Bright Lights, Big City, Gone to My Planet’s Head

Bright lights, big city
Gone to my baby’s head
Bright lights, big city
Gone to my baby’s head

Nobody’s listening to Jimmy Reed, I guess.   They’re stampeding from the country to the city, all the world over.

As of last Wednesday, May 23rd, more people on Earth are living in urban areas than rural. According to Science Blog, scientists at North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia used United Nations data to determine the moment of transition. 

The United States is long past its tipping point: We became more urban than rural in 1910.

I’d tried to tell the woman
But she doesn’t believe a word I said
Go light pretty baby…
Gonna need my help some day
It’s all right pretty baby…
Gonna need my help some day

You’re gonna wish you listened
To some of those things I said

In spite of all the warnings, the reason for the rural to urban migration is obvious.  Earth’s rural areas are its most impoverished.

Findings by the International Fund for Agricultural Development show that 1.2 billion of the world’s people live on less than what a dollar a day can buy. Globally, three-fourths of these poor people live in rural areas.

The researchers add that, in addition to having a highly disproportionate share of the world’s poverty, rural areas also get the urban garbage. In exchange for useable natural resources produced by rural people for urban dwellers, rural places receive the waste products – polluted air, contaminated water, and solid and hazardous wastes – discharged by those in cities.

NC State sociology professor Dr. Ron Wimberley sees the shift as ominous, according to the university’s news release:

“So far, cities are getting whatever resource needs that can be had from rural areas,” he said. “But given global rural impoverishment, the rural-urban question for the future is not just what rural people and places can do for the world’s new urban majority. Rather, what can the urban majority do for poor rural people and the resources upon which cities depend for existence? The sustainable future of the new urban world may well depend upon the answer.”

It seems to me that this story gets closer to the heart of what I maintain is the world’s most pressing environmental task: Improving basic health conditions for the world’s rural poor, including potable water, wastewater treatment, reduction in toxic chemicals, sustainable and productive agriculture.  As Dr. Wimberley suggests, the fate of the entire world depends on how well we address these challenges. Dealing with global warming is connected with this agenda, but should not take precedence over it.

Go ahead pretty baby
Oh, honey knock yourself out
Go ahead pretty baby
Oh honey knock yourself out

I still love you baby
Cause you don’t know what it’s all about
 

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