Berkeley The environmental damage caused by rich nations disproportionately impacts poor nations and costs them more than their combined foreign debt, according to a first-ever global accounting of the dollar costs of countries' ecological footprints.
The study, led by former University of California, Berkeley, research fellow Thara Srinivasan, 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. In the case of climate change and ozone depletion, the researchers also estimated the impacts that may be felt through the end of this century.
"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.
Because of the monumental nature of such an accounting, the UC Berkeley researchers limited their study to six areas of human activity. Impacts of activities that are difficult to assess, such as loss of habitat and biodiversity and the effects of industrial pollution, were ignored. Because of this, the researchers said that the estimated financial costs in the report are a minimum.
"We think the measured impact is conservative. And given that it's conservative, the numbers are very striking," said Srinivasan, who is now at the Pacific Ec
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley