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The Nexus of Sustainability & Social Equity: Virginia's Eastern Shore (USA) as a Local Example of Global Issues

IJED, Vol. 3 No. 2, (2001)

The practice of sustainable development requires society to equally and simultaneously address economic enhancement along with actions that offer environmental protection, while also insuring that the most disadvantaged people in our communities are provided the ability to improve their quality of life. The ethnic and class stratification of different societal sectors represents one of the most tenacious forms of inequality in any part of the world. For this reason, where inequities persist in severe forms, ideas about balancing economic development and environmental preservation may be particularly contentious. The primary premise of this paper assumes that without equity considerations economic and environmental sustainability objectives of a region cannot be achieved.
If we expand the meaning of environmental equity or justice beyond disproportionate impact from pollution on public health, and combine issues of populations that are disproportionately affected by environmental insults as well as adequate access to environmental benefits, then we have a paradigm under which to explore mechanisms for poor people to derive equal benefits from the advantages of environmental related business income. By exploring how poor people might benefit from nature-based business activities as an example, we can begin to demonstrate important linkages between a foundation of good environmental quality and the prosperous development of economic activity in certain societal sectors that might otherwise not make this connection.
This paper addresses a Virginia Eastern Shore (USA) case history example to explore whether or not a nature-based economy and consideration of a targeted, value-added tax on this industry's income can finance the transition of a region's neediest citizens to a better quality of life and in-turn a more amenable setting to further enhance economic development in the region that is environmentally sustainable. A focus on environmental equity emerges as key in this discussion because of the historical disregard for the environmental health and rights of disenfranchised peoples, where a disproportionate and dangerous ecological price for economic growth has been paid by poor people and people of color, both in the United States and in other nations. Thus, the nexus of sustainable development and equity, where equity considerations loom large in the search for economic development that does not degrade natural resources.

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