Category Archives: Ecological Economics

Inequality of Climate Change Impacts

Jonathan Patz et al have recently published a review paper on the Impact of Regional Climate Change on Human Health, in a special feature on regional climate change in the Nov 16th issue of Nature.

The article shows that climate change is already a substantial factor shortening people’s lives. The authors estimate that climate change kills an excess 154 000/yr. This mortality compares with 6 million deaths/yr caused by childhood and maternal malnutrition (the largest proportion of mortality) and with 109 000 deaths/yr from carnciogen exposure (data from Rodgers et al 2004 Distribution of Major Health Risks: Findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study. PLOS Medicine pdf)

Climate change deaths are estimated to occur primarily due to increases in malnutrition (77 000 deaths), diarrhoea (47 000 deaths), and Malaria (27 000 deaths). However, the health impacts of climate change vary greatly across the world. In general the areas, least responsible for changing the climate, are suffering the most deaths from climate change. These deaths are concentrated in poor countries, with about half of these deaths occuring in poor countries in S and SE Asia (specifically Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal), which are home to 1.2 billion people.

The mismatch between the countries most responsible for producing climate change and its impact is shown in the two maps below. The first map shows CO2 emissions/capita in 1998 from WRI data, while the second shows the estimated numbers of deaths per million people that could be attributed to global climate change in the year 2000 (From Patz et al). The mismatch be further exagerated if the cumulative CO2 emissions/capita of nations, a better indicator of national responsibility for climate change, were shown.

national level co2 emissions per capita 1998 Drawing from data from the World Health Organization, the map was also created by Patz's team. Map courtesy the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

[click on a map to see a larger version]

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WRI 2005: Environment key to helping poor

The World Resources Institute has just published its 2005 report The Wealth of the Poor: Managing ecosystems to fight poverty its available online as a pdf file.

WRI describes the report in their press release:

“Traditional assumptions about addressing poverty treat the environment almost as an afterthought,” said Jonathan Lash, president, World Resources Institute (WRI). “This report addresses the stark reality of the poor: three-fourths of them live in rural areas; their environment is all they can depend on. Environmental resources are absolutely essential, rather than incidental, if we are to have any hope of meeting our goals of poverty reduction.”

Village by village: Recovering Fiji\

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Well-Being vs. Wealth (3) – Inclusive Wealth

This is the third of three posts on Well-Being vs. Wealth (see 1 & 2)

Partha Dasgupta recently co-authored a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives with a number of well know ecologists and economists (Arrow et al 2004. Are we consuming to much? 18(3) 147-172)

They try to answer the question of whether current consumption is sustainable. They consider sustainability to mean that inter-temporal (sum of the discounted value of future) social welfare must not decrease over time. They interpret this to mean that this depends on investment from passive income that increases humanity’s productive capacities – which they term genuine wealth.

This requirement that the productive base be maintained does not necessarily entail maintaining any particular set of resources at any given time. Even if some resources such as stocks of minerals are drawn down along a consumption path, the sustainability criterion could nevertheless be satisfied if other capital assets were accumulated sufficiently to offset the resource decline.

Figure comparing yearly growth in per capita GDP and Genuine Wealth during 1970-2001. Error bars show how estimates of wealth change in response different estimates of the ratio between wealth and GDP. I created the figure based on data in Tables 2 & 3 of Arrow et al 2004.

Arrow Inclusive Wealth Table -> Figure

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Well-Being vs. Wealth (2) – Natural Capital

This is the 2nd of three posts on well-being and wealth (see 1 & 3).

While the increase in average human wellbeing over the past century is good, a common worry of ecologists (and ecological economists) is much of this increase is sustainable. The answer to this question depends upon how much these improvements in well-being come from more efficient use of renewable flows versus how much comes from the liquidation of natural capital.

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Well-Being vs. Wealth (1) – Quality of Life

Following up on Partha Dasgupta’s book review here is a bit more on inclusive wealth and wellbeing. This is the first of three posts.

GDP vs. Well-being

Earlier this year in World Development Charles Kenny from the World Bank had a paper Why Are We Worried About Income? Nearly Everything that Matters is Converging (33(1) 1-19).

In the paper Kenny argues

Summary: Convergence of national GDP/capita numbers is a common, but narrow, measure of global success or failure in development. This paper takes a broader range of quality of life variables covering health, education, rights and infrastructure and examines if they are converging across countries. It finds that these measures are converging as a rule and (where we have data) that they have been converging for some time. The paper turns to a discussion of what might be driving convergence in quality of life even as incomes diverge, and what this might mean for the donor community.

The below graph of trends in the human development index shows the type of pattern Charles Kenny discusses in his paper.

trends in human development index

From UNDP 2004. HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2004: Cultural liberty in today’s diverse world (page 134).

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Partha Dasgupta vs. Jared Diamond

Partha Dasgupta, a Cambridge economist, recently wrote a sympathetic yet critical book review of Jared Diamond‘s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive in the London Review of Books. In it Partha Dasgupta critiques the book for its failure to adress tradeoffs and advances the concept of inclusive wealth.

Dasgupta critiques Diamond for not being more explict about tradeoffs among ecosystem services:

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