Tag: "environmental benefit"

Brazil’s Environmental Policy: A Model for the United States?

In a 2009 study conducted by the Public Library of Science on the evaluation of the relative environmental impact of countries, Brazil ranked 1st on a scale measuring absolute composite environmental rank. The study’s methodology used a lower rank to correlate with a higher negative impact. Thus, Brazil had the highest overall negative impact on its environment of any country. According to this study:

  • National Forest Lost Rank: 1st
  • Natural Habitat Conversion Rank: 3rd
  • Marine Captures Rank: 30th
  • Fertilizer Use Rank: 3rd
  • Water Pollution Rank: 8th
  • Threatened Species Rank: 4th
  • Carbon Emissions Rank: 4th
  • Absolute Composite Environmental Rank = 4.5 (1st)

While these numbers appear bleak for the country that just hosted the World Cup and the Olympics in two years, Brazil, according to the Economist, has become the world leader in reducing environmental degradation in recent years.

In the 1990s, Brazil felled rainforest the size of Belgium annually. However, in the past decade, Brazil has reduced deforestation by nearly 70 percent in the Amazonian jungle. If deforestation had continued at its 2005 rate of 19,500 km2 per year, an extra 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide would have been emitted. Thus, Brazil could also be viewed as a pioneer for climate change mitigation. Unlike other countries, such as Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil has been able to slow and stop these clearances. The reason for its success has been a result of incremental efforts in three stages.

  • Stage 1 (mid-1990s – 2004): The Brazilian government implemented its first bans and restrictions, one of which stated that on every farm in the Amazon, 80 percent of the land had to be set aside as a forest reserve. However, this was the worst period of deforestation because the share was so high that farmers could not comply with the code.
  • Stage 2 (2004 – 2009): The government, making deforestation a priority under president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, banned farming in nearly half of the Amazon rainforest, as opposed to the original ban on only one-sixth of the area. Additionally, buyers of Brazil’s soybeans declared they would not purchase crops on land cleared after July 2006, discouraging deforestation.
  • Stage 3 (2009 – present): The government banned farmers in the 36 counties with the worst deforestation rates from getting cheap credit until rates fell. Furthermore, a proper land registry, which required that farmers report their properties’ boundaries, was created.


Clearly, as the graph above reveals, Brazil has had great success over the last decade at protecting its forests and preventing deforestation. More amazing, even with these regulations to improve environmental degradation, Brazil has had a dramatic increase in food output. Thus, Brazil is proof that a country can achieve environmental and economic gains simultaneously. Although these government regulations would not likely succeed in the United States, perhaps Brazil serves as a model for the U.S. for its priority on environmental protection.

Although forest composes less percent area of the U.S. than it does in Brazil, protecting the infrastructure, creating more efficient energy resources, and improving resource management in the U.S. would serve useful for the economy and the environment. Additionally, as Brazil is proof, improving the environment does not necessarily mean hindering the economy. While regulating carbon emissions in the U.S. will likely cause more economic turmoil, using the bright green framework as the basis for future environmental policy may have success from both the economic and environment perspectives.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Green Growth: Developed vs. Developing Nations

Difference between Developed and Developing

Before getting into the policy portion of this post, a distinction needs to be made between developing and developed nations. While they clearly have different connotations, the definitions are quite fluid and often prompt controversy.

Nevertheless, Princeton University defines a “developed” nation as one that has a high level of development according to certain criteria. Often, economic criteria have dominated the discussion, but recently the Human Development Index (HDI), which combines an economic measure with other measures, such as life expectancy and education, has become a more common use. Those with a very high HDI are considered “developed.”

Contrarily, a “developing” country is one in which the nation has a low level of material well-being or lower levels of HDI.

As no universal definition of either “developed” or “developing” is accepted, the interpretation varies per study. However, for the purposes of this post, the two definitions above, along with accepted identities of nations, will be used to clarify the boundary.

Green growth and Developing countries

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), green growth, a combination of economic policy and sustainable development, attempts to reduce poverty by bolstering economic growth and to address resource scarcity and climate change by improving environmental management. However, while green technology is generally more affordable by developed countries with robust economies, investment is particularly important for developing countries.

  1. The potential impacts, both economic and social, of environmental degradation are unique for developing countries, as they are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and as they tend to be more dependent on the exploitation of natural resources for economic growth than developed nations. Additionally, developing nations face risks from premature deaths due to pollution, poor water quality, and diseases at rates higher than developed nations.
  2. Although developing nations contribute smaller shares of global greenhouse gas emissions than developed nations, they will increase emissions if they follow conventional economic growth patterns.

However, as a report from Duke’s Law School points out, while developing nations have growing demands for climate-friendly processes and technologies, they often face many barriers because of trade policies and intellectual property regulations. Proposed by the study, one solution to the problem would be the establishment of a “global exchange forum in which transnational green technology holders, green venture capitalists, and developing country entrepreneurs could broker for efficient allocation of investment, resources, and technologies.”

Some developing nations have already taken steps to implement green growth policies. Viewed as successful, these regulations and processes are being initiated by other developing nations.

  • Costa Rica: discourages deforestation by paying forest owners through taxes on fuel and water for the environmental services that the forest produces, such as watershed and biodiversity protection.
  • Nepal: recognizes community forest user groups as autonomous bodies for managing and using community forests, generating employment and income from forest protection, tree felling, log extraction, and non-timber forest products and restoring forest resources.
  • Bangladesh: WasteConcern, an enterprise founded in Bangladesh, turns roadside organic waste into agricultural compost, saving millions in foreign currency by avoiding the import of chemical fertilizer. Annually, 124,400 tons of waste is processed, and 986 direct jobs are created.

By helping developing nations gain access to green growth and technology, a core objective of the “bright green” framework mentioned in Profiling Environmentalism, they will be able to simultaneously grow their economies and tackle environmental degradation. Economic growth and environmental sustainability are considered the twin objectives of the bright green framework, objectives that should be embraced by every nation, particularly those with a “developing” status.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Compact Mixed Use Developments Do Not Help the Environment

Compact mixed-use developments are the latest development fad. While such developments promise environmental benefits, the reality is often far different. Two of the largest mixed-use developments in the United States have had limited environmental benefits.

Proponents often cite the fact that mixed-use development residents drive less as an environmental benefit. However, since most car emissions (90-95%) come from cold starts and occur in the first 15 minutes of a trip, the number of miles driven is much less important then the act of driving itself. Reducing the distance driven has a very minimal effect on pollution.

One major redevelopment project is Atlantic Station in Atlanta, GA. Atlantic Station is a new mixed-use development built on an abandoned, polluted steel mill. Cleaning up the steel mill itself, which was a superfund site, clearly had major benefits. But the day-to-day benefits of the mixed-use project are less clear. Despite being located just north of the transit-friendly Midtown area of Atlanta the project was not designed to be transit accessible. All residences come with underground parking and most residents commute to work by car. A bus connecting the development with the MARTA heavy-rail system was discontinued because of lack of use.

Most of the residents of the project moved from other mostly suburban areas of Atlanta but since much of Atlanta’s employment is north of the development, residents may not be driving any less than when they lived in the suburbs. The commute to the Perimeter North Area of Atlanta, which has the largest concentration of jobs in the Southeast U.S., is 13 miles from Atlantic Station. Yet it is only 11 miles from the suburb of Alpharetta, 8 miles from Roswell and 5 miles from Brookhaven. Yet many of these suburban residents who moved to Atlantic Station commute to the Perimeter for employment. And since they cannot reach transit, they commute by car. As a result, no more folks are using transit, and some of the Atlantic Station residents are commuting longer distances than when they lived in the suburbs.

The city of Hayward in the San Francisco Bay area has replaced its affordable housing with a new transit-oriented mixed-use development near its Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station. The principle of a transit-oriented development is that most commuters will walk to work or use transit which reduces transportation emissions. However, most of the residences are only affordable to those earning six figure salaries, while most of the employment is in the low-wage service sector. As a result, most of the residents and the workers must commute to their jobs. While approximately 30% use transit, the remaining 70% commute by car. This 30% is still a higher share than the 10% who chose transit when they lived in the suburbs. Perhaps 30% of the retail workers at the development commute by transit, a share not much higher than the San Francisco average.

However, the situation is reversed for the low-income residents. Displaced to the suburbs because their homes were demolished or because their taxes increased so much that they could no longer afford to live in their homes, they now rely on transit which is very limited in the suburbs. When they lived in Hayward, 70% of them rode transit and 30% of them drove. Now displaced throughout the suburbs, only about 10% of them can reach their jobs by transit; 80% now drive and 10% lost their jobs because they could not reach them by transit and could not afford to buy a car. As a result the actual number of people using transit at the Hayward site has actually decreased. More folks are driving, producing more emissions.

There may be lifestyle benefits from building mixed-use developments, but a significant reduction in emissions is not one of those benefits.

Profiling Environmentalism (Part 3)

In “Profiling Environmentalism,” Tanner Davis wrote in this blog that we should all support environmentalists that he labeled the Bright Greens: optimistic folks who exhibit a strong faith that technological innovations and entrepreneurship will help create prosperity with an ever cleaner ecological footprint.

In “Profiling Environmentalism 2,” I followed that these “Brights” understand how economic development is necessary for creating ecological innovations in technology. However, any virtuous cycles between economic progress and ecological innovations requires: 1) that demand for environmental quality increases with prosperity, and 2) that institutions in society must reward entrepreneurial activity that makes environmental quality effective and affordable.

I also noted that Bruce Yandle, et. al. reviewed the sizable literature relating a nation’s prosperity to its environmental quality. They state that while such a link has yet to be proven empirically, studies failed to control for how a nation’s political and economic institutions may affect the development of innovations that promote “green” productivity.

Could enviro-entrepreneurship and innovation be either encouraged or discouraged by a nation’s economic institutions? Would protecting private property rights, upholding the rule of law, and maintaining low levels of government intrusion by excessive regulations and taxation influence the pathway that a nation chooses to pursue its prosperity?

Fortunately, measures of these institutions are collected over 150 countries in the world, and then are aggregated into a country-specific metric called the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) index. The EFW index, created by Jim Gwartney and Bob Lawson, is published annually by the Fraser Institute.

The freest countries in 2014 include Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, and Switzerland. While Canada is #8 and Australia is #10, the U.S. is only #17. The least economically free countries include Venezuela, Myanmar, Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.

When a nation’s economy works to feed, clothe, shelter and educate its citizens, this economic activity will impact the environment through air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and depletion of its supplies of natural resources. We can track these measures for each country using the World Bank’s “World Development Indicators” dataset. But the question is: what economic institutions promote the “greenest” pursuit of prosperity and leave the smallest ecological footprint possible?

Figure 1 and Figure 2 represent data from all the nations for which EFW index values and the ecological variables were available. These countries are sorted into quartiles according to their EFW index value, from the least free to the freest countries. Clearly, the level of air and water pollution that is emitted per dollar of GDP produced is LOWER in those nations that pursue free enterprise prosperity with greater economic freedoms.



Likewise, Figure 3 shows that economically freer countries emit FEWER greenhouse gasses per dollar of GDP produced. Further, energy consumed by the vast majority of countries is produced by burning non-renewable resources like coal, natural gas and oil. This means those countries with a lower consumption rate per dollar GDP are practicing a more sustainable growth path towards prosperity. Figure 4 shows that the energy consumed to make a dollar of GDP is LOWER in nations with more economic freedom.

CO2 emitted

energy use

The smallest ecological impact per dollar of economic activity does not appear to arise from the planned economies of socialism or communism. Greater environmental quality and sustainable growth paths to prosperity appear to be more prevalent in countries where the invisible hand is free to “guide” individuals to produce and exchange their products and services in a decentralized market system — established and preserved with greater economic freedoms.

Let’s all be “Bright” about creating our future.

Profiling Environmentalism (Part 2)

Tanner Davis wrote an intriguing article in this blog titled, “Profiling Environmentalism.” He proposed that environmentalists generally fall into three categories:

  • Light Greens: mildly optimistic folks who encourage individual consumers to take small (but in the aggregate helpful) actions to raise environmental quality.
  • Dark Greens: quite pessimistic folks who fear the inevitable environmental destruction as industrialization spreads throughout the global economy. To save the planet, these folks spurn technological advances and seek to abandon modern life.
  • Bright Greens: very optimistic folks, as described by Alex Steffen, who exhibit a strong faith in further technological innovations and examples of entrepreneurial zeal to create prosperity with an ever cleaner ecological footprint.

Davis favors these Bright Green folks, as they embrace the pursuit of human well-being through economic development and environmental well-being through smaller ecological footprints. I heartily agree.

In fact, the “Brights” may inherently understand that economic development is necessary for creating ecological innovations in technology. However, whether a virtuous cycle between economic progress and technological innovation will continue enhancing environmental quality depends on at least two important things:

  • The desire for environmental quality increases with prosperity (individual income), and
  • The institutions in society effectively reward entrepreneurial activity that makes environmental quality affordable for those who seek both prosperity and a “greener” world in which to live.

The idea of an Environmental Kuznet’s Curve (EKC), where higher levels of prosperity in a society initially causes environmental quality to decline, but then eventually causes it to increase again after some level of prosperity is achieved, has been bantered about the economics literature for some time. Many economists don’t believe that the inverted U-shape relationship between prosperity and environmental quality exists, as many different empirical studies have simply not been able to create conclusive results.

However, as Bruce Yandle, et. al. points out in a survey of EKC articles, a nation’s institutions can have significant impact on the rate and quality of technological innovations. This can alter the pathway to prosperity that a developing nation chooses to pursue, which may cause either environmental degradation or improvement. Yet no studies appear to effectively control for this possibility.

If true, then this may be why one developing country exhibits terrible environmental impacts while another country preserves environmental quality, despite their pursuing relatively similar growth paths toward economic prosperity. Perhaps if we could control for institutional differences between these countries, we could identify whether an environmental EKC exists, and whether there are “greener” pathways for all countries to achieve prosperity.

Stay tuned, faithful readers, for “Part 3″…

Profiling Environmentalism

Since 97% of climate scientists believe that global warming results from human activity, targeting the human causes of environmental degradation, such as pollution, CO2 emissions, resource depletion, etc. will be very effective at curbing the threats of global warming and climate change. In approaching an issue of the environment, a policymaker must think about the three main schools of thought on the spectrum of environmentalism: light, dark, and bright green. These three types of environmentalism provide the framework under which policy action will occur.

Light Green

Light green environmentalism targets consumer behavior, encouraging individuals to make incremental changes in their daily lives to reduce harm to the environment. Examples include reusing your own bags when shopping for groceries, recycling, turning the faucet off when brushing teeth, buying LED certified electronics, etc. This framework has clearly been the foundation for the sustainability movement; however, the lack of urgency for change has instilled fatigue and indifference.

Dark Green

Of the three perspectives, dark green environmentalism has the most pessimistic view of modern society, believing that industrialization, manufacturing, and development have solely negative consequences for the environment. Unlike light greens, this shade targets the community level, emphasizing the need to become self-sufficient, free from technological advancement. However, in a world where modernization and industrialization seem to be the norm, rejecting this trend appears economically regressive, since urbanization/industrialization encourages economic growth.

Bright Green

This term is the most recent of the three, coined in 2003 by Alex Steffen. Unlike light and dark, bright greens emphasize the use of technology to solve the environmental issues. As Steffen states in a more recent post, this perspective calls for “innovation, design, urban revitalization, and entrepreneurial zeal.” Bright greens believe in using green technology that will not harm the environment but will continue the trend of modernization to serve common interests. Clearly, bright green environmentalism combines the best of both worlds — environmentalism and economic development via modernization.

Which framework best serves the interests of the U.S.?

After examining these three frameworks, the United States should operate with the bright green mindset, as it provides not only ecological but economic benefits. Since bright green environmentalism embraces technological innovation, this framework encourages more development in order to solve the environment problem. As such, this framework achieves common goals in modern U.S. society: reducing environmental degradation and maximizing economic production. Even more, embracing this ideology could bring the U.S. out of its more recent economic slump. While bright green environmentalism serves the most effective purpose in modern society, which one do you think is the most effective? Which perspective do you most align with?

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Electric Car Subsidies Distort Market, Without Reducing Pollution

Many states still rely on coal-burning power plants to generate over half of their electricity; electric cars are actually responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions per mile driven than hybrid cars, and are no better for the environment than comparable traditional vehicles. The hybrid Toyota Prius produces less carbon dioxide than the plug-in Nissan Leaf. The highly subsidized Chevrolet Volt in electric mode produces just as much carbon dioxide as it does when it operates in gas mode.

Lithium, the material in electric car batteries, can be resource intensive to mine. Since supplies of Lithium are limited, prices are expected to increase. Further lithium batteries need Copper and Aluminum to work correctly. Mining these elements requires significant chemicals, energy, and water.

Meanwhile conventional vehicles are becoming more fuel-efficient. For the 2013 model year, new cars averaged 23.5 miles per gallon. Cars averaged only 16.0 miles per gallon in 1980. With higher gasoline prices, manufacturers are scrambling to create even more fuel vehicles in the future.

Further, consumers are hardly demanding electric cars. Despite a $7,500 federal subsidy for buyers (and numerous state incentives), Chevrolet sold only 23,000 electric-powered Volts in 2012. The automaker sold more than 10 times as many Chevrolet Cruzes, the company’s gas-powered sister vehicle. By contrast, Ford sells 58,000 F-Series trucks a month.

Further, these programs fail to increase total car sales. Instead, they incentivize buyers to purchase a particular type of car — a Volt instead of a Cruz. Since consumers would buy a car anyway, this subsidy is a waste of precious resources.

Local municipalities like electric vehicle programs since much the subsidies come from federal and state sources. But this is not a federal freebie; it is a waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money — money that instead could be spent or actual programs that improve transportation of the environment or better yet refunded to taxpayers.

Using Benefit-Cost Analysis to Protect the Environment

Increased use of Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) could either improve or harm the environment. As usual, the devil is in the details. Since the beneficial (=correct) use of BCA is readily achievable, the political momentum behind increased use of BCA should be seen as an opportunity to improve environmental decision-making. Lobbying efforts and political capital should be directed at appropriately defining BCA practices, and seeing to it that it is used in ways that are consistent with its capabilities. For environmentalists, the alternative is bleak. Opposition would consume more of their precious political capital, and it would give anti-environmentalists another sound-bite to use to attack productive, market mechanism-oriented environmental initiatives. Furthermore, since resisting the political momentum may be futile, incorrect, destructive uses of BCA might then predominate.

An Alternative to Uranium

Thorium has been shopped around to renewable energy groups as a valid alternative to both nuclear power and a way to curb CO2 production. Thorium is a common metal often found while mining rare earths such as monazite. Monazite sands normally contain around 45-48% cerium, 24% lanthanum, 17% neodymium, 5% praseodymium, along with a small amount of samarium, gadolinium and yttrium. Thorium contains a minimal amount of radioactivity and is 3 times more prevalent than uranium. The goal is for thorium to harness its potential energy and replace uranium and plutonium in nuclear reactors. The most common type of thorium reactor is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) that has a freeze plug that allows the radioactive material to flow down into a tank in case of emergencies, creating a far safer alternative to the unsteady nature of uranium or the typical nuclear reactor.

Some Positives:

  • There is four times more thorium in the world compared to uranium and it is cheap than to mine. The U.S. has twice the amount of thorium than uranium.
  • Thorium can utilize recycled plutonium in order to become fissile. This means that we are recycling our reserves of plutonium waste that is given off in nuclear reactors.
  • The United States has the 5th largest thorium deposits in the world, thus leading to the reduction of foreign energy imports such as oil.
  • Thorium is safer in that the liquid actually cools as opposed to plutonium or uranium which stays hot constantly.
  • Thorium creates far less radioactive waste than other contemporary reactors.
  • Thorium can be used 200 times more efficiently than uranium can be.

Some Negatives:

  • The cost of research for thorium is so high that many countries spend millions of dollars in subsidies on stagnant technologies.
  • Thorium still needs plutonium or uranium to operate. Thorium turns into Uranium-233 after it is treated, which can be used to create a nuclear weapon.
  • The market chooses to invest in nuclear power currently because of the immediate payoffs.


Regardless of potential payoffs and risk thorium can be looked to as the future of energy. It currently has far more potential than solar or wind and can create vast amounts of energy very quickly. The possibilities of thorium are endless, and some day it could even be used to power planes and cars as easily as gasoline does today.

Environmentalism: Achievements and Mistakes

Nearly forty-four years ago, the first Earth Day energized the environmental movement. The event gave form and substance to long-simmering concerns about the environmental side effects of free enterprise. It empowered the leaders of the environmental movement to pursue safeguards through the political process.

Unfortunately, environmental leaders made a very costly, fundamental error at the outset. They misdiagnosed the problem. They attributed environmental problems to uncontrolled pursuit of profit, while the true source of the problems was poorly defined and un-enforced property rights. Consequently, they sought (with the best intentions) controls on behavior, rather property rights corrections.