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How do you account for the externalities?

China, Economics, Environment, Technology
By John Richardson on 24-Apr-2008

Economists refer to externalities as those factors that can influence growth but that are beyond the influence of humans to determine. As ar result, the members of this esteemed profession tend to ignore externalities.

If we’ve left it too late on the environment, then the environment is clearly such an externality that could limit demand growth in the future.

How will China provide enough water to ensure that growth spreads from east to west?

What happens if the environment has reached a dangerous tipping point where the damage we’ve inflicted leads to an out-of-control acceleration into catastrophe?

Take, for example, corn-based ethanol.

William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama writes in the 12 April issue of the New Scientist that the huge increase in corn planting in the US to feed ethanol has led to less soya being planted.

The resultant rise in soya prices has led to forest destruction in the Amazon as Brazilian farmers clear trees to plant soya. ”

The Amazonian forests help to generate their own rainfall, because the dense vegetation quickly recycles moisture and returns it to the atmosphere. As deforestation proceeds, however, less water vapour is recycled, so clouds and rainfall decrease. No one knows how far the Amazon can be pushed before it collapses in rage of droughts and forest fires.”

Blimey, if deforestation already accounts – as we are told – for 20% of global emissions, what would this mean for the habitability of our planet?

Never mind – I don’t care. I am off to read some wonderful analysis about the endless demand-growth prospects presented by China. Who cares as long as I can get my bonusby building this analysis into a report I can present to my boss?