With limited means, "third-world" countries need global environmental support

Spending the summer in the archipelago nation of Indonesia gave me a dose of reality about what we call the third world. As an economics and environmental studies double major beginning my final year of college, I had learned to condemn China for unrestrained coal emissions, and to denounce most of Southeast Asia for lax deforestation laws. However, in the midst of my summer's immersion in Indonesian culture and society, I reconsidered my thinking the past three years: there are in fact issues that trump the environment, such as employment opportunities, prosperity, and education, to name a few. Jakarta's more immediate priorities therefore place the environment on a to-do list reaching beyond its city of 10 million and to all of us on a global scale.

By witnessing first-hand Indonesia's trashed rivers and mountainous garbage dumps, breathing the harsh air, and listening to its 2009 presidential nominees' speeches, I have come to understand that addressing environmental issues in developing countries is a 'luxury' few countries can afford. Instead, "third world" priorities are aimed at developing an economy, in order to provide employment to a growing and increasingly demanding population - whether that means surviving day-to-day challenges (such as having enough food for the family, a place to sleep, etc.) or preparing the next generation to attain a greater level of success (economically and socially). In the end, the success of those efforts by the government will determine the political and social stability of the nation.

So when and how will the environmental issues, such as the deforestation and air pollution that the developed world is already addressing, come into play in a country like Indonesia? It may be decades before Indonesia joins the G8. Unfortunately, it seems that it may take the occurrence of a major disaster before Jakarta would be forced to address specific environmental issues. A situation causing mass distress or peril, such as a break in a dam or a forest ablaze, may finally bring some priority to environmental issues.

Yet Indonesia and the world cannot afford to wait for such scenarios. That kind of delay is never cost-effective and would be far too late for those who would experience the setbacks brought on by environmental problems. Early, aggressive, and creative programs must be considered.

"Third world" countries like Indonesia are of critical importance to the well being of our planet. It is impractical to expect Indonesia to bear the burden of addressing environmental issues, though they may be of great importance to neighboring countries and distant allies alike. Developing countries contain a large percentage of the planet's flora and fauna. The economic burden of these conditions should not be borne solely by an individual country. New systems and organizations must be created to share these burdens on a global basis.

Additionally, global regulations should be established to prevent investors from moving their environmentally hostile operations to countries that are more pliant. Competition based on lax environmental controls should be prohibited on a global basis - if a "dirty" plant is prohibited in the Netherlands, then it should be prohibited in Indonesia.

Developing countries have many issues to address, meaning that environmental issues often remain a low priority. This reflects the country's rationing of limited capital and other resources. Yet we know that often these issues cannot wait until a country has the resources to assign a high priority to the environment.

It is important to recognize that Indonesia's problems are of concern to everyone on this planet requiring the focus of global capital and efforts in coordination with developing countries. Only creative and realistic efforts on a global basis will address the environmental challenges confronting the developing countries. If these countries continue to ignore such challenges then we will all suffer. After all, global warming does not stop at the border.


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