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Prosperity, consumption, and the environmental Kuznets curve: Implications for forest conservation

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Title: Prosperity, consumption, and the environmental Kuznets curve: Implications for forest conservation
Creators: Mills, Julianne H.
Advisor: Marschall, Elizabeth A.
Issue Date: 2009-04
Abstract: Many conservationists contend that economic growth and conservation are incompatible goals. Others contest this viewpoint, arguing that wealthier countries have the luxury of investing more heavily in conservation. Under this assumption, one might expect a U-shaped relationship between per capita wealth and the proportion of a country’s forest that is preserved over time. This relationship, called the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC), predicts the following: as per capita income increases, measures of environmental health should first decrease, then rise again after a certain point, such that the richest nation-states should have superior environmental health. Previously, I examined the evidence for this EKC among 35 tropical forest countries. To do so, I introduced the use of quantile regression and spatial filtering, addressing problems of heteroskedasticity and spatial autocorrelation common to EKC analyses. The new application of these methods to EKC analysis revealed some evidence to suggest the presence of an EKC—that is, rich countries did appear to protect a greater proportion of their forests, a proxy measure for biodiversity. However, a closer examination of conservation practices and environmental indicators within those countries that drove initial support suggests that wealth is not a reliable indicator of improved conservation practice. I show that this relationship is driven by differences between countries, in particular, their habits of resource production and consumption. Here, I build upon the prior analysis, explicitly incorporating consumption of forest products through the use of production, import, and export data. I perform two separate analyses, one which incorporates all forest products (including wood used for fuel) and one which excludes fuelwood. Because low income countries use more fuelwood than any other group, its inclusion reveals consumption-driven losses at both income extremes. However, when fuel is excluded, all evidence that being rich promotes conservation is eliminated. Rich countries may practice preservation within their borders, but they appropriate resources from poorer countries to fuel their consumption. These findings suggest, on one hand, that increasing prosperity may play a key role in promoting conservation, as alleviation of poverty would decrease the reliance on fuelwood for heating and cooking. Conversely, unhindered economic growth increases consumption at the expense of global conservation. Taken together, these findings have significant implications for both economic and conservation policies worldwide. Simple application of the EKC theory, which suggests constant economic growth as the best practice for conservation, is clearly unwarranted. On the contrary, these findings suggest that initial support for growth and poverty alleviation in low income countries might best be matched by policies which acknowledge limits to growth and strive for steady state economies amongst high income countries.
Embargo: A one-year embargo was granted for this item.
Series/Report no.: 2009 Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum. 23rd
Keywords: Consumption
Environmental policy
Poverty
biodiversity
Global sustainability
Economic prosperity
Description: Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (FAES): 2nd Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1811/37094
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