poor children in an Indian slum

Remember, not everyone is wealthy

A great fortune is bestowed on those born into a time of plenty. We are blessed with wealth that can distort our worldview. Sometimes another one is required.

Much of the material sustainably FED generates is our response to our situation. 

Thanks to the extraordinary luck of our birth in a time and a place where society has reached the pinnacle of converting natural resources into human comfort, the sustainably FED team live like kings. 

We drive cars to the supermarket, take aeroplane flights for work and pleasure, and turn on the air conditioning when it is hot. We use resources like the kings of old who had to demonstrate their power in part by being wasteful with their wealth. 

In our posts, we discuss the consequences of resource use for food, ecology and diet. This takes us from the extreme fossil-fuel energy subsidies of intensive agriculture to the crisis of biodiversity loss and the health consequences of diets profligate in grains, sugar and vegetable oils.

But personally, our good fortune knows no bounds.

If you are reading this post, there is a good chance you are also blessed with the life of former kings and queens. Internet access is one of the trappings that wealth provides.

All this is not to say that life is without struggle or hardship. Even kings and queens suffered loss and had to watch their backs. It’s just that relative abundance makes it easy to view the FED challenges and sustainability through a wealthy lens—electric cars, air miles, meatless Monday, and all the greenwash—because this is what we are, wealthy.

Sometimes we bemoan the inequality and complain about the obscene wealth of the richest 1%, as we should.

There is nowhere to justify the $45.9 trillion booked wealth of the richest 1% of Americans at the end 2021—fortunes that increased by more than $12 trillion, or more than a third, during the COVID pandemic.

But dial it back a little, and another inequality statistic appears.

The richest 10% of the global population currently take home 52% of the income at an average annual income of $122,100. The poorest half of humanity earns just 8% of the total take-home income at an average of $3,920.

These are sobering numbers.

3.8 billion people are existing on $10 a day.

Most of these people are not hunched over a smartphone to order takeout. They are hustling to make ends meet. They are busy in the informal economy.

The informal sector accounts for up to 20% of global output in developed countries and over 33% in developing countries. According to the International Labor Organization, two billion women and men make their living in the informal economy, which provides over 50% of non-agricultural employment in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In Africa, the informal economy could account for 50%–80% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 90% of new jobs

Science does not easily reach the informal sector of the economy, and the people who live within it are not benefiting from scientific knowledge. 

They often hustle without awareness of what is happening. But so do the wealthy. We consume away without understanding how tough it is to live on less than $10 a day.

Image by Wolfgang van de Rydt from Pixabay 

What sustainably FED suggests

Throughout history, most people were a little jealous of kings and queens. Some craved their power, but most just wanted good food and a lavatory away from the house. 

Humans have always aspired for adequate food, water, energy, income, education, resilience, voice, jobs, and health. 

Most of the 3.8 billion people who exist on $10 a day need more income than this to meet these basic expectations. The solution has always been touted as economic growth, a tide that would lift all boats. Only wealth inequality rises faster than the tide and presents a barrier to the poor. 

Looking at the world from the wealth of the west distorts reality. The truth is that most people alive today do not live like the kings and queens of old. They are not materially wealthy, and whilst they may not desire jewelled crowns and silk robes, they want to feel safe and secure and provide for their children.

Crucially many lack access to healthy food. They are nutrient-poor and struggle to find the four pillars of food security. 

The rich need to learn this reality, or they risk losing the kingdom.

Science Source

Shrivastava, P., Smith, M. S., O’Brien, K., & Zsolnai, L. (2020). Transforming sustainability science to generate positive social and environmental change globally. One Earth, 2(4), 329-340.

Hero image from photo by billy cedeno from Pixabay 


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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