Wednesday, April 22, 2009

poverty is a pollutant

In which:
I = Environmental Impact
P = Population
A = Affluence, and
T = Technology

The IPAT algorithm was proposed by ecologist Paul Ehrlich and the physicist John P. Holdren in the 1970s as a means of projecting our environmental impact on the planet.

In yesterday's New York Times John Tierney called attention to the counter note that is the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) and the quantitative study it describes that suggests affluence acts as a positive force on environmental impact once it clears a collective threshold within society. More on that here »

As someone who lives along the tidy streets of affluence among my Prius driving neighbors I buy into the Kuznets Curve; but as someone who has traveled in countries where poverty spills into the streets and overflows into murky effluence in the air and water, I'd add this last little bit: When any of us live in poverty on this planet, we are all impacted by the ungainly industrial striving of those who are just entering this game and firing up the engines. The industrialization that powers our planet often (always?) means that *somebody* is living in cramped quarters and taking home low pay. These are conditions which frequently translate into the godawful mess of poor sanitation, miserable water supplies, and inadequate nutrition.

Under these conditions human potential is crippled and the earth also pays the price.

Poverty is a pollutant that cannot be contained. Environmental discrimination against impoverished communities is a well-documented phenomenon; we are foolish if we believe that it's only the folks downriver who will be impacted by the dioxins pumped into the water or by the mercury that despoils the lake.

Every effort made to alleviate poverty puts money in the save the planet piggy bank.

We are all connected.

Happy Earth Day.


patrick said...

The affluent effect on effluence...

Our capitalist model is one in which the socio-environmental impact is most often the last thing considered. Big business has trained us to accept the shortcomings of industrial waste because jobs are provided.

In my mind, big business is the alien in Alien... eating up every human being in its path and surviving, in the words of Mother's Science Officer Ash, "at all cost."

patrick said...

That should have read, "The affluent's effect on effluence..."

mrtn said...

I often stop and ponder how doing one good thing in one department will often make it easier to do good things in other departments. Like how education cures overpopulation and poverty, and curing overpopulation and poverty cures pollution.

I've sometimes heard how AIDS is not really a problem because the African countries are overpopulated anyway. But I always say that curing AIDS cures the tearing apart of societies which in turn makes it easier to get an education, get lifted out of poverty, which in turn makes the overpopulation go down.

Seeing poverty, AIDS epidemics, rampant crime and overpopulation up close, as we did in Southern Africa this winter, is a reminder of this. Societies only get good when all the problems get solved.

Anonymous said...

Should be more like I=P/(A*A*T*T). This would give the influence you are looking for of affluence, where 1 is the threshold between affluence is hurting or helping. I believe technology behaves the same way. (Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to depict "squared" in my comment.)
The capitalist comment above is way off the mark, spend a little time in China and see what communism has done to the ecology to see what I mean.
Certain products are beyond the scope of small business, such as electricity, fuel, aerospace and automotive. And if you think you long for the days before those things were part of society, look into the air quality in London in the 1800's. It was far worse than today. Vilifying big business isn't the answer, establishing global standards and hinging international trade on those standards would be a good start.


mrtn said...

Anonymous: What? In case you didn't know, capitalism and communism are not polar opposites of each other. Both unchecked capitalism and communism wreck the environment.

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