Thursday, February 14, 2008

Environmental performance by growth and by civilization

The 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), led by professors from Columbia and Yale, was recently released. It uses 25 indicators to assign a score to 149 countries (thanks to Fat Knowledge for clearing this up for me). Three of the thirteen categories used in computing the rankings are based on CO2 emissions, while only two are based on water quality and accessibility (climate change accounts for one-quarter of the total weighted index). So it seems to me skewed against practical concerns (is my water safe to drink?) for the populations of the countries in question and towards IPCC worries over emissions (is that guy driving a Hummer or a hybrid?).

Environmentalism has a reputation for misanthropy and an antagonism towards capitalism. The EPI does little to amend that reputation. Environmental performance inversely correlates with a nation's industrial growth at a moderate but statistically significant .16 and inversely with its total fertility rate at a rigorous .80.

This association is natural enough, since the easiest way for a person to reduce his environmental impact is to just die. In the words spoken by David Graber decades ago:

I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line – at about a billion [?!] years ago – we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo Sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”
As argued previously, green initiatives have to be economically sensible and painless in their execution to receive broad support and to ultimately be successful. The inordinate amount of attention given to human-induced CO2 emissions, and the consequential sacrifices urged and regulatory bodies advocated does not endear the guy on the street to the cause. Instead, the whole thing seems silly:

Attributing global climate change to human CO2 production is akin to trying to diagnose an automotive problem by ignoring the engine (analogous to the Sun in the climate system) and the transmission (water vapour) and instead focusing entirely, not on one nut on a rear wheel, which would be analogous to total CO2, but on one thread on that nut, which represents the human contribution.
That most major environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the WWF do not advocate immigration restriction in the US or explicitly favor strategies to reduce births in the third-world generally and among the most destitute women especially (instead emphasizing access to generic family planning services throughout the world) gives the impression that being good stewards of the earth is not their sole reason for being.

Risking too much self-indulgence, this train of thought lies at the heart of my ambiguity toward such groups. It seems there are ulterior motives antagonistic towards capitalism and human progression more generally among many environmentalists. The two-page press release, for instance, devotes two full paragraphs to the US' poor performance (39th best of the 149 countries evaluated) relative to other industrialized nations.

Why not focus instead on the fact that developed Euro-descended countries (plus Japan) clean (heh) the rest of the world's clocks? There isn't a single Western nation in the entire bottom half of the rankings. Using Samuel Huntington's nine civilizational categorizations, the aggregated EPI score for each* (adjusted for population size at the national level):

Japanese -- 84.5
Western -- 84.0
Latin American -- 81.3
Orthodox -- 79.5
Buddhist -- 71.0
Sinic -- 67.0
Islamic -- 65.2
Hindu -- 60.7
African -- 59.0

In a contemporary West that is so hard-pressed to criticize other civilizations or praise its own, environmental performance and human (and animal) rights are areas where most Good progressives are still willing to make critical value judgments.

A little tweaking and the broader movement is aiming at some worthy eugenic goals--namely drastically cutting third-world birthrates, especially in Africa, and at least advocating Western fertility rebounds to replacement levels. If the worst environmental performers are also the countries that are growing the fastest, the obvious conclusion is that the 'global' environmental performance is going to suffer going forward.

I say "eugenic" because there is also a strong correlation of .76 between estimated national average IQ and environmental performance. A more intelligent, industrialized, liberal, white (and Japanese) world is a more environmentally-friendly world. To make a statement that is made so clear by the EPI rankings themselves, however, is to invite excoriation from the very same people who attach so much importance on the index scores. But their moral posturing does nothing to repudiate the fact that the world is becoming less intelligent, less liberal, and less white (and much less Japanese).

Third-world immigration fuels a growth in purchasing power for the home country through remittances and migrant returns without doing much to ensure that commensurate 'EPI' progress takes place there. These groups could easily advocate that until, say, Nicaragua reaches environmental parity with the US, immigration from that country cannot be condoned. Leverage the developed world's wealth to get less developed nations to clean up their acts, instead of appearing to oppose wealth creation in itself.

Environmentalists could make an even more direct appeal to immigration restriction, of course--that more people mean more problems. But an article in the most recent issue of National Geographic illustrates this moral bankruptcy through its glaring omission of any mention of immigration in a 4,000-plus word feature about dry conditions in the American Southwest:

For most people in the region, the news hasn't quite sunk in. Between 2000 and 2006 the seven states of the Colorado basin added five million people, a 10 percent population increase. Subdivisions continue to sprout in the desert, farther and farther from the cities whose own water supply is uncertain. Water managers are facing up to hard times ahead. "I look at the turn of the century as the defining moment when the New West began," says Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "It's like the impact of global warming fell on us overnight."

It has been much warmer and drier in the past (the 20th Century was the wettest the American Southwest has seen in the last thousand years) of course, although there's not agreement on why. Yet the article takes as fact that CAGW is going to lead to a secular rise in temperature and dryness in this region. Whatever the prognosis going forward, the threat of the Colorado River being drained is being made more potent through rampant immigration from Latin America.

CAGW has many of the strappings of a religious movement. There are carbon offsets (indulgences); Chosen climate modelers (prophets) who can see a future that Others cannot; those who point out their failures to take into account various feedbacks and solar activity, or who more directly protest that global average temperatures have become slightly cooler over the last decade when a secular warming trend supposedly should be occuring, are attacked as deniers (false prophets); apocalyptic scenarios await a world that doesn't inact IPCC recommendations immediately (the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah); the messianic zeal with which all nations and people are urged to cut growth under threat of economic and social sanctions (conversion of pagans and smiting of heretics); the general circulation models are not falsifiable because they're predicting what will occur in the future (what Revelations says will happen at the end); etc.

I can understand the frustration atheists and agnostics have with the outwardly pious. In their certainty many will not give your skepticism the time of day. Parenthetically, if you're interested in that skepticism, the prolific Al Fin regularly features it in his posts.

*I made a few executive decisions in determining where certain countries fit. Sudan and Chad are both 'Islamic', Nigeria is 'African' (Huntington splits the three of them between those two civilizations), and the Philippines are Sinic (he labels them as both Western and Sinic). All of China is 'Sinic', though Huntington sensibly considers the Tibetan autonomous region to be Buddhist. Guyana is 'Hindu' since those of Indian descent comprise at least half of its population. I left Papua New Guinea out, even though Huntington bemusingly considers it Western, presumably due to the high percentage of the population that practices Christianity (exclusionary, I know!). Also, neither Fiji nor the Solomon Islands are included. Data via Swivel here.


Anonymous said...

The environmental "movement" has been bought off by the immigration lobby(wealthy socialists):

You'd think this would be a big deal. Imagine if a wealthy oilman had given the Sierra Club the same amount of cash in return for not mentioning global warming or fossil fuel emissions. You would never hear the end of it, the press would go nuts. Essentially, the "independent" environmental movement is just another wing of the socialist/anti-white/anti-western/anti-US/anti-middle class movement, etc... You get the idea. They are all in cahoots to fuck white America.

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks! I started reading VDare midway through '05 and missed all of that. I only knew the Sierra Club had taken a neutral position on immigration--despite the obvious fact that there is scarcely an issue more pertinent to the cause they're putatively fighting for--but wasn't aware of all of the details. Much appreciated.

al fin said...

Alan Greenspan is warning against carbon cap and trade scams. He says that Al Gore's approach will hurt the economy. Interesting, coming in an election year.

I used to meet some babelicious ladies at Sierra Club outings and functions, but these days I can't stand the political verbiage.

Audacious Epigone said...


The Sierra Club has veered sharply to the left over the last couple of decades. But so has the 'umbrella' environmentalist movement on the whole. NG and the WWF are both apocalyptically obsessed with 'climate change'--CAGW is taken as an indisputed (and necessarily bad) truth and is mentioned in virtual every article.

Fat Knowledge said...

AE, a couple of points on this.

1) There are actually 25 indicators, and they are not equally weighted. Global warming makes up 25% of the total. Not sure if that changes how you feel about the methodology or not.

2) Can you run a correlation with GDP per capita? I think that the EPI score will correlate high with a GDP per capita, much stronger that with the growth rate. Because of this, I believe that a strong economy actually will raise EPI, and therefore this isn't anti-capitalistic at all. I actually first came across EPI in this Economist article which has a graph titled: The rich man's grass is greener.

3) On immigration, because poorer countries have lower EPIs, I don't think it would be fair to only allow immigration from countries with higher EPIs than the US. Should we really not allow intelligent Chinese doctoral students to come to the US because their country is less clean than the US?

If you want to make an anti-immigration argument to environmentalists, I would go with the fact that a consumer in the US uses many times the resources of a consumer in a poorer country. An immigrant to the US is likely to emit much more CO2 than they would have in their native country.

I also think you could have environmental regulations on imports, but that is another issue.

4) I am with you that reducing the birth rate in 3rd world countries is one (if not the) largest environmental issue out there. But, the best way I know to reduce it is to increase education for girls and to promote urbanization. Do you have any other suggestions?

Forced sterilization in India seems to have backfired, and limiting the number of births ala China doesn't really seem feasible in most countries (and there are questions about how well it really worked in China as at the same time they have also had good primary education for girls).

Brent Lane said...

Thanks for this post. . .I made a simliar point during the Senate debates on immigration last spring.

Audacious Epigone said...


Always good to have someone more versed in this stuff to set me straight. I apparently got mixed up with this list of 13 indicators, although 3 of 13 is pretty close to 25% :) Anyway, I fixed the opening paragraph in light of it.

In addition to greater urbanization and higher literacy, make aid, public and private, contingent upon fertility goals. Devoting foreign aid to the cause of decreased fertility seems a pretty good investment to me. My uncle worked in several US embassies throughout his public career. In Bangladesh he spearheaded a pre-conception family planning program. Why not more of that?

Re: immigration, I don't expect environmental organization to nuance their stances contingent upon economic productivity of potential migrants. But I don't see why they do not take a stance similar to NumbersUSA.

I'm sure PPP will correlate pretty strongly with EPI, and I'd like to do a separate post on it. I wonder what it will be without Western nations, where environmentalism is much more at the fore, included. If your hunch is right, the Chinese/Indian argument that everyone else got to pollute before being wealthy enough not to have to seems pretty legitimate. I'm not sure that's what environmentalists want to hear though!


Great post. Your argument is similar to what FK is suggesting. I definitely have some more pondering to do on the subject(s).

Fat Knowledge said...


I too agree that family planning programs would be a good use for foreign aid. I don't know currently how much of that is done or what is needed for more of it to occur. I wonder if abortion gets put into this debate and it gets caught up in American politics about it.

Along those lines, I think there should be emphasis on delaying births (older mothers) as well as having less children. As I wrote here this can decrease populations as well.

Regarding wealth and the environment, there is the concept of the Environmental Kuznets Curve where countries start by having little damage on the environment, increase damage as they get richer and then get rich enough where they are concerned about the environment and clean it back up. If this was true you would expect very poor and very rich countries to score high on the EPI, but it looked to me like poor countries scored low so it didn't seem like a good fit. But, in general I tend to agree with the concept.

As an environmentalist it then gets tough to decide if growth is good or not. I am torn on China. But, I think there are lots of environmental steps that the Chinese could make that would not harm GDP, and would probably help it.

I also think that cars aren't a particularly good form of transportation in dense cities. China has a lot of dense cities and instead of building good public transportation, they are trying to promote car ownership. I don't think this is a particularly good idea for either the environment or for the residents of these cities, but it does look good on GDP growth. So, I don't think the Chinese should stop growing, but I think they could do smarter development that would be better for the environment and well being of the Chinese people.