How do per capita income and per capita pollution relate?
Tim Haab over at Environmental Economics writes about the relationship between environmental degradation and development. Haab mentions, of course, the Environmental Kuznet’s Curve (EKC). The Wikipedia article is a little on the sparse side, and while I suppose I could do something about that, for now I’ll just point to this summary.
In short, the EKC says that as per capita income rises, per capita pollution travels along a bell curve: first it goes up, but as people gain the disposable income necessary to value such things as clean air and water, it peaks and heads down. The idea has been around for a while, in blogosphere years anyway. It is not free of empirical shortcomings, and there’s much debate about its legitimacy, as Haab mentions.
The EKC raises some normative questions: If people are just barely able to survive, is it reasonable to expect them to care about environmental degradation? In addition, is it actually necessary for developing nations to go through the environmentally destructive phase of development in order to reach the “other side of the curve”?
The relationship between development and environmental health that the EKC charts is seen by many politicians as a choice — either the economy or the environment, as this comment points out. The Apollo Alliance and others have made it their focus to shift the dialogue away from such a dichotomy.