The Environmental Kuznets Curve And The Thames

We have the news that seals are happily gambolling, frolicking and breeding in The Thames these days:

In 1957 the River Thames was so heavily polluted it was declared “biologically dead” by the Natural History Museum leaving hope for marine life lost.

But now, more than 60 years after the museum's dismal proclamation, experts have counted over 100 seal pups on the river’s shores.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an international conservation charity, were "thrilled" to discover 138 pups on the sandbanks and creeks of the river in what is the first ever comprehensive count of the offspring.

There have been salmon in the river again for the past couple of decades too. All of which goes to prove, once again, that contention of the Environmental Kuznets Curve. When people are struggling just above the subsistence level the grander environment can go hang. As we get richer then we spend more of our rising incomes on that clean and wondrous Nature out there. The environment is a luxury good that is. No, not a luxury, a luxury good, go look it up.

In this case we built sewers and treated whatever water did enter the river.

From which stems two important points. The first being that the environment is not a damage once and lose forever sort of thing. Entirely true that losing the megafauna is possible and we’d like to avoid that.

The second point being that perhaps we shouldn’t be insisting that today’s poor remain so rather then their being able to do what we did. Those scrub - note, not forest - fires in the Amazon, those reeking rivers elsewhere, they’re not eternal damage to Gaia. They’re rather pimples on the face of nature which fade as the economy leaves its teenage years. Inevitable as they happen yet an unfortunate but necessary part of the process.

Of course, the process isn’t perfect. We cleaned up the Great Stink of the river as it passed through Westminster but we’ve still got work to do on the cesspit in the Palace beside it.