Environment and Society

Topics of potentially thought-provoking conversation:

  • Types of people and there philosophies about their relationship with nature:
  • Our responsibility, stewardship, caring for the environment–should not be utilitarian (the people who are exploiting natural resources for profit)–“this piece of nature is useful to me, therefore it has value”
  • Gifford Pinchot vs. John Moir:  Pinchot is a utilitarian who is the head of the forest service “conservation.”  Moir founded the Sierra Club and is a preservationist.  During the Hetch Hetchy Valley controversy, Pinchot supported the valley in becoming a reservoir for the people of San Francisco to use while Moir opposed this because it would cut off water to the sequoia groves and take them down during the construction.  Pinchot’s argument was that it provided greater benefits for more people.
  • Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic”–integrated ecology into an ethical framework=ecocentric, we are part of the environment and depend on its well-being, we have an interdependence relationship.
  • One step further: moral extensionism, meaning that we have a moral obligation to protect the environment.
  • Population–caused visions of scarcity e.g. Phoenix, Arizona during the 1990’s grew by 300 ppl per DAY, they use approximately 225 gallons of water per day (this is affluence) and they’ve lost the Gila monsters.
  • Geometric growth=exponential.  Malthus describes that:  wars, famine, and disease keep a population in check, warfare is counterproductive, and the moral-code of self-restraint will avert resource crisis.
  • I (environmental Impact)=PxAxT where P=population, A=affluence (level of consumption, how many goods per person are consumed, and T=technology.
  • Neo-Malthusians emphasize population growth as the greatest factor of environmental degradation.  Those opposing argue that technology is by far the worst due to our petrochemical based economy, and our excessive use of pesticides, and fossil fuels.  An alternative economy would offset the population growth.
  • Green Revolution:  used new cultivation techniques based on a heavy-inputs system of agriculture (which is very degrading to the environment and not sustainable and very expensive to maintain).  e.g. in India, 1965-1980 they increased wheat production x3!  This trend occurred in Indonesia and the Philippines.  These methods caused the calories produced to be more ecologically expensive due to the extensive and excessive use of pesticides/fertilizers, loss of soils, loss of biodiversity.
  • Current growth rates are declining (peaked in the 60’s and 70’s).  Is population the social driver of environmental change?  Or is environmental change the product/outcome of social/environmental circumstances?  Surprisingly, we are nearly at a population growth rate of <1%=ZPG (where the number of births =the number of deaths)  Reason for increase is a universal phenomenon of women becoming more educated and literate which is directly, significantly correlated with lower fertility rates.
  • Conclusion:  Malthusians are dangerous i.e. Indian sterilization = way too much emphasis on population growth, not enough on the driving forces (economy, society, politics).

  • Markets and commodities:  Two outlooks of Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon–believes that the future is always better than the present.  Population growth as a good phenomenon because it improved the quality of life: more people equals more good and innovative ideas, more demand for things such as clean air and water.
  • Economic worldview:  describes the creative potential of humans, the economy interacts with the population–e.g. as some or any commodity (e.g. fish) decline due to population growth and an increase in demand, the cost of the product also rises.  Then consumers are presented with a choice:  (use less or use something else) they may turn to a cheaper alternative which are innovations as a response to scarcity then the demand will decline, decreasing the cost, because the alternative they will use less of that product or commodity.
  • Paradox (Jevon’s Paradox):  conservation of goods may lead to the increased use of an alternative product and hence more environmental stress.
  • What about all environmental sources?  Coase Theorem, explains externalities i.e. pollution which is most efficiently controlled through the bargaining between parties, or property owners by the use of contracts.  This supports the free market where people can sort out their disagreements, come to understandings, and design rules and restrictions (socially and economically cheap).  Although efficient markets require public investments.
  • Market-based solutions to environmental problems include that the increase of money drives providers to new sources (tax), the money from the tax is then used to research or search for new alternatives. e.g. Swedish carbon taxation began in 1991.  e.g. Peak oil–we estimate that it peaked in the 70’s, hence the increased price in gasoline over time: whats next? Green economy or complete catastrophe.

  • Risks and Hazards:
  • The Great Flood of 1993:  occurred in the MidWest and there was over $20 billion in damages, killed 48 people, unpredictable?  are people irrational who live there?  what about people who live on the Mississippi floodplain, how irrational are they when they know the dangers??
  • The Indians, stated to the colonies:  never build on a floodplain, according to Hickcox.
  • Cap and Trade:  1995 Trading system was put into place when there was a prevalence of acid rain, after the cap and trade was implemented there was a 30% reduction (in acid rain).
  • Green consumption: demand for green, consumer demand for organic foods.  But really, how legitimate are these labels when it comes to both organic and “green”??
  • Gaps between Nature and the economy:  can the functioning of whole ecosystems be assured in markets that capture only the value of discrete and specific goods/services?  Crisis of equality–not equal/democratic:  top 1/5 of the worlds richest people earned 83% of the world’s income, money and power lies in the hands of corporate entities—not people!
  • Institutions and the commons:
  • Why is controlling carbon so hard when it is so important to be doing so?
  • Instantly in the air; emitted by one country is then burdened by all.
  • How can rules/norms of global behavior be fashioned to encourage shared costs/collective benefits?  On what scale is this cooperation possible?
  • Tragedy of the Commons:  “ruin is the destination all men rush, pursuing own best interest in a society that believes in its own best interest”–Garrett Hardin
  • Land and resources must be made into non-commons by the power of law and property.
  • Such institutions are plausible e.g. lobsters in Maine, the fishermen had a limit on the number of traps they could set e.g. they have self-regulated irrigation systems in Southern India.

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