Economic Growth Versus The Environment: The Politics Of Wealth, Health And Air Pollution

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Economic Growth

The risks of current air pollution in world-cities seem to have vanished under the dazzling atmosphere of international competitiveness and growing higher standards of living. Yet, the trend for air pollution persists. This book presents the bewildering contradiction between successful economic regional growth and environmental degradation that leads to human ill health.


This book was written out of a sense of dismay at witnessing one of the most destructive contradictions of our times, that between society and nature. This conflict between elementary human and biophysical (biological, chemical and ecological) conditions is plainly evident in large, post-modern cities. It is sufficient to walk the streets of any thriving large city in the developed world to perceive the vibrancy of past and current achievements. In particular, wealthy cities today are well known for such things as their luxurious buildings, affluent homes and gardens, well-stocked, concrete superstore malls, particular historical and cultural landmarks, and multi-layered busy motorways. The simple act of breathing in this city we all know and love may also trigger something different, the recognition of an undefined unpleasant smell of dust and smog, or, at worst, an uncomfortable choking sensation. These cities stand encapsulated within enormous thick sheaths of brownish air. Such atmospheric conditions can be distinguished today by viewing cities from a distance or from the air.

Air pollution may well be accounted one of the oldest manifestations of the contradiction between nature and society. It became commonplace during the Industrial Revolution (Brimblecombe, 1988). Usual sources of emissions are, for example, burning coal, metal smelting, power stations, cement works, oil refineries, manufacturing plants, and motor vehicles (Clapp, 1994). Rather than considering the quality of the urban air as an already heavily addressed issue of the past – that is, frequently talked about, thoroughly researched, and subjected to policy – it is treated in this book as a real enigma of contemporary politics. Despite improvements in air quality since the 1940s and 1950s, significant issues have failed to be resolved. These are how best to explain the presence of pollution, how to control its increasing levels, and how to reverse the overall persistent trends that have dominated recent decades. This preoccupation arises from both the ecological, as seen above for the thriving city, and human effects of air pollution. Urban pollution has continued to pose health risks for the inhabitants, as did pea-souper . . .


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