Population and Scarcity
The primary argument of this section was that there is a finite amount of resources on the earth and with our rapidly growing population resources are growing scarcer, which will eventually lead us to reach a limit of expansion. With our current exponential growth we cannot keep up with food production. The land has a certain carrying capacity, which is the amount of life that it can support. If everyone in the world lived at the standard that people living in the USA enjoy it was argued that the earth could only support 2 billion people, the global population is currently close 7 billion. When it begins to approach its limits what usually happens is some sort of population driven crisis like the Black Death which keeps population in check. This theory is countered at the end of the chapter by the argument that population growth and even crisis’s are the root of human innovation and civilization. Food production increased when there was more of a demand for it so people had to come up with ways to produce more crops, these new agricultural methods is what allowed for the birth of civilization.
- Which of the different theories do you think is the most accurate? Which one was the most surprising to you or the seemed the most far fetched?
- Do you think there is a carrying capacity that the earth will reach or will human innovation continually be able to find ways around a limit? Can you think of a time when innovation failed to solve the problem of a scarcity of a resource?
Markets and Commodities
Julian Simon argues for the creative potential of human beings and their ability to innovate in response to their surroundings and circumstances. He believes that as there are more people they will be forced to come up with more ideas as the demand for commodities increases so living and environmental conditions will rise as well. Scarcity leads to innovation/substitution. Jevon’s Paradox: scarcity, leads to a decrease in use, leads to a surplus in supply, which in turns leads to an increase in the use of the commodity in other areas. Both argue that there isn’t a limit but humans will innovate and commodities will shift around. Green taxes are when prices are altered or taxed so to raise money which goes back into the government or to search for alternatives: expensive trash bags for recycling research, also leads to increased recycling. Recently we have seen a shift toward green values in our society, consumer power is important be cause they can essentially “vote with their money.” Some limits like: where they get their information can be questionable; advertising can be intentionally misleading. One idea is a 3rd party monitor who decides green certification. That way there would be global standard that everyone can understand.
- What are your thoughts on Jevon’s Paradox? Examples of when it has occurred?
Institutions and the “The Commons”
With regards to environmental laws there is no organization to enforce them on the globe. The distribution of the effects are uneven around the globe and those most effected are often not the ones who contributed. Therefore, people can get by on a free ride and reap the benefits of others cutting back while not making any changes themselves. Prisoner’s Dilemma argues that is everyone acts in their own benefit, the outcome is optimal for no one. People always looking out for themselves will lead to problems: who’ll watch the watchers and any idiot can inherit. This is a rather bleak outlook on humanity and its ability to work together alongside fellow human beings. The idea of common property is actually something that goes back quite a ways on the local scale around the world, ie. Irrigation systems. For it to be successful it needs: boundaries, proportionality, collective choice, monitoring, sanctions, conflict resolution, and autonomy. Taking this idea of common land and translating it to the global scale to deal with climate is difficult because of questions like who will be monitors and what to do with free-riders.
- What do you foresee as being the biggest problem with relating the common property theory onto a global scale? Is it even feasible? Would it be better if it was worked at a local scale?
- Do you see more along the lines that people will continually be looking after themselves as opposed to making sacrifices for the common good, do you think we can overcome people always being free-loaders?
-”Roughly 80% of all hogs in the United States that are being raised on the industrial scale are being raised in ‘factory farms.’ Take a breeder sow…at 8 months old a sow is artificially impregnated, the sow is moved to a ‘gestation crate.’ The crate is usually 2 by 7 feet and not even long enough for the sow to turn around…she is moved to a ‘farrowing crate,’ which is basically a modified gestation crate with pockets for the piglets to nurse without being crushed (though many still wiggle out of the pockets and are soon crushed to death). Almost as soon as the piglets are weaned, the sow is impregnate again, denied the normal period of 5 to 6 months ‘off’ between breeding new little ones.” (64)
-Animal Liberation: “(Peter) Singer does not advocate exactly equal treatment of all animals….Rather he claims that all sentiment beings deserve equal consideration, that minimizing or even eliminating their suffering should be part of any ethical decision.” (73)
Historically ethics were viewed as right and wrong in regards to other humans, reflecting the dominion thesis where we view(ed) ourselves as superior to nature. Since then there has been a moral extension that goes beyond humans to include animals. All who can suffer merit consideration in ethical matters should seek to minimize/eliminate suffering. Locke: viewed nature as it was valued to humans, should be used but not in excess so that it is wasted. Gifford Pinchot, conservation, efficient and sustainable use of natural resources “for the greatest good of the greatest number.” John Muir, preservation, wilderness should be left alone, not exploited by humans. Eco-centric land use for humans has and must be used but it should be done in a way that is guided by our knowledge of ecological connections. Everything has effects that we will have to deal with later. Eco-centric ethics could lead to subversion of basic human liberties, which turns many people away from them.
- What do you see as the appropriate way to deal with ethics regarding animals? Is animal liberation too far or not far enough?
- Preservation or conservation?
Risks and Hazards
A hazard is a condition/process that threatens individuals/society in terms of production/reproduction. Risk is what one knows/estimated to be the probability that a hazard related decision will have a negative consequence. This creates problems because risk perception is often very over or underestimated which leads people to make uninformed choices. How people view environmental risk is directly related to how they view their individual place in society: alright with limits and constraints or a firm believer in free will and latitude in society. This is very much tied to socioeconomic standing and life histories; the whole thing is extremely political. People, groups, firms often make decisions about risk for other people ie. poor minority communities living near hazardous sites. Even when people do control their own risk decision they are still bound by their social and ecological circumstances. One must also consider where we get our information about risk, how much is told and how much is withheld from the public, which therefore further inhibits their ability to perceive risk.
Political factors also play a large role in society’s relationship with the environment. For starters, waste and pollution are both dumped more in developing countries where rules about such things are nonexistent or less enforced. Over-accumulation and over-consumption both lead to the wealth in hands of a few so that the laborers can no longer even purchase the products that they produce. Capitalism creating its own limits as it relies on being able to exploit nature as a resource because we view it as something external from ourselves and society as it is today as something that is naturally occurring. Companies are turning to placing their factories over-seas in developing countries because there they can exploit and degrade the environment as much as they like and then move on to somewhere else. Workers and nature are both disposable; this leads to uneven development in the globalized economy that has emerged today. The minorities and poor are the ones who live near hazardous facilities because the housing is cheap of the hazardous facility was put there because they knew they wouldn’t speak up and if they did their voices wouldn’t be heard. Not in my back yard-ism. It is interesting that 60-80% of the people involved in environmental organizations are women, which is one reason why so often environmental issues have been ignored.
- Individualist Egalitarian Hierarchist or Fatalist? (pg 87)
- As capitalism thrives on crisis is it not in its interest to allow for environmental degradation? Creates jobs and clean up the mess and solve the problems.
This section revisited some of the concepts that we have talked about in some of our recent readings. It argued that nothing is really untouched and pristine; the nature we see around us is all constructed and has been changed by humans. The concept of wilderness as untouched by humans is a solely western social concept; most other cultures do not even have a word for such a place because it does not exist. Co-productionwe are constantly remaking the world and being remade through it. We see nature through our social context; our views all have histories. When the Europeans came to Americas they saw them as pristine and untouched when in reality, the landscapes had been heavily shaped by the indigenous people who lived here. Environmental Discourse is based on narratives and ideologies (value-laden world views of how it ought to be) this in turn influences how we view the environment. North African Desertification was used as an example, and how the colonizing Europeans used the narrative of how the Sahara used to be a forest that had sense been desertified by the poor choices of the indigenous Africans so it was the duty of the colonizers to come in and assist in restoring this wasteland to its potential. They used this as justification. Must also remember that science is also socially structured, follows the lines of political and environmental goals historically and today.
- Do you think that the recent trend to go green and be more environmentally aware have anything to do with the recent gains in women’s rights?
- Once again the question of whether nature or wilderness can really be untouched or pristine? IS there no merit in these words and are they completely social constructions?