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When it comes to the environment, many green activists see economic growth as a problem, and propose global economic austerity as the solution to environmental degradation. But this view is wrong, argues Berkeley Professor Emeritus of Energy and Resource Studies Jack Hollander in his book, The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, not Affluence, is the Environment’s Number One Enemy. Hollander, explicitly rejecting the “growth-is-the-root-of-all-evil” mindset, states from the outset that affluence is not only not the problem, it can help solve environmental problems. “In my judgment…affluence does not inevitably foster environmental degradation,” he writes.
“Rather, affluence fosters environmentalism. As people become more affluent, most become increasingly sensitive to the health and beauty of their environment. Of course, affluence alone does not guarantee a better environment…but affluence is a key ingredient for ensuring a livable and sustainable environment for the future.”
Hollander’s argument, which he builds up in the following 13 chapters, boils down to this:
• Over many centuries, the Western world made a transition from widespread poverty to widespread affluence.
• Reasons for this include technological advances, evolution of political institutions, and the spread of the rule of law
• This transition has allowed affluent Western populations to value the environment much more than people living in poorer countries.
• If presently poor countries can also make this transition, then the global environment will be much better off.
Put another way, as more people living achieve a Western middle-class level of prosperity, the more they will adopt Western-style attitudes towards the environment.