Is clean energy worth any price? Certainly, it is worth a high price to lower the human footprint on the earth, both for us living today, and for future generations. But is it worth the destruction and loss of ancient culture, heritage, archeological sites, or the displacement of indigenous people? Like so many environmental issues, this question is complex and seems to present an ethical dilemma.
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.
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.
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?
Placed in a fictional future, The Age of Stupid highlights the apparent insane attitudes and behavior of our age toward environmental problems. The film illustrates the dire situation and potential consequences if we continue ignoring the signs of a coming environmental disaster and don’t find a way to effectively implement solutions.
Demographic fatigue, social instability, and environmental degradation are clearly linked. Demographic fatigue can be described as a state of a government being financially drained by rapid population growth. It results from attempts to engage the needs of more and more people for education and jobs, while still addressing environmental problems (Brown, Gardner, & Halweil, 2006, p. 83). Governments of developing countries are hampered by demographic fatigue in dealing effectively with emerging challenges in the health and wellness of the people and the environment of their country. It becomes a destructive circle – by attempting to meet the needs of more people, environmental and social problems are introduced or exacerbated, impeding meaningful progress in solving any of these problems. It has been suggested that the concept of demographic transition might hold a solution to rapid population growth – by encouraging and accelerating further modernization, it is argued that population growth will stabilize and alleviate the problems of demographic fatigue (Brown et al., 2006). Considering the environmental problems that existing modernized countries face though, the wisdom of the demographic transition approach is questionable…