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Comparative Advantage, Transfrontier Pollution and the Environmental Degradation of a Border Region: The Case of the Californias

Nick Johnstone


Parts of the Mexican-American border region are considered to be amongst the most polluted areas in North America. This is particularly true of the western section of the frontier which separates Baja California (Mexico) and California (United States) (Mumme and Nalven 1988, Herzog 1990, Sanchez 1989, Metzner 1988, Tomaso and Alm 1990). In this study an attempt will be made to understand the role of the border - both as a line of convention separating two political jurisdictions and as a frontier arbitrarily bisecting a single ecosystem - in the environmental degradation of the region. This will be done by integrating two strands of literature in the theory of international environmental economics which have usually been treated separately: the literature relating to environmentally-determined comparative advantage and international trade and the literature relating to the environmental externalities associated with the transfrontier diffusion of pollution. By incorporating these two strands of theory into a single analysis some interesting insights are obtained which help us to better understand the reasons for the continued environmental degradation of the border region.

Moreover, in generalizing the analysis we are able to gain some insight into broader international questions associated with the fact that politico-economic jurisdictions and environmental systems are never spatially identical to one another. It is hoped that this will provide us with the beginnings of a more general framework in which to analyze the difficulties associated with international cooperation (particularly North-South cooperation) in addressing processes of environmental degradation. More generally, it will be asserted that attempts to address environmental crises which arise from the transfrontier diffusion of pollution (whether unidirectional, reciprocal, regional or global in nature) must be understood within the context of an interdependent international economic order.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229