A Wealthier Nation Doesn't Mean Less Pollution


New York Times columinst John Tierney citing the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC), argues that the richer a nation becomes, the less it pollutes. The Kuznets Curve is the classic example of economists taking something that’s intuitive, then flipping it around to make it seem more complicated only to arrive at a simple solution.

The EKC, pictured to right, shows that as a nation’s wealth grows, so does its pollution. At some point though, the pollution per person levels, then slides downwards, as the nation becomes more advanced and economically prosperous.

From this Tierny, summizes:

1. There will be no green revolution in energy or anything else. No leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries. No recession or depression will make a lasting change in consumers’ passions to use energy, make money and buy new technology — and that, believe it or not, is good news, because…

2. The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run.

However, he later softens this stance on his blog, admiting that a leader, a law or a treaty can change our enivronmental impact:

How fast the environment improves depends not just on money but on whether a country has an effective government, educated citizens, healthy institutions and the right laws. (For discussions of the variability of these curves and the factors that affect them, see this PERC report by a group led by Bruce Yandle of Clemson University and this article in Environment, Development and Sustainability by Kuheli Dutt of Northeastern University.)

In other words, a good government enacting smart policy, with an intelligent and engaged constituency will create policies that protect the environment. In other, other, words: Duh. It isn’t a simple matter of becoming richer makes our environment better. It means that smart government enacting changes to limit enivronmental damage is of equal if not greater importance. The decrease in SO2 in the U.S. really took over once the government implemented policies to limit it.

Also, Tierney discussed carbon emissions on a per person basis. In absolute numbers, the U.S. (which we think is rather advanced economically, governmentally) is still increasing its emissions, as this chart based off EIA data shows:


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