The environmental doomsayers regard economic growth, the pursuit of prosperity, technology and capitalism as the enemy of the environment. The only way to save the planet, they say, is to lower income expectations, cut back on consumption, return to a more primal way of life and get rid of capitalism. Many of the participants in the deep green movement were refugees from the collapse of world-socialism. They found another expression for their far-Left leanings in environmental politics. There is no doubt that much of their doom and gloom was inspired as much by their desire to dance on the grave of capitalism as by their desire to save the planet.
The eco-pessimists have got it all wrong. More recent environmental research has been able to demonstrate quite conclusively that there is a direct correlation between a given country’s level of wealth on the one hand, and the investment it makes in the environment on the other. That is to say, development and the environment are not inimical as the eco-pessimists would have us believe, but they are complimentary and mutually supportive. This has been shown in two ways:
Firstly, both economists and environmentalists have been able to show that there is a direct link between a people’s income level and the condition of their environment. The greater the wealth, the better the level of environmental care. On the other hand poor societies put environmental concerns very low on their list priorities, if at all. It is only when people reach a certain level of affluence, that they can afford to start worrying about the environment.
The second strand of evidence is derived from comparing the state of the environment in the developed world with the state of the environment in the developing world. The four greatest environmental issues are air pollution, water pollution, de-afforestation and population growth. The developed world is well on top of controlling these problems. The air of its cities is improving. It does not lose millions of children every year to polluted water, nor just as many to dung smoke and wood smoke as the developing world does. The forests of most of the developed world have expanded enormously over the last 50 years, but de-afforestation continues to be of concern in the developing world. Population has stabilized in the developed world, but remains a concern in the developing world.
The conclusion from all this is inescapable: the only way to rid the world of its greatest environmental problems is to get rid of poverty by promoting development and economic growth.
“Pollution is as old as human activity,” writes one environmental scientist, “but only recently have we been rich enough to worry about it.” Another says, “As much as environmental orthodoxy detests economic advancement, this is the force nature would long for in the contemporary Third World…Penniless peasants seeking fuel wood may be the greatest threat to forests.” And another says, “Higher income in general is correlated with high environmental sustainability…we are accustomed to thinking of growth and the environment as opposites, but this is a misconception.” “The only way to save the planet is to get rid of poverty,” says Andrew Kenny, “but the eco-fascists are missing the point. Rich people photograph lions. Poor people kill them. They are too busy surviving to care for the environment.”