 states, “The LDCs consume less per capita but often face greater environmental risks.” What might be some of the consequences related to increased environmental risk?

The global marketplace in which we all now live results in the crossing of all sorts of boundaries. Goods are no longer produced and consumed in the same country nor even in the same region. Likewise the waste produced in either production or consumption is not necessarily bound to remain in the country or region in which it was produced. Too often the case is that the natural resources necessary for the production of goods are extracted from one country, transported to another where they are transformed into consumer goods, and then finally consumed in yet another location. The social and environmental discrepancies arise in that it is usually the MDCs who get the benefit of consuming the goods made of imported resources, but the LDCs who are left with the burden of the environmental costs of the goods, most often through the extraction of the natural resources or as a supply sink when the waste products from the goods finally find a home. As you will recall from Lesson [#?], this reflects the latter part of Kuznet’s Curve.