Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

I came across a fascinating post over at Econobrowser about the striking correlations between a) and area’s wealth and its proximity to oceans and rivers and b) an islands wealth and the time it spent as a European colony. Needless to say, both are positively correlated. Below the fold is a map of “global weath” as a function of GDP per kilometer. Interesting stuff, and very telling about the burgeoning economies of several notable “developing” nations. But how does this line up with global pollution?

(Click below the fold to view global wealth map and pollution map.)

i-ed7fa646a376b3567d0de383ff4d7c93-gdp density smaller.bmp

This map assigns a value per kilometer, and expresses that in shades of red. Click here for a huger version.

Now the Econobrowser post does an excellent job pointing out that this map looks strikingly similar to pictures of the world’s electric light distribution from space. But one question that was irking me was whether this “wealth map” also correlated (albeit roughly, eyeballing it) with a map of global pollution. It seemed intuitive–the world’s biggest economies woulf be the richest, and the biggest outputs of pollutants. I came across a 2004 global map of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide which was based on 18 months worth of satellite data.

i-8b4ef6061d4ed623f57801113438d0c8-pollution 2004.jpg

For a huger version go here.

Although NO2 is formed naturally by lightning and by microbes in the ground, it is also released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels by power plants, heavy industry and vehicles. Large quantities of the gas can cause respiratory problems and lung damage, and can also contribute to harmful ozone forming near ground level.

Yes, the maps are strikingly similar–there are large pockets of pollution above China, Europe, the USA, and S.Africa. That is also where “hot spots” of concentrated wealth lie. Uh oh–wouldn’t that also suggest that the biggest contributers to pollution are those that can *most* afford to curb it?

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Munger
    January 18, 2007

    “wouldn’t that also suggest that the biggest contributers to pollution are those that can *most* afford to curb it?”

    I don’t know… Is there an equivalent map of GDP per capita? China may have some dense areas of high GDP, but on a per capita basis, can they really afford to reduce pollution?

    Also, South Africa’s pollution hotspot looks almost as big as Europe’s, but they don’t have near the wealth of Europe.

  2. #2 Greco
    January 18, 2007

    I have a problem with that map of Brazil: the states of São Paulo, Goiás, Tocantins and Pará are so perfectly delineated that it looks like they divided GDP by total state area instead of square kilometer.

  3. #3 Steve Calderwood
    January 18, 2007

    On a tangential note, Jared Diamond (author of “The Third Chimpanzee,” “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” “Collapse,” and “Why is sex fun?”) has an interesting theory about why certain populations developed more advanced technology, etc. faster than others. In a nutshell, he argues that land-masses which extended more horizontal than vertical were better suited to human expansion: climate and environmental changes are much less at two different areas with similar degrees of longitude than they would be at areas with similar degrees of latitude. (Assuming I didn’t get my longitude/latitude confused…)

  4. #4 Sarah Dasher
    January 18, 2007

    Ditto what Dave said… seems like the more people you pack into a square kilometer, the more paychecks and the more pollution you can expect to find there. It doesn’t mean that all those people are rich, just that there are more of them.

    Not that I’m pleading poverty on the part of the American coasts… for example, I think New York’s environmental programs (or lack of them) are appalling. No congestion fee??

  5. #5 Shelley Batts
    January 18, 2007

    Ditto what Dave said… seems like the more people you pack into a square kilometer, the more paychecks and the more pollution you can expect to find there. It doesn’t mean that all those people are rich, just that there are more of them.

    China can most certainly afford to reduce pollution. They tax the hell out of foreign businesses under this guise, and they *do* make a big fuss in the press about wanting to do something about it. They made laws, signed agreements, etc. And then, absolutely no enforcement whatsoever. There is, however, rapid enforcement on govenmental corruption charges. You can hardly open the paper over there without hearing of this or that offical who took or handed out bribes, was caught, tried, and shot. Why they are so diligent about that, and not enforcing pollution, I don’t know. It has certainly affected the quality of life there dramatically.

  6. #6 Brian
    January 18, 2007

    In fact, the question may be, can China afford not to do something? My parents were recently in China, and the pictures of Shanghai… I mean, I grew up in Southern California, and I thought I knew what smog was! I kind of doubt they can absorb those kind of health effects down the road.

  7. #7 Mark P
    January 18, 2007

    NO2 is not necessarily the best indicator of pollution. For example, Florida has a high economic index but is not high in NO2. Why? Could it be because constant movement of air across the peninsula dilutes it? I know that Florida is, counterintuitively, a very good place for people with allergies, despite the near tropical plant growth, because the pollen-laden air is replaced so quickly by relatively clean sea air.

  8. #8 Shelley Batts
    January 18, 2007

    NO2 is not necessarily the best indicator of pollution.

    Agreed. But it was the most recent global satellite data set I could find. Know of any others?

  9. #9 natural cynic
    January 18, 2007

    There will be a small area of China which should be much cleaner – Beijing. Virtually all heavily polluting industries are being moved a considerable distance from the city so they won’t be embarrassed by smog during the 2008 Olympics.

  10. #10 Sarah Dasher
    January 19, 2007

    There will be a small area of China which should be much cleaner – Beijing. Virtually all heavily polluting industries are being moved a considerable distance from the city so they won’t be embarrassed by smog during the 2008 Olympics.

    Ha! Amazing what national pride will do. That may be the one regrettable thing about the Olympics not ending up in Queens… we might have gotten recycling bins on the street for a few weeks.

  11. #11 Shelley Batts
    January 19, 2007

    They’re also investing heavily in a “rain machine” which in theory could influence weather patterns in an area to encourage or discourage rain (saw this in the Dec Economist). Cause they don’t want the Olympics to get rained on!

  12. #12 knobody
    January 20, 2007

    I know that Florida is, counterintuitively, a very good place for people with allergies, despite the near tropical plant growth, because the pollen-laden air is replaced so quickly by relatively clean sea air.

    mark p, this is exactly opposite of what i hear from my friends with allergies (i have to take their word for it as i’m lucky enough not to have allergies). over and over i hear that their allergies didn’t bother them much until they moved here (north central florida) and we have pretty good air quality here. the pollen, and it’s already turning the cars yellow here, seems to bother lots of people for a good chunk of the year here. i grant that the coastal areas may be different. i haven’t lived there since i was a kid and don’t remember having allergy discussions while there.

  13. #13 charles
    October 20, 2008

    the question of ‘can we afford to curb pollution’ is stupid.

    p.s. i think scientists are hot

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