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Who Actually Carries the Burden When Making a Sustainable World?

Missie Thurston May 06, 2021

The richest individuals and nations consume the most resources and cause the greatest damage to the planet. And yet, poor individuals and nations often suffer a disproportionate share of the consequences of climate change. So who should be doing the bulk of the work toward creating a more sustainable world?

At Population Media Center, we believe that large-scale, systemic change must happen if we are to avoid the worst-case scenarios for climate change, and that the companies and individuals causing the most damage should be the ones doing the heavy lifting. At the same time, we must empower women and girls around the world, as it is one of the best investments we can make in creating a more sustainable world with equal rights for all. 

Endless Economic Growth Is a Dangerous Fantasy

The world’s resources are finite, so we can’t continue to exponentially increase our consumption without dire consequences and eventual collapse. And yet, world leaders, corporate executives, and mainstream economists continue to press for increased economic growth, consumption, and profits without considering the potential impact on all stakeholders. As long as people and resources are commodified and profits drive all decision-making, we will continue to have gross inequality and unsustainable practices that further degrade the planet.

If we continue down the path of “business as usual,” we are likely to reach the limits of growth within this century. We are already witnessing increasingly extreme natural disasters, air and water pollution, rises in sea level, and deadly pandemics, all of which are harbingers of what’s to come. However, there is still room for hope. One possible way out of our current trajectory involves deliberately curbing the current rates of growth and consumption so that we can achieve a state of equilibrium in which everyone has enough.

Of course, this state of equilibrium will require those consuming far more than their fair share to reduce their consumption rates—a concept entirely opposed to the capitalist mindset. We need a redistribution of wealth for everyone to have enough. As we’ve seen over the past few decades, global economic growth does not benefit everyone, and instead increases the gap between rich and poor.

Empowering Women and Girls Is an Economical Way to Create a More Sustainable World

PMC does not work on the behavior of companies or directly address the environmental impossibility of sustaining rampant capitalism and consumption, but we do support post-growth economies and systems of thinking that are focused on living in harmony with the Earth’s resources and having equal rights for all.

The work we do is built on the understanding that our current systems exist because of the oppression of entire populations of people for exploitation, cheap labor, and control. We focus on the rights of women and girls because when they are empowered, they bring so much to the equation. They become teachers, artists, scientists, and engineers. They open up new ideas. They reinvest earnings into their families and their communities. They change the world.

But that doesn’t mean that the full burden should all fall on them—far from it. The structures of our current systems are deeply complex and the burden—or opportunity—of shifting entire societies across the globe falls on all of us. The biggest changes needed are from those who benefit from the current system at the expense of others, but they will not change without the voices, actions, pressures, and visions of society at large. 

Everyone Has a Role to Play in Creating a More Sustainable World

Although wealthy nations and individuals should carry a larger share of the burden, everyone has a role to play in creating a more sustainable world with equal rights for all. Everyone should be making an effort to get informed, adopt more sustainable behaviors, elect and pressure “environmentally friendly” public officials to do more, and have the difficult—but necessary—conversations with those around them to create change.

Discover the Causes and Effects of Overpopulation

As the world’s population continues to increase exponentially, the strain on our resources grows in tandem. Overpopulation is a major deterrent to the creation of a sustainable world with equal rights for all. Check out our overpopulation infographic to discover the primary causes and effects of unchecked population growth.