February 08, 2008

Rich nations, poor nations and environmental debts

First I read The debt of nations and the distribution of ecological impacts from human activities, published by Thara Srinivasan and coauthors in the PNAS. It says that rich countries are responsible for anthropogenic climate change and other "ecological damages" that negatively affect poor countries. The study involves some weird accounting and one of its conclusions ("our work suggests how globalization and economic development, particularly that fueled by fossil fuels, may deepen the uneven distribution of ecological burdens") is patently wrong. But the study is interesting and makes a justified call for the elimination of subsidies to energy, agriculture and fisheries.

But then I read this statement by Rich­ard B. Nor­gaard, one of the coauthors of the study:
At least to some extent, the rich nations have developed at the expense of the poor and, in effect, there is a debt to the poor. That, perhaps, is one reason that they are poor. You don't see it until you do the kind of accounting that we do here.
Their "kind of accounting" does not lead to such conclusions, which do not appear in the PNAS article. But the reverse may well be true. Norgaard's belief that rich nations have developed at the expense of the poor may have lead to the weirdness of their "kind of accounting."

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