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As countries get richer, they can afford a cleaner environment for people and they can afford more resources for nature without reducing their standard of living. Indeed a cleaner environment and more resources allocated to nature constitute a component of the standard of living. The richer the society, the more it values these components.

Here are some considerations.

Pollution of air and water is an old problem. Here's a poem about water pollution.
In Kohln, a town of monks and bones,
And pavements fang'd with murderous stones
And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches;
I counted two and seventy stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks!
Ye Nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
The river Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne;
But tell me Nymphs, what power divine
Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834, Cologne
I understand the Rhine is finally getting fairly clean.

The worst pollution was the bacterial contamination of water supplies that caused cholera and typhoid. It was these diseases that killed about half of all children. The relation between sewage getting in the water supply was discovered by epidemiology in London in 1845, sixteen years before Louis Pasteur proposed the bacterial theory of disease.

More recent discoveries of disease from water pollution have been much smaller than the 19th century discoveries.

The on-line magazine Consequences has an article in its Autumn 1995 issue entitled The Environment Since 1970 by Jesse H. Ausubel, David G. Victor, and Iddo K. Wernik. It gives an account of what has gotten worse and what has gotten better in the U.S. and the world since 1970. The summary says
Much has changed in the environment and how it is managed in the quarter century since the first Earth Day in April of 1970. Environmental awareness has undeniably increased, and while progress has been uneven, both in the U.S. and among other countries of the world, a number of indicators show marked improvement.

More to come.

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