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Gustavo Esteva’s Challenge to the Global North from the Global South

Herman Greene

Editor’s Note: Gustavo Esteva died at age 86 on March 17, 2022. Ashish Kothari’s personal tribute to Gustavo is available here. Gustavo, Ashish, and Arturo Escobar were founders of The Global Tapestry of Alternatives. Gustavo’s memoir-like article published in 2017 on the Radical Ecological Democracy website is available here.

Gustavo Esteva and his co-authors in The Future of Development: A Radical Manifesto call for change in the Global North from the perspective of those in the Global South. They only spoke on behalf of the people of the Global South but we of CES include oppressed species and ecosystems as part of the Global South.

  • The North’s Excessive Consumption is Endangering Everyone: While justice seems to demand that those in the Global South be able to live as those in the Global North, survival demands that those in the Global North live as those in the Global South (p. 147).
  • The North Must Stop Taking from the South: The wealthy take the resources they use not only from their home countries, but from all over the world. Then they often dispose of their waste in the South. What people in the North primarily need to concern themselves with is not how much they give to the South, but how much they take from the South (p. 93).
  • The North’s Help Causes Harm: The wealthy express concern over poverty but offer a development path that often results in creating poverty rather than reducing it, for example by land grabbing and pushing people out of subsistence economies into cities and the monetary economy. This development path is oblivious to local cultures and ways of life and the need for cultural difference. It focuses on individual achievement and rights and not on the rights of communities (pp. 31-33, 57, 68).
  • The North Offers a False Development Path: “The people of the South will never be able to be like the peoples in the North. They will never be able to ‘develop’ on the terms laid out . . . by the development enterprise, no matter how many of their cities, roads, governments, and consumers come to look like their Northern counterparts” (p. 149).
  • The North Needs to De-Westernize: The project of Westernization of the world needs to be abandoned . . . even for the West itself (p. 149). “No feasible sacrifice in the living arrangements of the North could bring them to a level that would make use of the world’s agricultural land, fisheries, freshwater supplies, mineral resources, atmosphere, or ecology in a sustainable way. And so long as they are used in an unsustainable way, it is the South that must sacrifice to meet the appetites of the North” (p. 147).

Finally, the authors offer this advice to those in the North:

  • Help the South by Changing the North. If you are concerned with helping the Global South, then by all means form a nonprofit and focus your lifework on changing the Global North (p. 151).