Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth
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Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

James K. Boyce

Comprising a decade’s worth of essays written since the publication of the author’s pathbreaking book, The Political Economy of the Environment (2002), this volume discusses a number of diverse environmental issues through an economist’s lens. Topics covered include environmental justice, disaster response, globalization and the environment, industrial toxins and other pollutants, cap-and-dividend climate policies, and agricultural biodiversity.
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Chapter 2: Is inequality bad for the environment?

James K. Boyce


In the mid-1970s I lived in a rural village in northwestern Bangladesh, in one of the poorest parts of a poor country. Bangladesh had just had a famine in which some 200,000 people perished. The famine was caused not by an absolute shortage of rice, the staple food of the population, but rather by a combination of grain hoarding by merchants and government ineptitude and corruption. The village where I lived was located in the most famine-stricken district of the country. To the eyes of a young American, a striking feature of Bangladeshi village life – apart from the poverty of the people – was the virtual absence of negative environmental impacts from human activities. The villagers farmed rice and jute much as their ancestors had for centuries. Agrochemicals had only begun to appear on the scene, and village farmers used them sparingly if at all. Across the country, Bangladeshi farmers grew some 10,000 different varieties of rice adapted to microclimatic variations in rainfall, flood depths, temperature and soil type, making the country a storehouse for genetic diversity of humankind’s most important food crop. Hundreds of fish species – more than in all Europe – lived in the country’s rivers, ponds and rice paddies, supplying most of the animal protein in the Bangladeshi diet.

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