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Hubacek, Feng, and Yu Explore the Impact of Globalization and Trade on the Environment

The consequences of affluence: Consumption of large amounts of material goods places an unfair environmental burden on less developed areas

Klaus Hubacek, Kuishuang Feng, and Yang Yu, Faculty Associates at the Maryland Population Research Center, recently co-authored two articles on the environmental impact of globalization and trade. 

The first article (“Tele-Connecting Local Consumption to Global Land Use”) demonstrates how the consumption of a large amount of goods and services by people in wealthy countries puts pressure on domestic land resources and eventually displaces land in other countries. In the United States, about a third of the total land used for consumption purposes is displaced from other countries. Massive emerging economies such as China and India are likely to add to the problem as the growing demand for material goods pushes them to co-opt land in poorer countries. This land could otherwise be used for more beneficial purposes like food production.

The second article (“Outsourcing CO2 Within China”) shows that the high standard of living enjoyed by people in affluent regions of China depends on production of emission-intensive goods in poorer regions, creating an environmental burden on poorer regions. About 57% of China’s emissions are related to goods that are consumed outside of the areas where they are produced. Many of the goods consumed in the richer coastal provinces of China are imported from the less developed central and western provinces, which bear a greater environmental burden of CO2 emissions. Stricter emissions limits in the richer coastal provinces often result in outsourcing production to poorer provinces where manufacturing relies on less efficient coal-powered technology.

The research team hopes that the results of these studies will help inform consumers and policy makers about the consequences of their choices. Both articles were highlighted in Science Daily and The Wall Street Journal.

Read the article in Science Daily

Read the article in The Wall Street Journal

Read the full article “Tele-Connecting Local Consumption to Land Use” in Global Environmental Change

Read the full article “Outsourcing CO2 Within China” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences