Economic growth and environmental conservation mix like oil and water, or so the conventional thinking goes. The Economist recently complicated this picture with a special report on biodiversity. The report concludes that middle-income economies take better care of their environments than struggling nations. What’s the tipping point for “middle income”? That’s not easy question for the Economist to answer. It seems that countries that have managed to industrialize, but are not quite wealthy meet the general criteria. The obvious takeaway is that poor and failed states do more than stunt the lives of the people living in them. They are also bad news for biodiversity.
The hope here is that as the global poverty index trends away from economic destitution, the future prospects of a world guided by more enlightened environmental policies brightens. This somewhat solves the Gordian knot of developing economies destroying the globe through growth.
The benefits of economic growth make for an interesting list. The role of commercial agriculture can’t be overstated. More growth generally entails more infrastructure to sustain it, both physical (for instance, better sewage) and governmental (any number of clean up and protective acts of legislation). But the truth is that anyone who’s ever taken a cruise to the Dominican Republic has seen this stark division confirmed with their own eyes. In fact, a Google Earth satellite picture brings the reality home with even more power. The Antillean island of Hispaniola is thick with forest on the Dominican side (GDP per person of $5,736 a year) and denuded on the Haitian side (Haiti’s GDP per person is $771). The first economy is boosted by ecotourism, the second is a cautionary tale of human misery, the saddest kind.
The golden number is still pretty high for the middle income bracket. Once yearly average personal earnings top $18,500 then environmental stewardship kicks into gear in a significant way. This is good news for all us who want prosperity to make the world a better place.