- The official European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates showed a 1.5 percent drop in Greenhouse gas emissions. The vast majority of the decline in emissions in 2008 was due to lower CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the energy, industry and transport sectors as a result of economic recession
- Thousands of factories in China’s Pearl River Delta have shut their doors since late last year
- Output of autos, electronics and other goods from factories in Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey and Toluca has fallen sharply that the amount of cargo trucked across the U.S. border has dropped 40 percent. (Source: http://www.newsweek.com/id/188200)
- In India, small steel-rolling mills around Delhi have closed down bringing down the levels of sulfur dioxide (which forms acid rain) by 85 percent in October 2008 compared with a year earlier. (Source: http://www.newsweek.com/id/188200)
- According to the Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the rate of deforestation from last November through January, fell 70 percent from the same period a year before. About two thirds of Brazil’s 200 million head of cattle graze in the Amazon where virgin forest once stood, making cattle the single biggest cause of deforestation there. According to the climatologists falling beef prices combined with the shortage of farm credit has acted as a natural brake on forest destruction
To put things in perspective- economic recession is not an environmental strategy- it is neither desirable nor sustainable. It hurts the poor, the most. At the same time, it gives a pause, a time to think of consequences and of alternatives. Recession puts a useful brake – from an environmental point of view – on consumption, waste and excess use of resources.
Over the last few decades there has been a transition of world’s manufacturing units from the developed to the developing nations that have milder environmental standards and poor implementation of what exists. Also, across the world, inefficient units tend to be the most polluting ones. At the same time, these are most vulnerable to recession in terms of a sudden drop in demand. The global recession has hit such operations especially hard. Under these circumstances the government supported bailout packages are unlikely to help major polluters forcing them to scout for more efficient and environmental friendly ways of operation, if they are to survive.
But a recession does not mean resource-exploitation or ecological destruction will stop, it will still have an impact on the environment. There is also a danger of companies reducing their investments into research & development as these do not produce short-term results. From a consumer perspective, with lesser purchasing power, one tends to go for products that cost less. Environment-friendly products, on the other hand, are typically more expensive, at least in the short-term.
Economic recession provides a short-term opportunity to deemphasize polluting manufacturing in favour of cleaner economic activity. Can we use the downturn to institute greener practices?