The notion of “ecological debt” has been tossed around for a long time, but until the publication of The Depth of Nations and the distribution of ecological impacts from human activities, which, we hasten to note, was published in the Proceedings of the American National Academy of Sciences (here) has such a convincing attempt been made to quantify it.
For interesting reviews, see here and here. And note well the bottom line: “At least to some extent, the rich nations have developed at the expense of the poor and, in effect, there is a debt to the poor.” Thus spoke coauthor Richard B. Norgaard, an ecological economist and UC Berkeley professor of energy and resources. “That, perhaps, is one reason that they are poor. You don’t see it until you do the kind of accounting that we do here.”
What kind of accounting One that leveraged data from the World Bank and the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, that focused on six areas: greenhouse gas emissions, ozone layer depletion, agriculture, deforestation, overfishing and converting mangrove swamps into shrimp farms, and which limited its purview to the years since 1961.
What’s the size of the debt According to this estimate, it’s more than $1.8 trillion, which is in turn more than the entire third world debt.