Let’s take a look at a few studies that have come out recently and see if we can find a common thread.

  • A West Virginia University researcher found that “coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits,” reports the Charleston Gazette.
  • The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development found that “the coal industry takes $115 million more from Kentucky’s state government annually in services and programs than it contributes in taxes,” reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
  • A recent peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science found that areas of Brazil that cut down their rainforests to sell the wood or plant crops “do see a short-term boost in per-capita income, life expectancy, and literacy rates,” reports The Vine. “But once the trees are gone, those gains disappear, leaving deforested municipalities just as poor as those that preserved their forests.”
  • The International Fund for Animal Welfare found that “in 2008 whale-watching generated $2.1 billion of tourism revenue worldwide … more than double the estimated $one billion generated by the industry in 1998,” reports Agence France-Presse. Said Australia Environment Minister Peter Garrett, “Whales are worth much more alive than dead.”
  • The University of Michigan found that “the Detroit Three automakers can become more profitable and slow the growth of their Japanese rivals if they simply meet tougher new government-mandated fuel economy standards,” reports the Detroit Free Press.

These are disparate areas of study and disparate conclusions. One thing they all have in common: an environment-degrading practice often defended as necessary to economic health is revealed, upon closer inspection, to be uneconomic. I wonder how many other allegedly economic environment-degrading practices would also be revealed uneconomic if examined with a fresh eye?

It’s almost like the economy is embedded in an environment, and degrading the latter ultimately degrades the former.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!