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

Further Reading

Chapman, D., Environmental Economics: Theory, Application, and Policy,” Addison-Wiley, 2000.

Goodstein, E. S., Economics and the Environment, 4th Ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Siebert, H., Economics of the Environment: Theory and Policy, Springer Verlog, 2004.

Dauvergne, P., Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005.

Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (JEEM), the journal of Association of Environmental and Resource Economics.

Ecological Economics – Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, the journal of the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE).

Environmental Economics and Policy Studies – Published by Springer-Verlog, New York is the official journal of the Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies.

External Links

US Agency for International Development (

National Center for Environmental Economics (

United Nations Development Program (

United Nations Environment Programme (

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (

World Resource Institute (

Union of Concerned Scientists (