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UCLA Magazine Spring 2005
From Murphy Hall
Living La Vida 'Lorca'
Stress Fractures
What's at Stake
The Importance of Being Elma
House of Cards
The Quest
Through Women's Eyes
Dynamic Duo
Bruin Walk

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Spring 2005
House of Cards

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But no one at the U.N. or in First World governments is willing to acknowledge the dream’s impossibility: the unsustainability of a world in which the Third World’s large population were to reach and maintain current First World living standards.

Nor is it possible for the First World to resolve that dilemma by blocking the Third World’s efforts to catch up: South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mauritius have already succeeded or are close; China and India are progressing rapidly; and the 15 rich Western European countries making up the European Union have just extended membership to 10 poorer countries of Eastern Europe, in effect thereby pledging to help those 10 countries catch up.

Even if the human populations of the Third World did not exist, it would be impossible for the First World alone to maintain its present course, because it is not in a steady state but is depleting its own resources as well as those imported from the Third World. At present, it is untenable politically for First World leaders to propose to their own citizens that they lower their living standards, as measured by lower resource-consumption and waste-production rates. What will happen when it finally dawns on all those people in the Third World that current First World standards are unreachable for them, and that the First World refuses to abandon those standards for itself? Life is full of agonizing choices based on trade-offs, but that’s the cruelest trade-off that we shall have to resolve: helping all people to achieve a more equitable standard of living without undermining that standard through overstressing resources.

As we contemplate these choices, it’s easy to become depressed about our prospects. Nevertheless, I remain cautiously optimistic for two reasons. One basis for hope is that, realistically, we are not beset by insoluble problems.

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