In a world inhabited in the mid- 1970s by a rapidly growing population of more than 4 billion people, a massive and widening gap in well-being separates a rich minority from the poor majority. The one-third of the world's population that lives in the most heavily industrializednations (commonly termed developed countries -- DCs) accounts for 85 percent of the global personal income and a like fraction of the annual use of global resources. The people living inthe less industrialized nations (often called less developed countries -LDCs) must apportion theremaining 15 percent of global income and resource use among two-thirds of the world's population. The result is an unstable prosperity for the majority of people in the DCs andfrustrating, crushing poverty for the majority in the LDCs. Millions of the poorest -- especiallyinfants and children -- have starved to death every year for decades; hundreds of millions havelived constantly, often consciously, almost always helplessly on the brink of famine andepidemic disease, awaiting only some modest quirk of an environment already stretched taut --an earthquake, a flood, a drought -- to push them over that edge. The 1970s brought an apparentincrease in such quirks -- 1972 and 1974 were years of flood, drought, and poor harvests. Worldfood reserves plummeted, and millions more human beings were threatened by famine.Meanwhile, the entire population continued growing at a rate that would double the number of people in the world within 40 years.The prosperity of the DCs - awesome by comparison with the poverty of the LDCs -- has been built on exploitation of the richest soils, the most accessible fossil fuels, and the mostconcentrated mineral deposits of the entire globe -- a one-time windfall. As they now struggle tomaintain and even expand their massive consumption from a resource base of declining quality,the DCs by themselves appear to be taxing technology, social organization, and the physicalenvironment beyond what they can long sustain. And the LDCs, as they try to follow the same path to economic development, find the bridges burned ahead of them. There will be nocounterpart to the windfall of cheap resources that propelled the DCs into prosperity. A DC-styleindustrialization of the LDCs, based on the expensive resources that remain, is therefore probably foredoomed by enormous if not insurmountable economic and environmental obstacles.The problems arising from this situation would be formidable even if the world werecharacterized by political stability, no population growth, widespread recognition of civilization'sdependence on environmental processes, and a universally shared commitment to the task of closing the prosperity gap. In the real world, characterized by deep ideological divisions andterritorial disputes, rapid growth of population and faltering food production, the popular illusionthat technology has freed society from dependence on the environment, and the determinedadherence of DC governments to a pattern of economic growth that enlarges existing disparitiesrather than narrowing them, the difficulties are enormously multiplied.
ITERACTIOS: RESOURCES, ECOOMICS, AD POLITICS
It takes water and steel to produce fuel, fuel and water to produce steel, fuel and water and steelto produce food and fiber, and so on. The higher the level of industrialization in a society, themore intimate and demanding are the interconnections among resources. Agriculture in theUnited States, Europe, and Japan, for example, uses far more fuel, steel, and mineral fertilizers per unit of food produced than does agriculture in India or Indonesia. The interconnectionsamong resources also become more intense as the quality of the resource base diminishes; the