We often hear about how it is our unbridled consumption which causes the pollution causing Gaia to choke on our wastes. We much more rarely hear (although we do our best around here) the point that a clean environment is actually a luxury good. It’s something we buy after we’ve worked out how to feed and clothe ourselves. Proof of this particular pudding comes from some new research:

Burned wood and animal waste are the chief constituents of a “brown cloud” of pollution that has caused illness and death in southern Asia, scientists have discovered. For years the huge toxic sooty cloud has descended on southern Asia and the Indian Ocean during the winter months, hanging in the air for days or weeks at a time. The cloud has been traced to many deaths in China and India from heart and lung diseases. But until now experts have not been sure what it is made of. Two possible sources were the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, or of “biomass”, such as wood and animal dung. The new research shows beyond doubt that smallscale home fires in which wood and animal waste is burned for heating and cooking are primarily responsible for the cloud.

The reason for that brown cloud is thus that people are poor. They’re burning wood and dung to cook with, on inefficient stoves to boot (using a resource inefficiently is a useful definition of the cause of poverty by the way).

If they were richer they would, as we do, have electric or gas stoves and that brown could wouldn’t exist.

Sorry, but it really isn’t true that wealth is what causes pollution: it’s poverty. Both in that what the poor consume creates pollution and in that only with wealth do we have the resources to use less polluting alternatives. So, how ever much some might object to the idea, the way to clean up the world is to promote economic growth.