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Economic Development vs the Environment Summary: Is the economic development of developing countries more important than protecting the environment? Point: Taking care of millions of people who are starving is more important than saving natural resources, most of which are renewable anyway. We cannot expect developing nations to share the green concerns of developed countries when they are faced with dire poverty and a constant battle for survival. Counter-point: We have already wasted and destroyed vast amounts of natural resources, and in so doing have put earth at risk. We must preserve the earth for our children and grandchildren. In any case, poverty and environmental damage are often linked. Destroying the rainforest gives native peoples nowhere to go except urban slums. Polluted water can lead to crop failures. Climate change will turn fertile fields into desert and flood coastal areas where hundreds of millions live. Developing countries have to choose sustainable development if they want a future for their people. Point: The industrialised world’s emphasis on green issues holds back developing countries. Because this is seen as interference in their affairs, it also contributes to a greater divide between the First and Third worlds. Many also believe it is a deliberate attempt to stop possible economic competitors. After all, the USA and EU already put high tariffs (import taxes) on products made cheaply in developing countries (e.g. canned tomatoes, shoes) which could be sold in America or Europe. By limiting the development of profitable but polluting industries like steel or oil refineries we are forcing nations to remain economically backward. Counter-point: No one wants to stop economic progress that could give millions better lives. But we must insist on sustainable development that combines environmental care, social justice and economic growth. Earth cannot support unrestricted growth. Companies in developed countries already have higher costs of production because of rules to protect the environment. It is unfair if they then see their prices undercut by goods produced cheaply in developing countries at the cost of great pollution. Point: Economic development is vital for meeting the basic needs of the growing populations of developing countries. If we do not allow them to industrialise, these nations will have to bring in measures to limit population growth just to preserve vital resources such as water. Counter-point: Unchecked population growth has a negative impact on any nation, as well as on the whole planet. Both the poverty and the environmental problems of subSaharan Africa are largely the result of rapid population growth putting pressure on limited resources. At the same time China has become wealthy while following a “onechild” per couple policy. Limiting population growth will result in a higher standard of living and will preserve the environment. Point: Obviously the world would be better if all nations stuck to strict environmental rules. The reality is that for many nations such rules are not in their interests. For example, closing China’s huge Capital Iron and Steelworks, a major source of pollution, would cost 40 000 jobs. The equal application of strict environmental policies would create huge barriers to economic progress, at a risk to political stability. Counter-point: Nations are losing more from pollution than they are gaining from industrialisation. China is a perfect example. Twenty years of uncontrolled economic development have created serious, chronic air and water pollution. This has increased health problems and resulted in annual losses to farmers of crops worth billions of dollars. So uncontrolled growth is not only bad for the environment, it is also makes no economic sense. Point: Rapid industrialisation does not have to put more pressure on the environment. Scientific advances have made industries much less polluting. And developing countries can learn from the environmental mistakes of the developed world’s industrial revolution, and from more recent disasters in communist countries such as China and the USSR. For example, efficient new steelworks use much less water, raw materials and power, while producing much less pollution than traditional factories. And nuclear generating plants can provide more energy than coal while contributing far less to global warming. We are also exploring alternative, renewable types of energy such as solar, wind and hydropower. Counter-point: Counter-point: Scientific progress has made people too confident in their abilities to control their environment. In just half a century the world’s nuclear industry has had at least three serious accidents: Windscale (UK, 1957), Three Mile Island (USA, 1979), and Chernobyl (USSR, 1986). In addition, the nuclear power industry still cannot store its waste safely. Hydro-power sounds great but damming rivers is itself damaging to the environment. It also forces huge numbers of people off their land – as in China’s 3 Gorges project. Point: It is hypocritical (two-faced and unfair) for rich developed countries to demand that poorer nations make conservation their priority. After all, they became rich in the first place by destroying their environment in the industrial revolution. Now that they have cut down their own trees, polluted their water sources and poured billions of tons of carbon into the air, they are in no position to tell others to behave differently. In any case, as countries become richer they become more concerned about the environment, and can afford to do something about it. For developing countries conservation can therefore wait until they are richer. Counter-point: Looking after our fragile world has to be a partnership. Climate change will affect the whole planet, not just the developed world. In fact it is likely to have particularly terrible effects on developing countries as sea levels rise, deserts advance, and natural disasters become more common. It is no use Europe trying to cut its emissions into the atmosphere if unchecked growth in China and India leads to much greater overall pollution. Instead, developed countries need to transfer greener technologies to the developing world, paying for environmental protection and making sustainability a condition for aid. Point: The “Green Revolution” has doubled the size of grain harvests. Thus, cutting down more forests to provide more space for crops is no longer necessary. We now have the knowledge to feed the world’s increasing population without harming the environment. Genetically modified crops can also benefit the developing world by requiring much less water, fertiliser or pesticide use while giving better yields. This is another example of economic development leading to environmental benefits. Counter-point: The Green Revolution is threatening the biodiversity of the Third World by replacing native seeds with hybrids. We do not know what the long-term environmental or economic consequences will be. We do know that in the short run, such hybrid crops can cause environmental problems by crowding out native plants and the wildlife which relies on them. The farmer growing hybrid crops must buy costly new seed every year because it cannot be saved to plant the following year’s crops. Farmers using hybrid seeds in what was the richest part of India went bankrupt. As a result, fertile lands lay idle and unploughed, resulting in droughts and desertification. From the International Debate Education Association - http://www.idebate.org/ Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren: Most Economists Predict a Bright Future June 20, 2007 Will our children and grandchildren live in a better world, or will economic and social conditions decline? Every culture has worried over this question—often for good reason. One would think that modern man, living amid ever-rising material comforts and a security unimagined by his ancestors, would have moved beyond this fear. But despite our growing prosperity there is a renewed fear in many quarters that we are living on borrowed time, because we’re running out of resources and endangering our very environment. Once, economists would have been counted among the pessimists. The moniker “the dismal science” surely stuck for such a long time because so many economists followed the lead of Thomas Malthus, who predicted that population growth in the face of resource constraints would inevitably squelch hopes for a broad-based rise in standards of living. Today, however, there are strong indications that the fog of gloom among economists has evaporated. The evidence of more than two centuries of burgeoning economic growth worldwide is hard to refute, and economists have revised their expectations and models in this light. Economic histories now bear titles like Growth Triumphant; a history of twentieth-century global investment is titled Triumph of the Optimists; and introductory textbooks work through the New Growth Theory, forecasting unchecked economic growth and likening the economy to a perpetual motion machine. Further evidence that it’s time to rename economics the “cheerful science” comes from a recent survey I conducted of professional economists. I found that by wide margin economists are exceptionally optimistic about the future of the American economy: most predict that the robust economic growth of our recent history will continue into the foreseeable future. My respondents’ median prediction is that per capita income in the United States will grow at a rate slightly less than the 2 percent inflation-adjusted growth rate of the past sixty years. Almost half forecast a growth rate equal to or greater than 2 percent. Only one economist in my poll predicts economic decline for our grandchildren. If my respondents are correct and economic growth continues at this pace, incomes will rise more than three-fold in the next sixty years—average incomes would equal approximately $147,000 in today’s dollars. If the growth rate does dip slightly, say to 1.8 percent per annum, incomes would almost triple, rising to only $131,000. These predictions are eye-popping. In addition, economists believe that the U.S. will continue to be one of the world’s richest countries sixty years from now. Twenty-eight percent predict that the U.S. will have the highest per capita income in the world six decades from now. The largest group, 71 percent, expects the U.S. to be “not the highest, but in the top tier.” Again, only a single pessimist predicts that the U.S. will fall from the top tier. Finally, economists expect that within the next couple of generations many (perhaps most) countries and regions that are currently poor and economically underdeveloped will achieve standards of living equaling or surpassing today’s level in the richest countries. My survey asked: “Sixty years from now what countries or regions (if any) will have joined the group of developed nations with an income per capita approximately equaling or surpassing today’s level in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia and Western Europe?” Of those who answered the question, 62 percent put China on the list, twothirds mentioned other places in East Asia, one-third mentioned India, and 40 percent selected all or parts of Latin America—with Chile mentioned most frequently, followed by Brazil and Mexico. Unfortunately, the vast majority also believe that deep poverty will persist in Sub-Saharan Africa for generations to come. The bottom line is that most economists are very optimistic about the economic future of almost all the world. They find pessimism implausible because the forces that have driven past growth—the accelerating pace of technological innovation and the strong incentives embedded in the capitalist system that steer us around potential roadblocks— aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon. Moreover, the consensus among economists is that climate change has very little potential to slow down our economic growth machine. Rather, economists identify the major challenges facing the American economy over the next sixty years as coping with the effects of an aging population and flaws in the Social Security system, exploding health care and health insurance costs, and our inefficient educational system. Perhaps it’s time for us to stop worrying about a future of deprivation and finally learn how to handle unrelenting prosperity. From the The Independent Institute – www.independent.org.