Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Green Conundrum

The Greens faced a predicament. Their country farmhouse served as their home and as their business quarters. While their business was generating a good revenue, the heavy machines used on the site were causing serious damage to the foundation of the farmhouse, threatening to bring down the house in about five years. Unfortunately the profit reaped from the business wasn't sufficient to help the Greens find a new place or remedy the structural damages to the house. But the Greens were firm on preserving the house for their posterity and so slowed down the production machinery, thus decreasing their revenue. A decade later, when Mr. and Mrs. Greens had passed on, their children inherited the farmhouse which was in a state of near dilapidation. The children grimly realized that it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the house. But the irony was, since the Greens had slowed down production and slimmed down their profits, the children hadn't inherited enough money to take care of the damages. If the Greens had indeed carried on production, not being so concerned with the short-term consequences, they might have left enough money for the children to resurrect the house. What went wrong with the Greens' intention to save the house? How did their concern and consideration turn impractical and result in the house being irrevocably damaged? (Original Source: The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lomborg)

This is an analogy on the current debate on environmental conservation and protection. Obviously the Greens did not make a practical and rational decision when they cut down on their profits while not taking any steps to remedy the house, or find a new place. Their decision was not just short-sighted but their priorities were mismatched, and they were not proactive enough to find a solution to the problem. They just seemed to delay the inevitable and deemed it as the best "solution". But when we draw parallels between this scenario to our problem of a world being depleted of environmental resources, and damaged due to our plundering, our option to consider relocating to another "home" is not as simple. While great minds like Stephen Hawking have been stressing on such endeavors, there are far too many challenges involved. With the effects of environment abuse unveiling itself and intensifying with every passing year, we seem to have an even more pressing need to find a "solution" to mitigate the damages early.

The skepticism in the excerpt is - if our industrialization and production is cut down to an unrealistic scale in an attempt to restrict the damage, it isn't a solution. It merely prolongs an inevitable disaster. Wouldn't it be better to be equipped with the technology and economic means to deal with the problem when it strikes, rather than not have the means to deal with the problem, with merely the consolation that it manifested a few years later? Theoretically, the argument seems to be logical. But finding a place/planet that is conducive to human habitation is far more complex than just involving money or technological growth. We don't have the liberty that the Greens had in being assured that there would always be another home, however modest in comparison to the existing home, that will help them survive. It doesn't sound logical to continue amassing profit and technology when none of them are assured of helping us find a solution. Until such a time, it makes sense to be overly cautious to conserve and preserve our planet. And it seems mind-bogglingly shocking to me that we can be so complacent about restarting or simulating our complex ecosystem in another planet - down to the life sustaining microbes. We have absolutely no idea if we humans can indeed survive in a different ecosystem. What makes us take this current planet for granted - a result of billions of years of meticulous and intricate evolution.

Besides, without even going into the specifics of the Kyoto protocol or the recent Copenhagen Summit, or the many controversies circling around claiming that Global warming is an unproven scientific falsity, I stress that it is every individual's social responsibility to treat their home with consideration. It doesn't seem unrealistic to me to insist that we don't litter our own home and not pay heed to many of our inconsiderate behaviors which can be rectified with simple steps. Monitoring the callous ways in which I was living, I was shocked that I spent so many plastic water bottles, containers and money only because I was forgetful or lazy to carry water and reuse a bottles. This in fact reduces my cost of buying plastic, which forms a significant component of trash, even per person. Similarly, how is at an increase in cost if I put in more effort to not use the drier and use a clothes line, at least during summer? Not using the drier for three whole months was a tremendous conservation of electricity and it brought down my bill significantly. Never before have I noticed how many plastic cups, plates and cutlery get trashed every time there is a small get-together amongst friends. A fun weekend dinner does not require so much waste. If we looked beyond the short-term discomfort of washing dishes (which anyway get dumped into a dishwasher or handed over to a domestic help), it is an economical benefit for us. Of course, using the dishwasher is also incurring excessive water wastage, but if one has to trade off their options due to practical challenges in dealing with our time pressured lives, then a thoughtful trade off is better than indulging in thoughtless and inconsiderate behavior. For months now, my dear friend has been tirelessly campaigning about waste-management, which will also promise a good organic garden. But the lukewarm responses suggest that people would rather invest a lot of money in buying fertilizer sacks than deal with collecting waste and popping in earthworms, which hardly require much effort (aside the ickiness associated with earthworms ;)). Such inertia to put in some labor and effort is what is saddening. Similarly, if one were to take account of the number of pages of paper that get printed out per useless meeting, per office/school, when everything is electronic, and if we were to notice how carelessly they get strewn in every other bin except the recycle bin, such carelessness is appalling. Contrary to the excerpt's claim, many of our compromises involve effort and consideration - not money and impediment of growth. If we looked beyond comfort, we can do much more.

Conservation of resources is a good practice regardless of any selfish motives. One doesn't have to go on crazy marine expeditions to stop whale hunting to demonstrate their commitment to preserving the ecosystem and the environment. There are plenty of little things we can do, each in our own seemingly little ways, to be considerate to our habitat. Paying attention to what we throw in the trash and how we use natural resources will surely provide ample opportunities to remedy our ways. It doesn't necessitate frugal living, as is commonly misunderstood. It only requires living thoughtfully in communion with Nature, showing her the consideration she deserves. But these steps alone are not going to be enough, and investment in research to explore other habitable planets is surely a long-term practical solution, which I don't think will be hampered due to us being minimal in our use of non-biodegradable substances.

1 comment:

SecondSight said...

One of those debates that one could argue about forever, isn't it? In my opinion, at least part of the problem is in the way we think about 'home'.

Imagine a scenario where every single person was given a specific amount of land, and all the waste they generated piled up on it as long as they lived- Recycling might begin to look a lot more attractive :)

People that go off on crazy whale-saving expeditions just have a more 'extended' conception of home than those of us that only recycle, or those that say "So whats in it for me, right now? Don't talk to me about saving the planet!"
The first step is for such people to understand- "Vasudhaiva kutumbakam" ;)