NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 8, 2006

Policies that prevent developing countries from acquiring efficient energy resources and infrastructure limit poor nations' ability to improve the environment.  Research has shown that this holds true across time and cultures. 

For example:

  • In one survey, levels of sulfur dioxide in 42 countries and smoke (soot) in 19 countries declined as per capita gross domestic product (GDP) rose to between $6,700 and $8,450 (2003 dollars) -- other surveys have found similar results for a broader array of air pollutants.
  • A survey of 10 countries found that 11 of 14 water pollutants declined as income rose; for example, nitrates declined after per capita income reached $3,400 and total fecal coliform bacteria declined at $5,000 (2003 dollars).
  • A study of deforestation in 64 developing countries found the rate at which land was cleared declined as incomes reached $7,900 to $9,100 (2001 dollars).
  • A survey of 68 countries found that water withdrawals from rivers and streams for agriculture fell as incomes reached $14,300.

In the United States, environmental quality has significantly improved as a direct consequence of enormous and sustained investments that only a rich nation can afford.  As a result of this wealth and investment, U.S. air quality has improved remarkably.  The Environmental Protection Agency reports that from 1970 to 2004:

  • Carbon monoxide decreased 55.8 percent, while nitrogen oxides fell 30.1 percent.
  • Sulfur dioxide -- the primary component of acid rain -- decreased 51.3 percent, volatile organic compounds decreased 55.5 percent and lead decreased a dramatic 98.6 percent.
  • During the same period, GDP increased 158 percent, miles traveled by cars and trucks rose 143 percent and energy consumption grew 45 percent.

Source: Pete Geddes, "Constructive Thinking about Climate Change, Part II," National Center for Policy Analysis No. 570, September 8, 2006.

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