Re-thinking Environmentalism: A Moderate Perspective

This column was published in a college newspaper.

When vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s abs receive three times more media coverage than climate change, you know it’s time to contemplate philosophical questions, such as: Where are we as a society? What kind of path lies ahead of us?

I’m an environmental economics major. It’s easy to assume someone with my background would share the political views of Democrats on the left, who tend to be supportive of “save the planet” initiatives. I don’t. In fact, I feel nauseated around left-leaning environmentalists who curse and bemoan corporations for propagating unsustainable living standards. They are too idealistic, righteous and, as a result, just too extreme.

True, the environmental problems we face today are daunting. Forest cover has been reduced significantly; ice sheets have melted rapidly; average temperatures have risen considerably, and, all in all, we’ve pretty much screwed things up terribly. Environmental activists like to call this the art of “unsustainability.”

But fundamentally, have our actions as humans consuming resources been morally wrong or unjustified? Not really. Maybe us screwing with the environment is part of a natural evolutionary process. Who knows? This planet has been around for billions of years; to think we humans can come around and destroy the entire place is akin to having a big attitude problem. Humans are here today and may not be here tomorrow; even if that’s the case, what’s the big deal?

On another note, modern day scholars and editorial writers tout that we can eventually marry environmental conservation and capitalism if we invest in new, clean energy and efficiency-driven technology. That is, in all likelihood, a lie. These innovations will certainly help mint money in the billions — and I hope to rake in some of the moolah myself — but to think they will help deliver the environment into perpetual balance is unwise and maybe even stupid.

History reveals some interesting facts. Concerns about the environment have existed for a long time. One such case is documented in the diary of an English scholar, John Evelyn: In the mid-17th century, the British were terrified by the rate at which they had cleared the forests. Shipbuilding required wood, and folks there used too much of it. One technological innovation — building ships using iron instead of wood — changed that entire equation. Temporarily, it solved the problem and eased environmental concerns in Britain. But by the mid-18th century, this innovation gave birth to the Industrial Revolution, which, as we know, has been responsible for magnifying the amount of environmental damage.

An entirely different case can also be made for the market immaturity of “cleaner” technologies. Production of solar power costs 25 cents per unit of standard energy, while the production of natural gas costs 4.51 cents. Certainly, clean technology will take time to be competitive. Once it is, we won’t need to promote it in the markets under the pretext of the environment.

The other day, I was on the College Park Metro Station bus and bumped into an environmentalist friend. He was clearly unhappy with my views on the issue. But all I’m saying is this: Try not to get bogged down by the ephemeral ideologies of environmentalism. Keep an open mind when it comes to our environment and embrace different perspectives on the issues.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Re-thinking Environmentalism: A Moderate Perspective

  1. Quite interesting; I am in History of Ecology right now and historical context is very key to present debates. I agree super left is irritating. I also have hope for clean technology. Also hope for us to get out there and make some of it happen ourselves

  2. Glad to see that you are capable of your own thinking on this matter! Today’s environmentalism has turned into a means of mass control by the Al Gores of the world. This is a shame since making this a purely political issue marginalizes this important issue in the minds of many.

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