The following posts have no fixed theme or style, but I hope you enjoy reading them!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Environmental rubbish? [Read previous post first]

In my post Environmental Rubbish! , I was saying that it is completely natural that humans should mould the environment to our own needs, just as every other species does. In fact, the environmentalist standpoint is negative, the goals are unachievable, and trying to achieve environmental goals lowers our productivity.

Let us consider the arguments used again.

1) The environmentalist standpoint is negative.

Actually, the environmentalist standpoint is a challenge of improving the world so it is hard to think of it as negative. Of course, this challenge translates as limiting the damage we do to the environment by our actions, but that does not have to limit ourselves and become a negative thing.

During the industrial revolution England was a horrible place, with smog over London and coal dust blackening the stone in the north. Environmental action has taken the positive step of improving the air quality across Britain by a change in industrial practice. Nowadays, an analogous situation is that of power stations, which cause acid rain, global warming and particulate dust. We can change the industry by researching, developing and installing clean power stations. This is a positive improvement. The development process will encourage more efficient designs to save resources and money, and the change to the atmosphere will improve the health and well-being of the nation. To take the example of something that everyone can do, energy-saving light bulbs last longer and use less power than traditional light bulbs, so using them saves money as well as the environment. Reductions in energy usage, air miles and landfill are positive actions that improve our lives and improve the state of the planet.

2) The goals are unachievable

One goal set out in the previous post is indeed unachievable. This is the goal of creating a world unaffected by humans. But the real goals are simpler and more manageable. Firstly, we want to continue to survive here on Earth. Even in the worst case scenarios, we will not all die. There may be floods, droughts, extinction of animals and health problems, but there will be no self-destruction of the species or of the planet.

The next goal is to sustain our quality of life. This means that we need to use the same amount as resources as we can produce. Further to this goal, I would like to see more of the world in its natural state. But that is more than just an emotional preference. A world created by humans becomes unstable but natural processes balance out the instabilities. Therefore some natural processes must be left as they are. For instance, the rainforests absorb carbon dioxide and provide medicines among other things. We need to keep the polar ice to prevent flooding of coastal cities and to maintain the air and sea currents that determine local climates. Letting farmland revert to its natural state helps the quality of the soil. So a goal of sustainable future prosperity is a goal which provides sustainability for the environment too. Nature solves our problems so undermining nature is self-defeating. Having stopped using CFCs, the hole in the ozone layer is healing naturally and without intervention. This is an example of the world tending to a natural equilibrium, with human activity deciding whether nature is allowed to run its course.

We cannot quantify exactly how much we affect the environment so it is prudent to leave as much of nature to its own devices as possible, because it acts as a restoring balance. The equilibrium situation suits us very nicely, so the closer we can get to that, the better.

To return to the question of whether the goal is achievable, I have said that not all animals will die out and global temperatures will not rocket out of control: the planet will not be destroyed. Thus by making measured, sensible changes to our lifestyle, we do not need to reduce our quality of life significantly and we can still achieve whatever goals we set ourselves.

3)Trying to achieve environmental goals lowers our productivity

As far as economic productivity and efficiency go, I showed in the first section, that steps to improve the environment often improve efficiency. We can integrate our improvements in industry with natural technological improvement so that it stimulates innovation and speeds up economic progress.
As individuals, we need not allow environmental concerns to slow us down. Many of the choices we make are between outcomes with equal direct benefit, but the indirect benefits of one outweigh the other. For example, you are holding a piece of trash, and need to get rid of it. Recycling, putting it in a bin, and littering all achieve the same thing, but for no difference in effort, you can make the world better or worse by your choice. A holiday, whether abroad or at home, serves to relax, but one may involve flights which pollute the atmosphere, while the other may not.
Helping the environment should not scare us into inaction. We can make progress without compromising our busy, successful lives.

The conclusion to all this is that the environmental cause is not a lost cause, and it is worth aiding. It just needs a bit of sensible thought.

No comments: