A standard finding in economics has just been confirmed by Nasa – the world greens as it gets richer. The latest studies show that the world is indeed getting greener and that it’s India and China leading the way. This is as it should be, as it has been predicted it will be too as a result of something called the environmental Kuznets curve. Essentially, truly poor places will cut anything down in search of the next meal, it’s as a place gets richer that people have the option to make it look nice too.
The result of this being that if you’d like a nicer environment you should be working for economic growth:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The perception across the globe is that more populous countries tend to exploit more natural resources and often lead to loss of plant life. However, a recent NASA study says it is not the case as the Earth has gotten greener in the last two decades and this positive change is driven by the most populous countries in the world – India and China.[/perfectpullquote]
The United States has more forest cover today than it did in 1900 – the low point was in the 1920s. The river Thames is clean enough now to have salmon in it, in the 19th century quite literally nothing lived in it. The horrendous smogs of the mid-20th century no longer plague North American and European cities.
That this should be so is that Kuznets curve. In essence, things often get worse before they get better. With the environment this is empirically true. When all are truly dirt poor then time horizons are short and people will indeed do pretty much whatever in order to gain that next meal. It’s only as economic wealth increases that we have a surplus available to think about the longer term. And a basic truism is that we do spend some more of that increased wealth on having a nice environment around us.
The technical terms for this is that the environment is a luxury good. This just means that as incomes increase we spend an increasing portion of our income on that thing.
Incomes are increasing in China and India, the portion of income that people will spend upon the surrounding environment is increasing alongside and thus more is indeed being spent, doubly so. Thus the environment is getting cleaner and better as a result of economic development.
No great surprise to it although it always does shock certain environmentalists.