Sociological notes: Justice is about changing the rich

SINCE THE Second World War "development" has been many things, but it has always contained the hope that the countries of the South will finally move out of a long period of humiliation and get on a footing of equality with the industrialised countries. International equity has been recast as catching up with the rich countries, with the quest for great justice in the world being firmly welded to the idea of economic development. However, in a world beset with environmental risks it has now become obsolete to turn the desire for justice into a demand for even more accelerated growth, since the environmental space available for humanity is finite and in some respects already overstretched. In these circumstances, it becomes, therefore, vital to de-link the concept of justice from the idea of development.

Certainly, "development" contains a noble hope whose roots reach back to the first half of the 19th century, the founding period of socialist thinking. Impressed by the rapid advances of technology, socialists assumed that there is a minimum level of technological progress without which equality can never be achieved. Consequently, progressives of all sorts have worked for spreading progress in order to uplift the poor. This assumption proves dangerously one-sided. For it is now becoming clear that there is also a ceiling to nature-intensive development beyond which equity cannot be achieved. Chemical agriculture, the automobile society or meat- based nutrition are cases in point. These levels of development are structurally oligarchic; they cannot be generalised across the world without putting the lives of everybody in jeopardy. Given that the 20 per cent who enjoy the highest income of the population lay claim to 85 per cent of the planet's timber, 75 per cent of its metals and 70 per cent of its energy, there is no way that their lifestyle can serve as the imagined standard of equity for all. Therefore, the commitment to social justice takes on a new colour: it requires putting the rich on the spot.

Conventional developing thinking implicitly defines equality as a problem of the poor. Developmentalist perception of the gap which separates the rich from the poor is as a deficit of the powerless. They launch themselves into raising the living standards of the poor towards the level of the rich. However, with the emergence of biophysical limits to growth, the original classical notions of justice which were devised in an age which recognised the finite nature of reality rather than assuming the possibility of indefinite growth, acquire new relevance: justice is about changing the rich and not about changing the poor.

After all, the northern consumer class occupies the available environmental space to an excessive extent. Northern economies weigh heavily on nature and other peoples; it is this weight which has to be reduced. For they are not entitled to take more than nature can stand and other countries can legitimately claim. Industrialised countries, if they aspire to become good global neighbours, will have to bring down their resource consumption by a factor of 10 within the next 50 years. This enormous challenge will amount to a civilisational transition of sorts. But sufficiency was the hallmark of justice before the dreams of infinity took over; it is about to become the axis around which any post-developmentalist notion of justice will revolve. The less powerful countries need more environmental space to flourish, and cheerful restraint on the part of the opulent countries is the condition for both intra-generational and inter-generational equity. From now on, justice is about taking less rather than giving more.

Wolfgang Sachs is editor of `Greening the North: a post-industrial blueprint for ecology and equity' (Zed Books, pounds 14.95)

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high