Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Richer is Greener

The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run. I realize this prediction seems hard to believe when you consider the carbon being dumped into the atmosphere today by Americans, and the projections for increasing emissions from India and China as they get richer.

Those projections make it easy to assume that affluence and technology inflict more harm on the environment. But while pollution can increase when a country starts industrializing, as people get wealthier they can afford cleaner water and air. They start using sources of energy that are less carbon-intensive — and not just because they’re worried about global warming. The process of “decarbonization” started long before Al Gore was born.

In general, richer is eventually greener. As incomes go up, people often focus first on cleaning up their drinking water, and then later on air pollutants like sulfur dioxide.

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

~John Tierney in today's NY Times article "Use Energy, Get Rich and Save the Planet"


At 4/21/2009 7:34 PM, Blogger juandos said...

From The Jack Rabbit of Depression, or Do economic slumps benefit environment?<Meanwhile, energy use and carbon dioxide emissions gradually loosened their coupling to GDP, so that an increment of GDP in 2007 elicited a smaller increment of energy or carbon dioxide than 50 or 100 years earlier.

Sulfur dioxide has uncoupled. Sulfur dioxide emissions chart a century-long arc, a classic case of a “Kuznets curve” in which environmental damage first grows with GDP and then symmetrically declines. An increment of GDP now seems to evoke a decrement of sulfur dioxide...

Very interesting...

At 4/21/2009 8:06 PM, Blogger Realist Theorist said...

One only has to visit a city in a country like India and then visit New York or LA to realize that if New Delhi becomes like LA, it would be a huge improvement. I expect places like Shanghai would be the same.

As for the less developed tinier cities, one may not have smoot, but one will find the stink of garbage and filth. A little cough is a big step in the right direction from the malaria and the cholera.

At 4/22/2009 12:30 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

Methinks the same thing happens with "over" population. The richer a country gets, the slower it grows*. Negative in some cases.

Does not include immigration.


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