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Environmentalists Miss the Big Picture December 23, 2008

Posted by federalist in Energy, Social Politics.

Pollution of the type that environmentalists decry can certainly have major impacts on lives and ecosystems in the short term.  But it is nothing compared to what the next major ice age will do: Glaciers will erase everything we have done to the landscape and will bury toxic substances (most of which came from the earth to begin with) away from the biosphere.  Major volcanic episodes in epochs past have filled the planet’s atmosphere with toxic clouds that dwarf what we can do by burning fossil fuels.

There is real probability of future cataclysmic asteroid impacts that would make the worst human environmental abuses look like a sunny day in the park.  We have little ability to predict or avoid a nearby gamma-ray burst aimed in our direction that would destroy the planet.  We may be lucky to avoid surprise interstellar catastrophe, but we do know that in the long, long term our solar system will die.

Given both these certain and overwhelming geologic processes, and the risks of extra-planetary cataclysm, how much should we worry about our own short-term impact on our environment?

Some environmentalism can pay: E.g., profitable efforts to use limited resources efficiently, and measures to reduce pollution that harms our ability to function and survive.  But efforts to preserve “environment” against inevitable forces far more destructive than ourselves are naive and hubristic.

Whatever it is that environmentalists value is in potentially imminent, and certainly eventual, peril on this planet. Thus, if you value and wish to preserve anything tangible — future generations of human life, earthly ecosystems, indeed, anything other than your own life and present enjoyment — then your paramount concern should be the dissemination of those things beyond this planet and this solar system.

Art Carden’s recent essay points to this issue and argues:

A solution requires additions to the ultimate resource, which is to say that it requires additional human ingenuity and a finer division of labor so that people can focus on the problems that interplanetary travel would raise. This means that we need more people, and we need to make them richer, faster to release the resources that would be needed to solve some of these problems. While this runs precisely counter to conventional environmental dialogue, the thesis that we should not discount the future implies that all other concerns should take a backseat to the problem of preventing [the extinction of life].



1. federalist - December 20, 2009

Howard Bloom has a good essay on the big picture in “Climate Change Is Nature’s Way.”

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