2/25/2005

Environmental Trade-Offs

In the article The Truth About the Environment, Bjorn Lomborg expresses his views on environmental beliefs such as the depletion of natural resources and the burgeoning population. Society is exposed to one-sided issues. What the world knows about the environment is what they are told by environmentalists. Facts are ignored. Rationalism is disregarded. Energy supplies have always been large enough to supply the world’s needs, contradicting environmentalists’ statements that we will soon run out. Advancing technology has made possible continual discovery of new energy sources. Extraction is constrained by capital. Therefore, price increases are not due to scarcity.

America will not be overflowing with refuse within the next 10 years. “…even if the American population doubles by 2100, all the rubbish America produces through the entire 21st century will take up (an 18 mile square), " writes Lomborg. Try to discuss this with the vast majority of people who have never bothered to research the facts. Land in the U.S. is plentiful yet many people are under the impression that without recycling we would be inundated by garbage.

Recycling is not cost effective. My roommate pays $15 a month for a recycling service. As part of this service we are required to clean each recyclable. Do you know how long it takes to scrub a peanut butter jar or wash a lotion container? Recycling is a misuse of my time and more importantly to me, a misuse of water. Steven Landsburg addresses this issue of trade-offs in Fair Play by asking, "with exactly which valuable resources are we obligated to be exceptionally frugal?" I feel that because I live in the desert more of my energy should be used to conserve water.

Bjor Lomborg poses an interesting question, “the question is whether the cure will actually be more costly than the ailment.” A better use of money according to Lomborg would be to “provide universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation”. (Lomborg, 2001, Always look on the dark side of life, para.8) This would prevent two million deaths annually. The environment needs to be managed with regards to opportunity costs. Bjorn Lomborg once held left-wing environmental views before he found data to support the opposite argument.

3 comments:

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 for a spelling mistake in Diane's post.

The important thing to recognize about Lomborg is that he is still left-wing and pro-environment. What he is really criticizing is misplaced priorities and knee-jerk anti-capitalism and anti-development among the current political left.

He has the really radical viewpoint that we ought to take care of the big problems first. And the biggest problem on the planet isn't recycling, or pollution by corporations (I could go on). The biggest problem is people putting raw sewage into the same places they get drinking water from. Other problems that should be addressed sooner rather than later include control of HIV (because it kills people in their prime), and elimination of nutrient-deficiency diseases.

The basic point is that hospitals are not full of people dying due to environmental problems - they're full of people who've been in car accidents, who are into substance abuse, and old people who typically live longer than their ancestors did.

You should also note that opinions that contrast with Lomborg are easy to find on the internet.

t0m said...

Environmentalists have been pushing for tougher sewage standards for years, only to be derided in the exact same manner here. Bush cut funding to isolate waste water.

No one has ever tried to discuss with me the idea that the next 100 years of garbage will cover only 18 square miles. Okay, I'll bite. How many square miles of garbage dumps do we have now? 9?

And calling environmentalists anti-development is a distortion. I could just as easily call you pro-mercury, pro-arsenic, anti-tree or whatever.

Truth is, the fifth largest economy in the world is also has the toughest environmental protections. And countries with the weakest environmental protections are among the poorest. How does that square with your argument?

Diane said...

This is in answer to Tom's comment.
Are you saying that tough environmental restrictions result in a stronger economy?
I found a possible answer in a textbook for another one of my classes. A strong economy results in a cleaner environment. The US economy has developed in stages. When the industrial revolution began no one cared about the enormous amounts of pollution is created. As we became a more developed country we had the knowledge and the resources to clean up the environment.

Please refer to the Washington Post article A Climate of Disdain by David Ignatious for the following. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9444-2005Feb8.html?referrer=emailarticle&sub=AR . Sorry. I couldn’t figure out how to link in a comment.

One hundred-forty nations ratified the Kyoto Protocol. This agreement is aimed at reducing carbon emissions by giving each country rights to trade emissions.
One of the reasons Bush wouldn’t commit the US to Kyoto is that certain undeveloped countries such as India were exempt. We cannot expect undeveloped countries to implement strict environmental controls. It is cheaper to run a polluting factory than to buy special equipment that keeps the air and water clean. These countries are more concerned with getting the majority of their citizens out of poverty.

Another reason the Bush Administration did not participate was the resulting loss of 5 million jobs and billions of dollars. (Ignatious, 2005, 4).

In summary, the US has stricter environmental policies because we are wealthy enough to care.