Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Study: ecological debt of rich countries greater than the economic debt of poor ones

A notable paper on justice issues relating to climate appeared in the online proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (link through Scientfic Blogging). Authors Thara Srinivasan and Richard B. Norgaard have undertaken a fairly detailed global accounting of the dollar costs of countries' ecological footprints. They maintain that the ecological damage inflicted by wealthy nations disproportionately hurts poor nations and costs them more than their combined foreign debt:

The study assessed the impacts of agricultural intensification and expansion, deforestation, overfishing, loss of mangrove swamps and forests, ozone depletion and climate change during a 40-year period, from 1961 to 2000. For climate change and ozone depletion, the researchers also gauged possible impacts through 2100.

The news story continues: "At least to some extent, the rich nations have developed at the expense of the poor and, in effect, there is a debt to the poor," said coauthor Richard B. Norgaard, an ecological economist and UC Berkeley professor of energy and resources. "That, perhaps, is one reason that they are poor. You don't see it until you do the kind of accounting that we do here."

The calculation of the ecological footprints of the world's low-, middle- and high-income nations drew upon more than a decade of assessments by environmental economists who have tried to attach monetary figures to environmental damage, plus data from the recent United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and World Bank reports....

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