SEATTLE — Environmental protection and poverty alleviation are both global issues that are approached separately. However, the issues of poverty and the environment can be linked to each other. When those living in poverty are living in an area of environmental degradation, it causes their health to worsen. As a result, since they are limited as to the resources they can use, the poor may act in ways that harm the environment.
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak with Miriam Matejova about how poverty and the environment are intertwined. Matejova is a political science professor at the University of British Columbia. Prior to working at UBC, Matejova worked as an economist at Environment Canada due to her interest in environmental policy and security.
The Borgen Project: Do you believe that issues of poverty and the environment are linked together?
Miriam Matejova: Oh yes, absolutely. I was thinking about it at both levels, they’re linked within the state as well as between the states. Within the states, there are major issues with developing countries. I was thinking about the issues of inequality and marginalized communities suffering much more from environmental degradation than richer communities within the state. Between states, there’s an issue of rich countries shifting their pollution waste to developing countries.
TBP: In your opinion, what is one of the main issues linking poverty and the environment?
MM: I think the main one is based on the inequality and practices of rich industrialized countries shifting the pollution that they create to developing countries. The problem is the people themselves in the developing countries, they’re poor and they don’t have access to these resources, they go and use the environment to survive. As a result, they cut down forests, or they overuse resources because they have to, but that leads to more environmental problems.
TBP: In your opinion, what is one of the main solutions to the issues related to poverty and the environment?
MM: With respect to the problem of the rich countries shifting their environmental burden on developing countries, the solution simply is or relies on the industrialized countries. So we have to consume less and produce less garbage. Although it’s unrealistic to talk about an industrialized community, there are responsibilities that we have as richer countries that we should take care of issues on our end and not shifting responsibility or burden on others. In terms of overusing resources in poorer countries, development, better governance and economic growth would probably work.
TBP: Do you believe that countries and individuals around the world are doing enough to help the issues of the environment?
MM: If they were, then we wouldn’t have issues or we would have fewer of them. I don’t think that again, the rich countries are doing enough, simply because we have the capacity. For example, with the issue of garbage. The Western world or richer countries produce a lot of garbage than they shift again to the developing world. If we consume less stuff, buy less stuff and buy durable clothes, for example, we can help. People who have capacities also have responsibility to do more than people who are poor and constrained and lack resources.
TBP: Do you believe organizations like the World Bank are doing enough to help with these two global issues?
MM: The World Bank does have environmental programs that target specific environmental issues such as air pollution, protection of coastal areas, wildlife conservation and so on. I know that they do look at very specific issues in developing countries and try to tackle them through loans and helping locals manage environment better. There’s nothing much they can do other than empower local communities to better themselves.
TBP: In your opinion, what is one of the best ways an individual in poverty can help take care of their environment and in return take care of themselves?
MM: The best way is to come up with community solutions, so low-level solutions. This is because if you’re poor, you can’t really get out of it by yourself. I think the best solution to any of these big issues such as environmental degradation, poverty or inequality is perhaps the bottom-up community organizing low-level solutions. It doesn’t even have to be presented by NGOs, it can simply be community members, families or brother communities finding solutions and then working together towards solving the problem.
Poverty and the environment are related in many ways. Although it can seem like the world is not doing enough, many individuals and organizations like the World Bank have realized this and are taking steps. In the last 20 years, the World Bank and other organizations have been working collectively to make sure the environment is cared for in order to help lift individuals and families out of poverty.
Examples can be seen in places like Morocco, where the World Bank helped support the government with policies on green growth across sectors. This can be seen in energy, agriculture, fishing and waste management. Better care for natural resources resulted in more jobs and protects the livelihood of individuals living in Morocco.
By creating a cleaner world to live in, people in developed countries can help individuals out of poverty and collaborate to make the world a greener place.
– Negin Nia