Time to stop celebrating polluters?

That’s what Mongolian sustainability professor Chuluun Togtokh says in this week’s Nature.

Togtokh complains that the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) fails to account for the downside of development — a.k.a. pollution or “externalities”.

He writes,

…How would inclusion of emissions affect the HDI? To find out, I recalculated the index using the UN’s published methodology, but taking per capita emissions into account. The resulting HSDI gives some interesting results.

Australia, the United States and Canada fall straight out of the top 10: Australia slides from 2nd place to 26th, the United States drops from 4th to 28th, and Canada falls from 6th to 24th. Cultures that value moderation do well in this sustainability index: Norway remains in the top position, Sweden rises from 10th to 2nd and Switzerland moves from 11th to 3rd.

But anyone who has visited the Nordic countries will recognize that moderation need not compromise a high standard of living…

… if the UN continues to encourage countries such as Mongolia to aspire to the US lifestyle, we will all be in serious trouble.

“Pollution” — if that’s what Togtokh wants to call it — has given developed countries the highest standard of living in the history. Mongolia should be so lucky as to “pollute” like the U.S. can.

Once pollution makes a nation wealthy, then it can use some of that wealth to purchase the luxury of environmental protection — like developed nations have.

And if Mongolia aspires to the U.S. standard of living, then great — we’ll ship them Obama and see how they like it.

Read Togtokh’s Time to stop celebrating the polluters.