environment & politics

Green Expenses

Those neoliberal accountants strike again:

… we have simply exported a lot of the environmental damage we cause. In the age of globalisation, we can live greener here because we have sent the pollution and habitat destruction somewhere else. For the past few years, it has become fashionable to close down conversations about what we need to do to protect the environment by asking: “What about China?”, the implication being that China is causing such vast environmental impact as to render our efforts pointless.

There is no doubt that China’s footprint, and those of several other fast developing economies, has increased hugely and in a short time. But a lot of the pollution and environmental damage is being done in order to supply us, and other western countries, with consumer goods, chemicals, ships, steel and other modern essentials. The point is underlined by the fact that Denmark, to many eyes a “green” country, comes out in the WWF report as third in a world league table of the highest impact countries. Like us, they look greener because they have exported their environmental problems elsewhere…

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

9 replies on “Green Expenses”


I have argued this a lot of times. There’s chat that China is a bigger problem because of its growing impact, when – duh – a lot of their impact is industrial and the only reason that ours isn’t worse is because we make now’t.

It’s not a new phenomenon, mind. Didn’t Japan do a similar thing after the wide deforestation that there was many, many decades ago resulted in degreening of many parts of the islands (lots of wood construction in the past of course). Now the problem is worse, but they’ve simply exported their deforestation…


And China quite unfairly, rarely receives the per capita adjustment, which would see individual impacts a fraction of our own.

I’ve not read that much about Japan – if you have any links, that would be most welcome!

If I recall (and this recollection is somewhat dim) it was Jared Diamond. I’d guess, that being the case, that it was in Collapse.

If you’ve not read that book, it’s all about civilisations that have, on a small scale, exhausted their environment and withered. So Easter Island, for example, saw it’s people put all their resources into ostentatious displays of wealth, but ultimately – but cutting down all the trees in the bid to build bigger and bigger statues – condemned themselves to destruction.

He did have some more positive examples though. So Iceland, say, which was actually pretty fertile when Europeans first arrived, because of the depositing of volcanic ash over many thousands of years. Of course, this was used up extremely quickly and left the Icelanders in a crisis (I forget when by). Of course, they have now sorted things out and take a bit better care of the environment.

The example of Japan (assuming I am remembering where I read this correctly) was that over the years, in order to develop larger towns and cities, there was a great deal of deforestation – which had some serious consequences. Eventually, this had to be stopped and now there are strict controls on logging and Japan is, in a literal sense, much greener than once it was. The problem comes, though, when you realise that the Japanese still use a great deal of wood. IIRC, they export deforestation to Japan. I’ll have a flick through it when I get a chance and see if I am remembering the source correctly!

Actually, interestingly, it reminds me that we have been affecting our environment for a long time (in spite of that curious argument that we are arrogant to think that we can). The Scottish mountains being an example. They have a certain stark beauty to them in many cases, yes, but then you find out that it was actually sheep-farming that left them like that (and *fairly* recently). There are projects in parts of Perthshire where they’re reintroducing plant-life from other parts of Scotland or, if it’s unavailable, Norway (assuming similar types) to return these places to the state that they were in.

Sorry…off on a tangent there!

I’ll have a look though and see if it was the Diamond book (I’m sure it was).

Thanks for the lengthy reply, Richard. I actually think I have that book somewhere (though I’ve not cracked it open obviously) so I shall have to investigate. I’m vaguely aware of how environmental/ecological catastrophe has been the end of many a culture, and how even today we place people at great risk considering how few varieties of food crops are grown worldwide and which may be vulnerable to disease. Fascinating and scary stuff.

Interesting points, with which I agree. And most of the UK should be in woodlands still – deforestation, especially in the last few hundred years of the headlands, is one of the main causes of flooding that seem to happen each year…

I checked: it was. Have you read any of Jared Diamond’s other stuff?

He’s very interesting – though there is that sense that “he’s preaching to the choir, man!” But, aye, I’ve enjoyed his work a great deal.

And, yes, the food thing is interesting. Is that one of the things behind your food growing experiments?

I’ve not, no… I really should. I’ve had his book for about six years!

Not really – that was more a case of wondering if I could do it, and generally getting more pleasure out of food. I’ll probably need more land if I’m going to feed myself seriously.

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