Economic Development and Environmental Protection in Latin America

By Joseph S. Tulchin | Go to book overview
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Air Pollution and Urban Transportation

Robert Yuhnke

When traveling in Europe and/or Third World countries, one finds that the air quality problems that are the central focus of this session are not unique to Mexico City.We must recognize that Mexico City is one of the worst examples of a megacity, a phenomenon that is occurring around the world.We have seen, within this decade, that for the first time half of the human population is living in urban areas. This is a result of both migration from rural areas into cities and the massive population growth that has occurred around the world in this century. The total human population has increased from about two billion to five billion in this century, the last two billion of that occurring since World War II. We are beginning to see the accumulation of human populations in cities of the magnitude of Mexico City all around the world; cities like Shanghai, Peking, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, Cairo, New Delhi, and others demonstrate that this is a problem that must be addressed on a global scale.It raises a serious question as to whether or not it is possible to develop population centers of fifteen to twenty-five million people in one urban setting and preserve within that context breathable air, drinkable water, some presence of nature, and some sense of a relationship between human presence and a natural system.

The air pollution issue is one of the most demanding of attention because it affects all of us who live in these environments. Rich or poor, you cannot escape the air that you breathe if you live in these urban areas. That is a major factor in helping to develop the political support even now emerging in the Third World countries to begin to tackle these problems.But there is a serious question as to whether we can successfully strike the balance between preserving environmental quality and the quality of human life while allowing these urban centers of human settlement to occur. It is also important to recognize the cost of these kinds of pollution problems in human terms.

Robert Yuhnke is senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.


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