The Debt of Nations

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Science  08 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5864, pp. 701
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5864.701b

Tracking the worldwide depletion of ecosystem resources is a complex international problem. Srinivasan et al. have used a simplified accounting framework to link populations who experience ecological damage to those who cause it. The largest and most blatant imbalance is the debt we (high-income countries) owe to low-income countries because of climate change. On a per capita basis, people in high-income countries are responsible for almost six times more greenhouse gas emissions than their low-income counterparts. Included in the tally is, for instance, the luxury debt accrued by high-income consumers of farmed shrimp; this demand encourages the destruction of coastal mangrove trees to clear the way for shrimp ponds. The resulting loss of storm protection is increasing the risk to adjacent cities as sea levels rise and coral reefs collapse (see also Grimm et al., Review, p. 756). Similarly, middle-and high-income countries consume most of the world's fish; nevertheless, several food-deficient African countries charge only modest access fees for the mining of their rich offshore fisheries. Despite the difficulties of measurement and the need to simplify, this analysis raises provocative questions about the division of responsibilities for environmental harm. — CA

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105, 10.1073/pnas.0709562104 (2008).

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