A Review of Wilfred Beckerman’s Through Green–Coloured Glasses
Environmentalism Reconsidered by Marina Tanasé
Environmental are still hot subject even after ample discussion over the last few decades. One of the reasons for paying attention to this topic is that environmental issues affect our lives. Environmental awareness and concerns have been increased by various NGOs and activists, but questions remain about what environmental problems should take priority, and what social, political, and economic responses are warranted.
Wilfred Beckerman’s book argues that economic growth is a necessary condition for solving environmental problems.
The author tries to show that the rise in incomes leads to a shift in people’s priorities: from the satisfaction of basic needs to concern with their environment. He is right. Once people are wealthier they can dedicate more time and effort to protecting the environment instead of focused on basic needs such as food and clean water.
The author originally believed the pessimistic view that environmental quality was declining and pollution increasing around the world. But after research, he discovered pollution levels in Great Britain were falling. With further research Beckerman discovered that in other developed countries pollution levels for air, land, and water was improving as well. He became an optimist rather than pessimist about environmental conditions in market economies.
There is a group of activists with whom Beckerman disagrees. These people believe that the more advanced a technology is in the Western countries, the more harm these technologies can cause to the environment.
I agree with the disagreement of Wilfred Beckerman. Let’s take for example, the case of the Third World countries (he talks about Thailand) which are facing problems such as water supply and sanitation.
It is logical that, first and foremost, these countries should try to solve their basic needs. Only after they do this, can they be preoccupied by the more delicate environmental issues. What Beckerman says is simply that when people get richer their priorities will change.
The author says that the countries from the former Soviet Union had more problems with the environment, because the citizen’s welfare was of no importance to the Soviet command economy. Let’s take for example Romania’s case which had been under Soviet rule for 50 years.
Communism definitely affected people’s mentality. The government wasn’t preoccupied of the citizen’s welfare, so the old generation gave any importance to the environment problem. If they had a stable job they were satisfied. The other problems didn’t exist for them.
Now, some of these mentalities have changed and the government is trying to take some steps in order to reduce pollution.
Wilfred Beckerman agrees with Terry L. Anderson in noting that media are overreacting to environment problems. An example of this behaviour would be the topic of global warming.
The big question is whether economic growth and the citizen’s environmental welfare conflict. Some claim economic growth leads to a decline in health due to pollution they believe is caused by economic growth.
In contrast, Beckerman is trying to show just the opposite. He demonstrates that health indices have improved, so economic growth was not the cause for pollution.
But my question is: How can the theory of economic growth lead to two opposite opinions: at one pole it brings about more pollution which means bad health and at the other pole it brings more prosperity, so this means more care for delicate environmental problems.
[The data suggest that advancing technologies reduce pollution by improving the efficiency of machinery. Car engines become lighter, more fuel-efficient, and less pollution. Across industries in open economies, each generation of machines tends to be lighter, faster, safer, and cleaner. Old factories are often shipped overseas and set up in developing countries, but even there they replace less productive, less safe, and more polluting equipment. See, for example Robert Bryce’s new book Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong— Editor’s note.]
Another big problem pointed out by the author is the conflict between those who argue that the decline of the population is a good idea for solving some of the environmental problems and those who are assert that decrease in the rate of birth means a violation of people’s freedom.
I ask myself which of these groups mentioned above is right? Can population decline really help to improve the environment?