The contradictions of economic growth : environmental pollution, ill-health and economic development in Houston, Texas
The core theme of this thesis is the potential contradiction between the objective of economic growth in terms of the sustenance of the natural environment and human health. The basic research theme is the identification of the underlying political and economic processes that relate to rising air pollution and corresponding ill-health in cities. It explores the relationship between air pollution and child ill-health in Houston, a highly developed US city. The analysis points out that since the early 1900s, there has been rampant unregulated economic growth in Houston and that weak environmental protection has contributed to both past and current concentrations of industrial pollution, the net result of which is that the environment is severely damaged and human health is deleteriously affected. The thesis indicates theoretical and epistemological limitations in emerging interpretations and highlights that air pollution and ill-health are not simply physical or social problems but they reflect the integration of biological mechanisms and political and economic priorities. This thesis reconceptualizes the connection between the economy and the environment, integrates abstract and empirical investigation, defines the structural character of spatial relations, combines global economic processes with local patterns of environmental degradation, and links historical growth to ecological and health changes. The field-work consisted of a large comparative household survey to examine local air pollution and child ill-health. It was informed by investigations of institutions and documents and complemented by semi-structured interviews. Clusters of child ill-health were found in low-and high-income households in areas near petrochemicals. While it is clear that the socio-economic circumstances of each household influenced the state of child health, this study demonstrates that spatial relations also played a significant role in the relationship. The procedures and analyses are conceptualized through a critical realist methodology, contextualized in a political-economy approach and framed within a theoretical perspective of historical social relations.