Sunday, December 18, 2011

Environmental Concerns

When I hear environmentalists say that we need to treat the Earth well and be good to the environment, I can't help but think that they're going about it all wrong. Their message is one of altruism and genuine concern for the well-being of the planet, but the people who need to hear it most are those for whom altruism and concern for anything outside of their own backyards are something akin to alien concepts.

The argument needs to be reframed, with emphasis shifted from what can be viewed as tree-hugging hippie naivete to something more personal. Never mind all the millions of insect species that go extinct as we bulldoze the jungles. Really, most people don't empathize much with mosquitoes and their cousins. All the talk about the majesty of ancient trees or beautiful landscapes or spotted owls really doesn't do much to convince anyone who needs convincing.

No, probably the best thing to do is concentrate on how they will be hurt personally by not tending to the needs of the environment. I think George Carlin said it best.Of course, this was just part of his stand-up act, but as with many of his rants, there's a lot of truth in it. The planet is going to be around for a while. It's the people who are in danger (and the other life forms).

If you want people to do something about the environment, don't tell them about polluted air or even some poor endangered animals or something that makes them shrug. It has to be personal if it's going to make an impact.

I also think that it's important to understand the concerns of those who are not in favor of environmental regulation. There aren't many people out there who actively want to destroy the environment. Bad guys are for action movies. No, most of the people who are against regulations just think environmentalists are wrong, that the economic cost of dealing with regulations is higher than the cost of not dealing with them, and that we will only fall behind other countries more willing to put aside environmental concerns (e.g., China).

Personally, from what I have heard and read, there is overwhelming evidence that we can affect the environment's stability to a degree that it can be good or bad for us, and the cost of making it worse is higher than the cost of dealing with it. I'd also like the world to be something other than a burnt out husk for my kids when they're older. It would be in our enlightened self-interest to manage the environment better than we have. We've gotten better about it, but we're still creating oceans of plastic refuse and such, with no clear solution for how to reconcile our desire for modern luxuries with our desire for a livable planet.

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