Economic Growth and Pollution in Budapest

In intro to comparative, in a few weeks time, we’ll cover developments in the post-communist world of Eastern Europe. Here is an interesting report from one of my home towns (I lived and studied in Budapest for a year in the late 1990s) that looks at the effects of economic growth on first lowering and now raising levels of pollution in the majestic Hungarian capital.

budapest.jpg Climb into the Buda Hills and look back at the flatlands of Pest and the pollution is obvious: a yellow-gray cloud that blankets the Hungarian capital much of the time.

Indeed, 19 years after the collapse of communism, Budapest’s air quality has become a problem again. Pollution exceeded recommended levels 115 days last year, 80 days more than permitted under European Union (EU) guidelines. [of which Hungary is a member.] In late December and early January, the capital experienced one of its most prolonged smog events in a decade.

When communism imploded in 1989, Budapest’s air was atrocious. With their two-cycle engines, fleets of Trabant automobiles spewed black clouds of lead-laden exhaust, while city busses and industrial facilities pumped eye-stinging emissions into the air. During the 1990s the air cleared as factories installed pollution controls, leaded gasoline was banned, and newer, cleaner Western cars replaced dirty Soviet ones.

But in recent years, those gains have been reversed as many Hungarians now drive to work from increasingly far-flung suburban areas. Lead and sulfur dioxide have been replaced by dangerous concentrations of tiny exhaust particles.

“We’ve exchanged [Victorian-era] London-type smog for Los Angles-type smog,” laments Janos Zlinszky of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe. “The nature of our environmental problems is shifting.”

Across east-central Europe, a region once blighted by Communist-era pollution, economic development is bringing on a new set of environmental problems and, in some cases, bringing back old ones.

New York Times special Report on Pollution and Economic Growth in China

You can find a fascinating 10-part report on the dramatic environmental impact of China’s miraculous economic growth in the New York Times. The report, Choking on Growth, provides readers and viewers a multimedia perspective on growth and pollution. From the perspective of comparative politics, it is important to note that some scientists and other scholars in China are trying to estimate the impact of environmental destruction on the general welfare of China’s citizens. They have begun to use a new measure of well-being, “green GDP”, arguing in effect that GDP itself is not an accurate measurement of a society’s well-being. In PLSC240, we will analyze other indicators of well-being, including HDI, the Gini Index, etc, when we study Political Economy (Chapter 4). From an IR perspective, we can ask ourselves what right or responsibility those outside China (whether IGOs like the UN, or other states like Japan and the US) have to intervene and attempt to reverse the damage China is causing to its own and the planet’s fragile ecosystem. Here is a link to a compelling video and some images below from the New York Times:

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