Environmental Progress vs Economic Growth

Many people try to frame environmental debates as debates between those who care about the environment and those who simply do not. This is not an accurate picture.

The tug of war between enivormentalists and ‘non-environmentalists’ is not a tug of war between those who care for the environment vs those who do not care for the environment. It is between the environment vs economic growth and personal income (be it in the form of more money in your pocket or having a job).

I can not think of one contentious environmental law that doesn’t either harm economic growth or people’s pocket book. For example, if you want to place higher taxes on gas, something that John Kerry was very fond of, that would disproportionately hurt my friends back in Compton than people in San Francisco. Why? Because the poorer you are, the more those extra cents a gallon matter. Or think of emission regulations, like those here in California. If those place a burden on companies, who bears the brunt of those burdens? Not the rich CEOs, but the people at the bottom of the economic ladder. For example, if the company decides to leave California because the restrictions are so high, that hurts primarily those w/ less economic capital, those that have less experience and education to bargain with. They lose that job, and they will have a much harder time getting another job than me and my Engineering friends. Or assuming the company doesn’t leave, say those regulations cost the company some extra money, hurting their bottom dollar, who are the first to go? Not the CEOs, but those at the bottom. In addition to personal income, economic growth is also (severely) restricted. Estimates say that it would cost us as much as $150 billion a year to transfer to a more environmentally regulated system.

This is especially evident when you look at underdeveloped countries. The last thing underdeveloped countries need is environmental regulations. At such low levels of economic growth, the first thing they are concentrating on is economic growth and feeding their children. This is the primary reason that underdeveloped countries are usually left out of environmental treaties.

This is primarily why the most pro-environmental people tend to be wealthy. All them Hollywood liberals, for example, are a lot less concerned with economic growth and bottom dollars than the poor. Or, for example, if you were to take a sample of the Sierra Club members, you would see that they are largely upper-income city dwellers (and tend to be anti-immigration, but that is a story for another day). This is why you see limousine liberals much more pro-environmentalist than say, inner city liberalism. Inner city liberals, being on the lower end of economic growth and income, tend to benefit more from the other side of that tug of war.

Of course, both sides are important. We need to preserve the environment and encourage economic growth and care for the poor. The question is where in the middle do you draw the line? The poorer you are, the more you want the line to the right; the richer you are, the more you want the line to the left. Conservatives/Republicans tend to err on the side of economic growth (and, indirectly, personal income for the poor), while liberals/Democrats tend to err on the side of the environment, both ideally wanting the best of both worlds.

For more on how global warming is viewed by some of us on the right, read here and here. I have blogged on global warming here.

Update: Catallarchy has more.

1 Response to “Environmental Progress vs Economic Growth”


  • And… This doesn’t even address those regulatory items that are usless, or even counterproductive. I don’t particularly like forest fires, but unless they directly threaten human life and property, they are a wholly natural and necessary process in the environment. To try to control them all is foolish and harms, not helps, the ecosystem.

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