Tanner Davis wrote an intriguing article in this blog titled, “Profiling Environmentalism.” He proposed that environmentalists generally fall into three categories:
- Light Greens: mildly optimistic folks who encourage individual consumers to take small (but in the aggregate helpful) actions to raise environmental quality.
- Dark Greens: quite pessimistic folks who fear the inevitable environmental destruction as industrialization spreads throughout the global economy. To save the planet, these folks spurn technological advances and seek to abandon modern life.
- Bright Greens: very optimistic folks, as described by Alex Steffen, who exhibit a strong faith in further technological innovations and examples of entrepreneurial zeal to create prosperity with an ever cleaner ecological footprint.
Davis favors these Bright Green folks, as they embrace the pursuit of human well-being through economic development and environmental well-being through smaller ecological footprints. I heartily agree.
In fact, the “Brights” may inherently understand that economic development is necessary for creating ecological innovations in technology. However, whether a virtuous cycle between economic progress and technological innovation will continue enhancing environmental quality depends on at least two important things:
- The desire for environmental quality increases with prosperity (individual income), and
- The institutions in society effectively reward entrepreneurial activity that makes environmental quality affordable for those who seek both prosperity and a “greener” world in which to live.
The idea of an Environmental Kuznet’s Curve (EKC), where higher levels of prosperity in a society initially causes environmental quality to decline, but then eventually causes it to increase again after some level of prosperity is achieved, has been bantered about the economics literature for some time. Many economists don’t believe that the inverted U-shape relationship between prosperity and environmental quality exists, as many different empirical studies have simply not been able to create conclusive results.
However, as Bruce Yandle, et. al. points out in a survey of EKC articles, a nation’s institutions can have significant impact on the rate and quality of technological innovations. This can alter the pathway to prosperity that a developing nation chooses to pursue, which may cause either environmental degradation or improvement. Yet no studies appear to effectively control for this possibility.
If true, then this may be why one developing country exhibits terrible environmental impacts while another country preserves environmental quality, despite their pursuing relatively similar growth paths toward economic prosperity. Perhaps if we could control for institutional differences between these countries, we could identify whether an environmental EKC exists, and whether there are “greener” pathways for all countries to achieve prosperity.
Stay tuned, faithful readers, for “Part 3″…