Many environmental problems in the industrialized countries are regarded as consequences of affluence. The use of large numbers of private automobiles, many for recreational purposes, results in air pollution; the intensive agriculture required to supply an over-fed and overweight population results in soil and water contamination by high levels of nitrates; the high consumption per capita of manufactured products is associated with huge quantities of industrial waste, some of which ends up polluting the soil, rivers and coastal waters. Environmental damage in affluent societies is a consequence of excessive development and unrestrained demands for ever larger quantities of goods and services. It is thus a consequence of materialism and acquisitiveness.
While similar points apply to the modern sectors of developing countries, the most fundamental environmental problems in the developing countries are seen as consequences of poverty, not of affluence. A rapidly growing population puts pressure on a country's natural resources. The ever increasing demand for food and firewood, for example, results in the destruction of forests, degradation of the soil and depletion of water supplies. Thus the basis for future growth is eroded. Issues of economic development consequently cannot be separated from environmental issues. Poverty and the environment are closely linked, not least because it is the poorest members of society that typically suffer most from environmental deterioration.
Despite these differences in perception, there is broad agreement that attempts by people to improve their economic well-being have resulted occasionally in huge disasters (the explosion of a chemical plant at Bhopal, the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl) and more frequently in gradual destruction of the resources on which material betterment depends (desertification in the Sahel, flooding in the Indo-Gangetic plain). There is also broad agreement that the situation in the Third World is sufficiently different from that in the industrialized countries that it would be a mistake to adopt identical technical standards for - say - air and water pollution throughout the globe. Environmental problems may be present in all countries, but the appropriate response will differ from one country to another. Environmental standards are needed, but in many cases they should be specific to each country.