Tag Archives: environment

Nothing wastes resources like saving them

Imagine you find yourself in possession of a diamond mine. However you don’t like diamonds very much; you think they are vastly overvalued compared to important resources such as soil. You are horrified that people waste good soil in their front gardens where they are growing nothing of much use, and think it would be better if they decorated with a big pile of this useless carbon crystal. What do you do?

a) Cover your own lawn with diamonds

b) Donate as many diamonds as you can for free to anyone who might use them to decorate where they would use soil

c) Sell the diamonds. Buy something you do value.

d) Something else

Environmentalism often takes the form of the conviction that human labor should take the place of other resource use. Bikes should be ridden instead of cars, repair is superior to replacement, washing and sorting recycling is better than using up tip space, and so on. This is usually called ‘saving resources’ not ‘using up more valuable resources’. One might argue that while human labor is usually relatively expensive (you can generally make much more selling five minutes of time than a liter of tip space and a couple of cans worth of clean used steel), environmentalists often consider the other resources to be truly more valuable, often because they are non-renewable and need to be shared between everyone in the future too. Even so, since when is it sensible to treat your overvalued resources as if they were worthless? How will resources come to be used more efficiently if those who care about the issue destroy their own potential by donating their most valuable assets to the world at large in the form of the very things which the world supposedly blithely squanders?

Intergenerational inequality

These are common views, held together often:

  • Modern people are more wasteful of natural resources than their ancestors
  • Technology won’t save us from this gluttony, all we can do is control ourselves
  • Humanity should minimize population as well as personal consumption now to preserve natural resources for future generations
  • .

    However if people are following a trend of using natural resources less efficiently, and this won’t be changed by future technology, current people seem likely use natural resources more efficiently than the next few generations. If this is true and the purpose is human wellbeing (as concern for future generations suggests), shouldn’t we try to have a larger population early on, at the expense of having a smaller one later?