I’ve been spending the past few days revising my Environmental Economics course in preparation for fall quarter, so my mind is in an environmental place right now. One of the inspiring things I’ve read this week is this Rocky Mountain News oped from Terry Anderson at PERC. Terry discusses how human ingeneuity and creativity push back the constraints of scarcity, and how environmental quality is a normal good (i.e., as your income goes up you are willing to buy more of it). The meat of his argument:
The relationship between environmental quality and economic success breeds ongoing improvement. Quantitatively, we know not only that higher levels of income promote environmental quality but also that the improvement in quality is better than a 1-to-1 ratio. That is, if income rises 10 percent, the demand for environmental quality rises more than 10 percent.
At lower levels of income, people trade environmental quality for economic growth – preservation of self is the primary goal, not the preservation of nature. But that situation can change quickly. In general, the annual income level at which the demand for environmental quality appears is between $4,000 and $8,000. The demand for water quality comes at even lower levels. Similar relationships exist for the preservation of endangered species and even the relatively obscure concern over carbon emissions.
Moreover, the point at which the demand appears trends downward as new environment-enriching technologies appear. Wealthy countries export the technology to poorer ones, who can simply acquire what they need to improve the quality of, say, water or air, at lower levels of income.
I also particularly like the Wildavsky quote with which he chose to close:
Scarcity has yet to win a race with creativity.
Iain Murray has a post touching on the same anti-Malthusian ideas over at The Commons. Iain is writing in response to Sunday’s New York Times article on the state of the “population bomb” debate. As Iain points out, the past 30 years and the dynamism of creativity and technology have made Paul Erlich ridiculous, yet he continues to sound the apocalyptic Malthusian warning. Iain’s conclusion is witty and on point:
So in order to drive population down, we should move away from the “idiotic” pursuit of liberty and standards of living, which have been proven to drive population down, and instead return to a “saintly” agrarian lifestyle, which drives population up?
The man truly is a genius.