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Economic Growth, Environmental Scarcity, and Conflict


  • Rafael Reuveny


The global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, intensifying "environmental scarcity," a term used here to denote environmental degradation and pressure on renewable and nonrenewable natural resources. Currently, environmental scarcity is more pronounced in less developed countries (LDCs) than in developed countries (DCs). Many argue that this scarcity is increasingly promoting armed conflicts in LDCs. The conventional solution to the problem of environmental conflict is economic growth. It is argued that as LDCs' income per capita rises to the level ofthat of DCs, their population growth and environ mental scarcity will decline, preventing conflict and building peace. This paper illustrates that the growth approach to conflict prevention probably will not work because the biosphere most likely would not be able to support a DC-level standard of living for all the people on Earth, at least not at the current state of technology. The resulting intensification of pressures on natural resources is likely to induce more, not less, environmental conflict. Still, economic growth in LDCs is important on both moral and practical grounds. One could make economic growth in LDCs ecologically-and therefore politically-feasible by balancing it with a coordinated economic contraction in DCs. The difficulties associated with implementing this approach are discussed. I believe that the approach will probably be rejected by DCs in the short run, but might eventually be initiated in response to some global ecological-social-political crisis. The problem is that such a crisis also might result in extensive damages. Whether or not such damages could be alleviated would depend on the nature ofthe crisis and the extent of the damages up to that point. Copyright (c) 2002 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Suggested Citation

  • Rafael Reuveny, 2002. "Economic Growth, Environmental Scarcity, and Conflict," Global Environmental Politics, MIT Press, vol. 2(1), pages 83-110, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:glenvp:v:2:y:2002:i:1:p:83-110

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Joel R. Carbonell, 2016. "Military spending, liberal institutions and state compliance with international environmental agreements," International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 16(5), pages 691-719, October.
    2. Reuveny, Rafael & Maxwell, John W. & Davis, Jefferson, 2011. "On conflict over natural resources," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(4), pages 698-712, February.

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