Restoration or Suppression: Who are the Environmental Experts?

Many thinkers, groups, activists, and academic disciplines are working to address the many environmental and cultural challenges we face. In the final analysis though, while these efforts surely are an essential part of addressing the various challenges, they are, at best, only a suppression of symptoms. Ultimately, the crises we face stem from the lack of an overarching vision for the future; at best, we are being led by a fragmented and obsolete vision that guided humanity through what Berry (1988) called the industrial age (p. 82). The current state of environmental affairs is a plethora of complex problems, which, in the still prevailing industrial view, we can only haphazardly address – academia is compartmentalized, professionalized (Wilshire, 1990, p. 99), and commercialized to the point of ineffectiveness; viewpoints on environmental issues, such as questions on the good or ill of income and development, are locked in wildly polarized dichotomies (Beckerman, 2006; Shiva, 2006); and even terminology to be used, such as sustainability (Fricker, 2006) or biodiversity (Escobar, 2006), cannot be agreed upon. We are completely without a holistic worldview that is appropriate for the contemporary environmental situation. Considering this lack of an overarching vision for the future of humanity’s relationship to, or place within, nature, it is painfully clear that there are no experts on the environmental crisis, only egos running dangerously wild and dragging the rest of the world down into their narrow fields of vision.

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Define Biodiversity. Please?

Biodiversity has become a ubiquitous ‘buzzword.’ Dictionary.com defines it as “diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment” (dictionary.com, 2013). This definition reveals the potential absurdity of the idea that “people have created biodiversity, so they are essential to its survival” (Redford, Brandon, & Sanderson, 2006, p. 237). This statement implies, at least on a superficial level, that there was no diversity of species before humans arrived on the scene, and only with human’s creative powers did this diversity arise. Redford et al (2006) dismantle the idea that humans created biodiversity and thus are in some way essential for its survival by pointing out that the word ‘biodiversity’ is only a “meaningful concept,” and different from the actual and real state of affairs to which it refers (Redford et al, 2006, p. 237). This suggests that humans, since they created biodiversity, might be thus essential only to the term, not to the survival of the actual biodiversity found in the world. In a sense, they become responsible for the survival and evolution of the term, not, however, for the survival of actual biodiversity. This indicates a need to isolate the difference between the use of the words essential and responsible. While humans might be dismissed from the essential part of the survival of biodiversity, this does not relieve them of the obligation and ability to protect actual biodiversity. Just because biodiversity can be seen as only a concept does not mean that we are not responsible for protecting the actual, real biodiversity. While perhaps not essential to its survival, this does not negate the need to fully understand the term and the concept, and to thoughtfully approach the conservation of both.

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My Ecological Footprint and a Response to an Irrational Argument

I guess I need to clean up my act. According to the Global Footprint Network’s calculator, my ecological footprint is 4 earths, and 17.7 global acres (Global Footprint Network, 2011). If I follow the suggestions offered by the calculator, my footprint would still be 3.6 earths (Global Footprint Network, 2011). This presents an obvious problem. The minor possible reduction and the fact that even if everyone reduced their footprint there would still be a major issue suggests that the problem is complex and must be thoughtfully and rationally engaged. If technology and the ability it provides to intensify agriculture and justify the use of the earth’s finite resources are to be a solution, as Ridley (2010) suggests, it certainly requires better than the pitiful argumentation that he has provided. I mean, is this guy for real? His total lack of philosophical reasoning would be amusing if it weren’t so dangerous. Even if technology can provide solutions, it does not preclude any benefits to be realized by the lowering of personal footprints.

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Film Reflection: China Revs Up

Since developed countries did not face environmental regulation during their development, the question has been posed if these countries are imposing a double standard on developing countries such as China. Expecting China to meet the same environmental standards as developed countries seems unfair, and could limit its economic growth, as seen in the reduction of steel production after implementation of more stringent policies (Schmidt, 2004). To protect economic growth, it has been proposed that it is acceptable to develop now and clean-up the environment later. This idea is based on the concept of the Kuznet curve, but it seems optimistic to expect the desired results to be found in all times, situations, and historical periods.  With population in China at levels not comparable to those in richer countries at the time of their development, the idea of a double standard is not appropriate. Due to rapid economic growth (and demands for continued growth) and large population, the potential damage to the environment is much greater in China. The gravity of the current problem, both globally and locally in China, makes the question of whether or not China should be held to the same standards as rich countries moot.  Not only should China be held to the same standards, it must be held to the same, if not more stringent, standards.

(watch the film below)

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Affluence and the Environment

The human desire for physical security and satisfaction of needs is self-evident. As the ability to meet these needs advances, the desire for physical security evolves into a quest for affluence. As there is an obvious relationship between affluence and the human ecological footprint, the question of how development should be pursued becomes paramount. White (2006) suggests that cultural development occurs through the harnessing of energy, either through the amount of energy that is harnessed, or through the efficiency with which it is transformed into work and products (p.143). With these points in mind, the question becomes how we can better utilize energy, while also caring for the environment, in a way which will lead to physical security and satisfaction of needs, and perhaps even affluence on a wider, more equitable scale. The ideas on development and environment offered by Beckerman (2006) and Fricker (2006) both have advantages and disadvantages, but the impression that they are diametrically opposed might lead to the assumption that one must be chosen over the other. Development will not cease, nor should it, as it is clear that it brings many advantages. What is needed is a new paradigm for pursuing development and affluence that offers a balanced approach between the self-satisfied mass consumption sanctioned by Ridley (2010), and the condemnation of all development as degradation as asserted by Shiva (2006). This paradigm should offer an efficient framework for harnessing and transforming energy on a broad scale, and lead to development that will benefit the earth and humanity in general.

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Shifting the Conversation: On the Double Standard

Since developed countries did not face environmental regulation during their development, the question has been posed if these countries are imposing a double standard on developing countries such as China, or from the north to the south (Gupta, 2004). The conversation on this double standard presented to the south by the north (Gupta, 2006:302) is an essential one due to what is at stake. If it is true that the north is responsible for 90% of the carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere (Gupta, 2006:305), it does not take huge leaps of mathematical reasoning to imagine what allowing the south to develop unchecked by pollution control will do to the environment. What truly is at stake in this conversation are the planet and her future generations, not only economic development and comfortable lifestyles. In order to move forward, the focus of the conversation must shift to account for both sides of this equation.

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Film Reflection: Thirst

After watching the documentary Thirst (Snitow, 2004), it becomes clear that the question as to whether or not water should be privatized is not easily answered. There is some evidence that privatization of infrastructure services is good for the consumer (pricing, effectiveness) and thus pressure would be on all providers to ensure the best possible service. However, the question of privatization opens many other complex questions. While there are many valid arguments for and against the privatization of water, there are no easy answers. What is the difference between water and food, which is privatized? Is a form of “water farming” possible or feasible? What differentiates owning water from owning land, or land with water on it? If water is owned, is it possible to legally prohibit use of that water from commercial sale? Is access to safe water a human right? Are there even any human rights, and if so, says who? Is water a part of national security; should it be controlled by the government? Is water sacred, as Klaus Toepfer has suggested, and if so, is this a valid reason not to privatize water?

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