Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wealth and environmentalism go together

In the previous post on the most recent EPI rankings, Fat Knowledge pointed out that purchasing power parity and environmental performance are apparently related (they correlate at .58), and more strongly so than industrial growth, which is the case.

I tend to take for granted that the environmental movement is generally affluent, and to the extent that it is anti-capitalistic, opposes further economic and population growth rather than outright societal regression (although there is that element, too). Yet it is important to note that combatting environmental degradation seems to require wealth. Wealth alone is not sufficient, though, as several poorly-performing oil states demonstrate.

The environmental Kuznets curve conceptualizes environmental performance as being U-shaped, starting off and ending relatively well, but suffering during the developmental (China, India) stages. This isn't the case for the EPI rankings, with sub-Saharan Africa being at the bottom of the environmental and economic ladders.

So the EPI trend lends credence to the arguments China and India are making about how other industrialized nations had to cause a lot of environmental damage to get where they are today, to a point where they can ameliorate that damage, and so they too must be allowed to rapidly grow without restriction. I Don't know if that's what most environmentalists want to hear, but there is plenty of precedent for the developing nations' position on their own growth.


Al Fin said...

The whole concept is well-meaning but far too simplistic. The USSR and Eastern Europe did not progress through the "U" shape. China seems to be getting worse, the more prosperous she grows. Other societies may lack the IQ-power to find their way up the far side of the "U."

Pollution is entropy of a sort, and entropy has to be managed carefully. The USSR lacked the will to manage it. China lacks the will. India may lack other things that are required. Certainly should a corrupt African government receive a great windfall of wealth, and embark upon a massive building and development program, one would not expect a lot of concern shown to the environment.

Japan, Western Europe, the Anglosphere--these are exceptional places in the world. It would be indulging in fantasy to pretend that all cultures and peoples will evolve, or if they do evolve that they will evolve the same way.

Audacious Epigone said...

Al Fin,

I tend to agree with you, with the possible exception of China. The environmental performance-IQ correlation is a lot stronger than the EPI-PPP correlation is. I posted in response to a comment by Fat Knowledge and in seeing why the theoretical argument made by the two Asian behemoths of China and India does have precedence, even if it is not likely to be repeated.

Audacious Epigone said...

...with the possible exception of China.

Regarding what the PRC will do in the future. Just about impossible to disagree with your assessment of the country up to this point.