Environmental policy that works

J. M. Velasco, Valle de Mexico 1892

This is what the Valley of Mexico looked like at the turn of the 20th century.  When I came across a couple of paintings of this view  by José Maria Velasco, a near-contemporary of the Hudson River School artists of the US, in the Museo Nacional de Arte, I was close to tears, having walked into the building from contemporary Mexico City.  Has there ever been a more complete devastation of a natural paradise, short of flooding a valley with a dam, or dumping a West Virginia mountaintop into the river below it to get some coal out?

In less than a hundred years an idyllic mountain valley surrounded by volcanoes had turned into the eighth largest city in the world stifling in a pool of toxic, opaque air pollution:

Photo: Alfredo Cottin

Mexico City hasn’t got its lake back, and is still sinking because of pumping groundwater, and it remains one of the most pedestrian-hostile cities in the world, but not having been there for almost a decade, I loved this story: you can see across it again, and breathing isn’t a constant insult to lungs.

Photo: www.imagenesaereasdemexico.com

The improvement in every quality indicator of air quality in an enormous city located in one of the worst places for air pollution persistence is an inspiration.  No, the economy didn’t collapse under the crushing weight of brutal regulation: the cleanup wasn’t free but it’s such a bargain, not just in health benefits but quality of life…and what else matters, when you get right down to it?


  1. Dan Staley says

    "and what else matters, when you get right down to it?"

    Why, making your quarterly profit goals by avoiding paying for your waste, of course! Silly man.

    [/jaded snark]

  2. trotsky says

    Of course, Mexico's cleaning up its air a few decades after wealthier countries have done the same. There are a lot of models to copy. And starting from zero, there's a lot of relatively easy progress to make, and any resident can literally see the prgoress.

    It's somewhat different than, say, reducing CO2 emissions. Just saying.

  3. says

    I was in Mexico City last fall – parts of it are quite walkable, although much of it is way too dangerous to do so.

    The link says lead pollution's fallen 90% since 1990, which could be a good test of the "less lead, less crime" hypothesis discussed here at Same Facts, a while back. Coincidentally, 1990 is when Romania legalized birth control and abortion so now's a good time to test the alternative hypothesis there.

  4. K says

    I'm in Mexico City fairly frequently, & for much of the last 30 years I'd usually come back with a sinus infection. Lately, not.

  5. Acorvid says

    Environmental regulation will ruin the economy? We've already done that study here. By 1998, a combination of laws put in place before 1992, and regulations made and laws enforced by the Clinton administration, had resulted in substantial improvements in a wide variety of environmental indicators. Meanwhile, the economy was setting records for sustained growth. Conservatives claim they stand on principle, but unfortunately one of their most cherished is that none of their other principles needs to be subjected to evidentiary proof.