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Study: Getting Richer Does Not Mean Getting Greener

A new  study casts doubt on the wi
CBS 60 Minutes
dely-shared belief that the world's wealthier countries are moving in the right direction when it comes to reducing their environmental footprints.

"I suspect it surprised us a little that we found no evidence for a nonlinear relationship between environmental degradation and per-capita wealth," the project's team leader Corey Bradshaw of the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute in Australia, told CBSNews.com in an email.

Brazil and the United States, ranked as the two worst offenders in terms of their environmental impact, according to the report. The other other worst performers included (in order) China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, India, Russia, Australia and Peru.

Some of that was to be expected. The richer a country, the greater its expected average environmental impact. But as nations prosper, they also have more access to clean technology. That, in turn, should allow them to begin to reduce their environmental impact.At least that's the assumption.

That data, however, suggest a more complicated narrative.

The researchers measured averages for several metrics over the last couple of decades, such as deforestation, species threat, and carbon emissions. What they found on a global scale led Bradshaw to one undeniable conclusion: "We are doing worse and worse each year," he said, describing it as a one step forward, two steps back" pattern.

Whether this finding will subvert the assumptions about the relationship between pollution and per-capita income (the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis, remains unclear. For the time being, though, scientists are watching.

"Could we invoke a Kuznets curve eventually?" Bradshaw said. "Yes, perhaps - but I firmly believe the only way we can have the remotest chance to achieve this is by shifting immediately to a low-carbon emission economy. Renewables are part of the solution, but in my view, a global-scale push to roll-out Generation IV nuclear power is the only way we'll achieve this. Arresting human population growth is also essential, as well as drastically reducing per-capita consumption."