Is there a right amount of pollution?

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Although having a clean environment is desirable to almost anyone, there is a limit to how clean it can get and how much it can cost. There are two schools of thought on what constitutes an efficient amount of pollution. Traditional economics treats pollution as a good that follows the same law of supply and demand that governs all other goods; it is most efficient at a level where the marginal cost of pollution reduction (supply) is equal to the marginal benefit to the society, or what society is willing to pay (demand) to avoid it. Any measure that reduces or increases pollution beyond this level results in the reduction in total benefits to producers and consumers as a whole.

The second group of economists, called ecological economists, rejects this view as inherently unethical and unfair. They point out that personal safety is the innate right of every individual, and, independent of how much it costs, pollution must be brought below a certain level of risk to its victims. The former group advocates an efficiency standard, whereas the latter group believes a safety standard must be the basis of pollution control. Not surprisingly, efficiency advocates consider the safety standard as inefficient, whereas safety advocates consider efficiency standards to be inadequate in safeguarding the public and the environment.


(1) Toossi Reza, "Energy and the Environment:Sources, technologies, and impacts", Verve Publishers, 2005

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