Economic growth is no cure for environmental degradation

I-Hsien Porter

Contrary to the perception of economic activities as polluting and environmentally degrading, Forest Transition Theory (Mansfield et al. 2010) suggests that economic growth may promote environmental recovery. More economically developed countries are more likely to have the financial and technological resources and social motivation to conserve the natural environment. This is supported by figures from the Forestry Commission, which show a 3.5% (95,000 ha) increase in woodland areas in the UK over the past decade.

However, in a recent Geography Compass paper, Mansfield et al. argue that economic development does not cause forest regrowth. Rather, forest regrowth reflects a country’s ability to import forest and agricultural products. The degradation caused by the production of those materials is thus exported elsewhere.

In a recent commentary in the Guardian, Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins gave one example. The UK’s imports animal feed for meat and dairy products. This results in land clearance, particularly in Latin American countries, in order to grow the feed. Forest regrowth in the UK is thus partly reliant on deforestation elsewhere. As Mansfield et al. (2010) argue, environmental recovery and economic growth are themselves due to differences and relationships with other places. This adds additional complexity to how we monitor linkages between economic and environmental change.

Mansfield et al. (2010) ‘Does Economic Growth Cause Environmental Recovery? Geographical Explanations For Forest Regrowth.’ Geography Compass 4 (5): 416-427

Andy Atkins, The Guardian, 12th May 2010, ‘Coalition government: Could blue plus yellow equal green?

Forestry Commission: Forestry Statistics 2009

1 comment

  1. If this is the case of developed countries, then the plight of developing nations would be more acute. However, conserving forests will be a better approach than regrowing.

Leave a Reply or Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: