<p>There has been a lot of recent coverage of environmental issues, most of it welcome.</p><p>It seems to me that, if the prognosis of climate change is true (can we afford the risk that it isn’t?) and if mankind is minded to do something about it (an observing alien might say this doesn’t appear to be a given), then science should advise on the lowest cost / lowest risk choice between finding a new planet and recovering this one. Now, we appear to make a half-hearted attempt at both.</p><p>It seems intuitively obvious that recovering our current home to a state of sustainability is the better of the two options (it is, as we used to be told at college, left as an exercise for the student to prove), however, finding a new planet appeals to the pioneering nature of mankind, whereas fixing this one is a tacit admission of failure.</p><p>It may also be that the socio-economic costs of recovering this planet to a state of sustainability are already too high. Any political party publishing a manifesto that seeks to limit population, curtail international travel, and control the consumption of red meat need not prepare for government.</p><p>The “bet” we are being invited to entertain is that science and technology will find increasingly elegant ways of allowing a rise in consumption without adverse impact on the planet. There’s kind of a square law thing going on here because consumption will grow through population growth and greed, whilst technical advances not only have to neutralize the environmental impact of this growth + greed but over-compensate to recover damage already done in the past. There is not much evidence that this is doable because everything we seem to do to make things better in the short term, ultimately makes things worse. Putting food into indestructible plastic packaging to give it longer life was once seen as a great idea: one wonders what else we are doing now which will seem lunacy to our grandchildren. Moreover, global warming is a thermodynamic term that means increasing chaos; left unchecked, the cost of “clearing up” after increasingly chaotic meteorological conditions will also increase with time, detracting from the cost (but maybe adding to the impetus) of fixing the root cause.</p><p>This will not change until the price of goods carries the fully burdened cost of the damage done by their creation and transportation to the point of sale. Whilst the West still expects to go to any one of, say, five supermarkets, 24 hours a day, 364 days a year and buy, say, blueberries (apologies to all blueberries) within a window of a few pence on price, then global decay will continue.</p><p>Economies are based on the notion of Gross Domestic Product which means that we are committed to continued consumption and there are massive marketing machines in place to help us do that. </p><p>So, whilst Governments have a role, their scope for action, in a democracy, is limited by the need to be elected in the first place! All Government can do is legitimize the actions of the populous and provide the information which is needed for truly rational choice. The answer may indeed lie in Adam Smith’s invisible hand but we mustn’t fall for the illusion that this is to do with plastic bags and cotton bud sticks. This is a fundamental root and branch change in supplier and consumer behaviour; if you want to buy blueberries sourced from Chile in London in December, then, by all means, fill your metaphorical boots. But the cost must include not only the material and transport costs, but the cost of damage done to the environment in getting blueberries (or anything else for that matter) out of the ground and transported by air and land to your local supermarket. Until this is the case, the planet is subsidizing the cost of goods by not charging the consumer for remediation of the damage done.</p><p>If the individual continues to be a short-term profit taker, this is the Tragedy of the Commons writ large: what appears to be the right thing to do in the short term for the individual is a long-term disaster for the planet.</p><p> </p>
KR Expert - Les Gregory
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