Does pollution plague a country because it is poor? Or does pollution make a country poor?
While the case for the former can be easily made — poorer nations have less resources for cleanup and regulations; the case for the latter is often ignored. But the fact is, pollution destroys economies, triggering an endless cycle of poverty.
Here is a vivid example of how this happens:
Under normal circumstances, in a population of 100 million, if average IQ is 100, there are 6 million gifted people (IQ above 130) who can be expected to drive the economy forward, and 6 million cognitively impaired (IQ below 70) who will likely depend on social or government welfare.
If the average IQ in that population is driven down 5 points to 95 as a consequence of widespread exposure to lead, the number of gifted individuals falls by more than half to 2.4 million, while the number of cognitively disabled persons rises to 9.4 million. This decimates the future leadership of entire countries and further increases disparities between rich and poor nations.
It is a little ironic but the growing worldwide focus on global warming issues and the environment has, in a way, made the problem of toxic pollution more widespread. All the increased scrutiny on industry has given rise to a sad legacy in many developing countries — legacy pollution, which refers to pollution left behind when a factory is closed or abandoned, or if the polluter has gone bankrupt. At many of these “orphaned” sites, the pollution…and the population remain. Here, people are routinely exposed to levels of toxins simply unacceptable in the West.
So what’s the lesson? Toxic pollution does more than just cripple and kill. It traps and engulfs.
Here’s a one-page summary, The Effects of Toxic Pollution in the Developing World, looking at how health, education, economic development, and the ecology are all affected.