January 08, 2008

Preservation vs Sustained Exploitation

Damon Payne asked a question on the OBlogger email list this morning about "the notion of preserving the earth for human use as 'not entirely philosophically corrupt' "  He was paraphrasing or quoting Diana in his question which was really about the egoistic reasons one might be "green."

I object to some of the terms here and I hope to explain, but also get at the core of Damon's question as well.

I don't eat ice cream slowly.  I'm simply not good at relishing things in the sense of consuming it slowly and really dwelling on the pleasure of it. I like to just gobble it all up and overwhelm myself with the joy of it.

My sister is the opposite.  She's always liked to save up things she enjoys with the idea that she would enjoy them another day.  I remember more than one occasion when my mother uncovered months old Happy Meals in my sister's room because my sister had squirreled away french fries thinking they would be good to eat at a later date.

Obviously, there is a virtue to saving things for later use, but I think a problem happens when people save things without any intent to use them.  It's very Silas Marner.

I do think a lot of green people take this stance with regard to the Earth.  They think our natural resources must be preserved for some future, undetermined use and even for the use of people that don't even exist yet.  I guess they just assume that some future peoples will find coal helpful in some way.

I tend to be of the mind that coal isn't even useful to me now since someone owes me a nuclear-powered jet pack for my daily commute.  This coal business is entirely too 1825 for my tastes.

But there are green people out there saying that the Earth needs to be preserved and by that they mean that the "natural" state of the earth needs to be kept that way, free of the blighting touch of man.  Those people are people-haters and I disagree with them completely, so I disagree with that sense that the Earth must be preserved.

The rational egoist does not want the Earth destroyed in the sense of turning it into an uninhabitable ball of dirt, but there is a third, excluded option between living in a wildlife preserve and living in a space suit on New Mercury.

The other option is to act in ways that if they modify the natural environment, they do so to the greatest benefit of human life on this planet.

Pollution in the common sense of the word is not healthy and no one wants pollution except maybe the villains on Captain Planet. 

Assuming you're a rational egoist, you will consider your actions in the broad context of your entire life with small decisions supporting the greater arc of your lifelong values.  This does mean that you don't want to destroy the planet and leave it to your children to clean up, but at the same time that doesn't mean you should live in misery and inconvenience to do it.

Putting aside arguments about the efficacy and politics of some green practices like recycling, and assuming that they work to reduce landfill mass and pollution and all that other stuff, it may be entirely rational (it depends on your particular context) to pursue those ends with the idea in mind that one wishes to contribute to the maintenance, improvement, or even creation a healthy, outdoor environment.

I hasten to point out that having a life-sustaining, life-fostering outdoor environment does not necessarily mean one with bugs and trees and rocks and stuff all over the place.  I am fond of cities and I can imagine a clean, bright city full of fresh air and car horns.

You've seen Star Wars, right?  You know that city planet, Coroscant?  I love the looks of it, but I bring it up to simply call to mind the possibility of completely altering the composition and appearance of the planet's surface while also maintaining a healthy outdoor environment suitable for human life.

So, the rational egoist may pick up litter, use low-energy bulbs, and even avoid eating overfished species now and then not merely for the immediate, cost-saving benefits of some of those actions, but for the longer term goal of maintaining a world that is conducive to a happy, healthy life.

Update: Inspector has some additional, interesting commentary on this topic.  Check it out!

Posted by: Flibbertigibbet at 05:36 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
Category: Mean Green Machine
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