Environmental poverty is a condition in which people are forced to deplete resources and degrade environments, because they have such limited opportunities to change their economic behaviour. It becomes economically "rational" for them to destroy their resources, even though they themselves will bear much of the costs of doing so. Their impoverishment of their environment further impoverishes them, making their survival even more difficult and uncertain. Thus they are unable to respond adaptively to external change (such as drought). In addition, the prosperity attained in some parts of the world is often precarious, as it has been secured through farming, forestry and industrial practices that bring profit and progress over the short term only.
Environmental impoverishment is both a symptom of lack of development and a consequence of unsustainable development. It is both cause and consequence of unsustainable rates of population growth, as well as being the main agent of land degradation in developing countries.
In many parts of the world poor people are forced to overuse environmental resources to survive from day to day. According to environmental consultant Norman Myers, such people have no option but to over-exploit environmental resource stocks in order to survive -- for example, by increasingly encroaching onto tropical forests among other low-potential lands. These poorest of the poor are causing as much natural-resource depletion as the other three billion developing-world people put together.
In many parts of the developing world, poverty combined with rapid population growth is leading to widespread degradation of renewable resources - primarily forests, soils and water. People living in subsistence economies are faced with few alternatives to depleting their natural resources. Renewable resources still sustain the livelihood of nearly one-third of the world's population; environmental deterioration therefore directly reduces living standards and prospects for economic improvement among rural peoples. At the same time, rapid urbanization and industrialization in many developing countries are creating high levels of air and water pollution, which often hit the poor hardest. Worldwide, the urban poor tend to live in neglected neighbourhoods, enduring pollution, waste dumping and ill health, but lacking the political influence to effect improvements.