October 22, 2004

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The WWF (no, not the wrestlers) have released their annual scare report on the state of the world's environment. The inevitable conclusion? The world is using its resources too quickly and it is all unsustainable. You can even measure your personal "ecological footprint" - mine came in at 14.3 global hectares and I got the admonishment that "If everyone lived like you, we would need 7.9 planets". I think Mars is free.

These reports are great for the press: they allow every local paper to tell their readers how greedy Western imperialists like themselves are surely ruining the planet. For example here is Hong Kong's and here is Australia's.

The problem? It's baloney. Firstly of course those us living in developed economies consume more than the average. The millions of Africans and Asians living in poverty use less than the average; that's what makes such averages meaningless. In fact a far more useful comparison would be to look at what environmental impact each country has compared to its per capita GDP. In other words, what kind of return on does each country get from its use of its environmental resources? Secondly aims such as environmental protection, clean air, lower energy consumption and the like are laudable and worthy causes. But if you ask someone whether they are prepared to sacrifice their standard of living to improve these, you will get some very mixed answers. There are costs to protecting the environment just as there are benefits, and these need to be weighed against each other. Some improvements are not worth the money, just like any other investment. Thirdly is the WWF proposing that the world stop trying to alleviate poverty through economic growth? China's ecological footprint is rapidly expanding, but at the same time its population is experiencing a rapid rise in living standards. Fourthly as long ago as Thomas Malthus there have been scares that the world will "run out of resources" based on the fallacy that the supply of resources stays constant while demand constantly rises. The supply of resources reacts to demand as shown through price signals. At the moment, for example, the rapid rise in the oil price will entice greater production and exploration for the stuff. Additionally technology and science are constantly advancing our ability to make the most of our natural resources. Agricultural yields have improved, our ability to extract minerals have improved. Progress brings its own rewards.

Some previous postings on this topic are here on global warming and here on why to be sceptical of green claims.

posted by Simon on 10.22.04 at 10:22 AM in the


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Run for the hills
Excerpt: Simon blogs about the recent WWF report that we are just, well "unsustainable". My ecological footprint, BTW, is 4.8 global hectars, where if everyone lived like me, not only would it be a nice, j...
Weblog: Rajan Rishyakaran
Tracked: October 23, 2004 04:04 PM


I only need 5.1 planets. You are greedy.

posted by: paul on 10.22.04 at 02:47 PM [permalink]

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