Saturday, January 17, 2009

Environmentalism and Unintended Consequences

A lot of things are being done these days in the name of our children and the environment. Everyone wants a clean environment right?! We want the world we pass on to the next generation to be as free from pollution as possible. I certainly do but at what cost? For example, I think it safe to say that we all want our offspring to at least have all of the opportunities we had. When it comes to our futures, environment and opportunity seem to be on opposite sides of the equation. Where do we find the balance?

If we go too far in one direction, we seem to endanger the other side of this equation. For example if we place environmental protection requirements on business that are too stringent, productivity slows, business suffers, people lose jobs and opportunities for a bright future disappear. If we go too far in the direction of progress, profit seems to outweigh responsibility for our environment and then corners are cut in the name of progress. At least that's the popular version of the story.

If you look at the problem as being a see-saw, where we are right now depends on who you talk to. Just watch anything out of Hollywood and you’ll see all of the doom and gloom our futures hold because we didn’t listen to mother earth. Listen to Rush Limbaugh and you’ll hear that the best thing about a tree is what you can make with it after you cut it down. Who is right?

From my own personal observations, we in the G8 industrialized nations of the west are decidedly in favor of the environment while those in developing countries decidedly in favor of opportunity. In fact we in the west have gone so far as to become slaves to the environment rather than its masters. We do this to our own peril. Already we’re seeing evidence of what can happen when regulation goes too far.

The pictures that accompany this post are taken from the beaches of what many people believe is a pristine island paradise called Okinawa. They are the result when government restrictions are too onerous. When people have to pay the government to rid themselves of waste, they’ll find other ways of dealing with it.

Most of the time this is done by pulling off to the side of the road at a remote location and dumping waste. Often this takes place in the middle of the night when nobody is around to see it. Their other option is to pay onerous fees to get rid of it legally or leaving it around the house where it will become a home to pests and vermin. When people are faced with the choice of paying the government to get rid of it, leaving it where their family may become endangered by it or dumping it illegally, they’ll more often than not choose the latter of the three.

The unfortunate thing is that when people dump appliances and the like in remote areas, the government ends up paying for the cleanup. More often than not, the cost of cleaning up afterward is far more than it would have been had they simply allowed people to dump their waste legally without the fees! Before government enacts another onerous environmental regulation, perhaps they should think long and hard about the unintended consequences of their actions. Either way, we all end up paying for it!

The pictures posted here are from top to bottom: An abandoned vehicle at Chibana Gusuku, A television dumped along a roadside in Gushikawa and a DVD player and a computer monitor found under a bridge in Kin and lastly a computer CPU half buried on a beach in Kin.

The below is a positive example of what mankind can do to the evironment if left to his or her own design.

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