09 May 2008

Poverty Is Good for the Environment

At least that's what the asshats at the National Geographic Society seem to think.

The National Geographic Society surveyed 1000 consumers in each of 14 countries about their houses, use of energy, transportation, and purchases of food and other goods. The most environmentally sound of the 14? Brazil, India, and China. If that doesn't sound warning bells, you haven't been paying much attention. But here's how they scored so well, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.
"Brazil ranked high, for example, because its average home is small, has no heating or air-conditioning, and tends to use on-demand water heaters."
OK, on-demand hot water heaters are ok. I plan to install one myself. But they score high because they don't have heating and air-conditioning?! No air-conditioning in Brazil? The Equator runs through Brazil! The average summer high in Rio de Janeiro is in the mid 80s (Fahrenheit)--if the sun is shining on your house, that can boost your indoor temperature into the high 90s. Does National Geographic think Brazialians have made the choice to go without AC?

And Brazil also scores high because they have small houses. How small? 83% of Brazilian houses have 3 rooms or less. I have my doubts that's what most Brazialins see as their ideal.

And how did China score so high?
China scored well on transportation for low use of cars and more walking or biking than most countries. It had negative ranking for use of coal in home heating.
Ah, those wise Chinese consumers, thoughtfully forgoing the use of cars and choosing to walk or ride bikes.

This is a tremendously stupid report, because all it really does is give fodder to anti-environmentalists, by explicitly equating poverty with environmental sustainability. Nobody wants to be impoverished, so if people think diminishing our standard of living is what's necessary to save the environment, only the handful of fanatical true-believers will decide it's worthwhile to care about the environment.

The truth is, we can't destroy the Earth. We can wipe out any number of species, and in the long run the Earth will repopulate with animal life. Environmentalism ultimately is about the sustainability of human life on Earth, and the great majority of humans aren't going to accept a dramatic decrease in their living standards in the present to prevent a potential calamity in the future--there's a crucial discount factor involved in such decisions that is often ignored. As the National Geographic Society itself notes in its report:
Findings show that consumers in countries with emerging economies aspire to higher material standards of living and believe people in all countries should have the same living standards as those in the wealthiest countries.
No shit. But apparently the National Geographic Society thinks we'd all be better off if they remain impoverished.

I wonder how the Board Members of the National Geographic Society rank?

And, in my never ending pursuit of media bashing, here's the best snippet from the Houston Chronicle article:
"The goal was not to rank countries, but to assess consumer behavior in different locations, Garcia stressed.

Brazil ranked high, for example...."
I guess that's what happens when you're writing to a deadline.

1 comment:

James K said...

Apparently these fools need to be introduced tot he Environmental Kuznets curve. Poverty is good for the environment, but so is wealth. Its the moderate states are problematic.

The developing countries will never accept staying where they are, and nor should they. That's why a carbon trading system or tax won't work, at least not yet. We need to come up with technological fixes that make the carbon vs growth trade-off easy to make. Only tehn is this going to work.