Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Violating the Rules

Occasionally I ponder why many people don't have the same passion about the environment I do, and I have come up with 2 possible explanations:

- They are too disconnected from nature
- They don't understand the rules the environment operates under

I think the first is obvious. We don't see how small we are in the scheme of things because we have managed to create a barrier between ourselves and nature. With so many lights in the cities, you don't see any but the brightest stars. When you get out in the wide open spaces and look up, you can't  help but feel smaller--and I think it's a good think for people to feel less omnipotent.

We don't see the miracle that is life because we're disconnected from it. We've shut ourselves away from birth and death. We've lost contact with the interconnectedness of living things because we see ourselves as the only important life form on earth, and don't realize we depend upon the other life forms and chemical cycles to live. Bugs are to be killed; everything we invent is worth having; and "go forth and multiply" is a right of people and their pets--but not weeds or wildlife.

I love Walt Disney movies, but the fact is, these types of shows distort our view of nature. We think nature works like Bambi. Don't even believe it.

As a consequence of the disconnect between ourselves and nature, we have forgotten the rules the environment operates under.

- The Rule of the Commons. What is good for each individually is not necessarily good for the whole. for everyone to prosper, it may be necessary for the individual to submaximize his/her overall good. Garrett Hardin described the Tragedy of the Commons this way: a rational decision by a person that maximizes their short-term good leads to long term consequences disastrous for the person, others and the environment.
- The Rule of Unintended Consequences. We invent things or change things without understanding the consequences. For example, antibiotics are a good thing generally, but a consequence of overuse has been the development of super bugs--resistance to antibiotics of all types. DDT was heralded as a great invention and for the purpose it was invented, it was for a time. However, there were unforeseen consequences that led us to ban the use of this chemical in the US, although it is still used in other countries.
- The Rule of Environmental Economics. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Resources are finite--a choice to use that resource in one way has to be paid for, even if the payment is made later.
- The Rule of Nature. Nature wins. We think we have control over the environment--we don't. If we need a reminder, look at our drought situation, or the major floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., that have been common occurrences in the recent past.

Somehow our disconnectedness with the environment has led us to believe (unconsciously perhaps) that the rules don't apply to us. Unfortunately, it may take some time before the consequences for our actions come due, but come due they will.

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