Friday, 14 February 2014

The "environmental Kuznets curve" in action

To briefly summarise the Wiki entry, the theory it that when societies first start industrialising, they know or care little about "the environment". The people at the top are happy making loads of money and the little people put up with all the pollution because earning enough to stay alive is more important.

But once average incomes and job security reach a certain level, people start getting a bit fussier about the environment, whether that's in an abstract save-the-planet way or simply because they don't like breathing in pollution.

So the countries which were the first to adopt stricter environmental laws (unleaded petrol, ban on domestic coal burning etc) were the richest countries in the world at the time. Similarly, when it comes to negotiating "climate change treaties", it is the richest countries pushing for the biggest emission reductions and the poorer countries drag their heels (with what degree of sincerity or whether there is any point, we do not know).

I read this decades ago and it all made sense and was easily observable, I just didn't realise that somebody had managed to get the phenomenon named after him (h/t Tim W at ASI).

From ABC News:

China's Cabinet has announced that 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) has been set aside this year to reward cities and regions that make significant progress in controlling air pollution, highlighting how the issue has become a priority for the leadership.

The fund will be set up to reward rather than offer subsidies for the prevention and control of air pollution in the key areas, according to a statement released after a Wednesday meeting of the State Council led by Premier Li Keqiang. It said controlling pollutants such as particulate matter in the air should be a key task.

The statement said the consumption of coal should be controlled and also called for increased efforts to promote high-quality gasoline for vehicles, energy saving in construction and the use of environmentally friendly boilers.

The government is eager to bring about a visible improvement in China's bad air, which has caused discontent among its citizens and tarnished the country's image abroad.


Lola said...

Isn't this rather the same as the three stages of civilisation. Viz. How do we eat? Why do we eat? Where shall we go for lunch?

As in survival, enquiry, sophistication.

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, to be honest, it is exactly the same, also known as Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs.

Only, people being fussy about where to go for lunch is of no particular benefit to wider society - but people being fussy about the environment is, provided they are sensible about it and don't tip over into green tomfoolery.

Bayard said...

Trying to get on top of air pollution makes much more sense than trying to control climate change.