Saturday, 5 January 2019

The 'Destroying Our Planet' Fallacy

One of the biggest fallacies out there is the complaint that we are 'destroying our planet'. We keep hearing rallying calls to care for the earth - but, alas, the people who think we are destroying it are confusing their terms.

The earth is not a sentient being that can be destroyed, and nor does utilising its resources constitute destruction of the planet. The resources we use are vital ingredients for making the world a better place, reducing suffering and misery, and increasing knowledge, well-being and the quality of life we have.

Take a forest as a good example. Cutting down trees for the paper and replanting more is not destroying the earth - it is utilising a vital resource that enriches humanity greatly. Yobs setting fire to a forest, on the other hand, is a case of being careless with the planet's resources because they are being supplanted for value-less ruination.

The large swathes of people who are constantly telling us that we are destroying our planet are seeing our use of resources as being like burning down a forest when they should be seeing it as being like making paper from trees. The earth is a giant rock that's over 4 billion years old: it was here long before we were, and it can survive long after we have gone. The notion of destroying it is a fallacious one. The only thing we can destroy is our capacity for utilising its resources, but given that it is the utilisation of its resources that they mistake for its destruction, the accusation is laughable.

For obvious reasons, saving the planet (by which it is meant ‘the earth’) must always be a secondary aim behind saving the planet (by which it is meant ‘life on the planet’). If preserving life and increasing well-being are the primary goals, then part of that goal (the most urgent goal, in fact) is to bring an end to global poverty and help the neediest people out of their plight of impoverishment.

This leaves those who think we are 'destroying the planet' with a big problem, because the only way to bring an end to global poverty and help the neediest people out of their plight is to help those people attain economic freedom, and the ability to trade, be self-sufficient, and productive in the broader market economy. And, of course, the only realistic way to achieve this is to generate the kind of industry and globalised expansion of the market that will come at the cost of using some of the earth's natural resources.

The upshot is, in the short-term future, to eradicate global poverty entirely, we're going to have to carrying on making the best use of the earth's raw materials. Like most things, there's a trade off, and all it takes for an intellectual malady to occur is the slightest reactionary ignorance to assert that 'We are destroying the planet' as though there's no need for consideration of the benefits vs. the costs of doing so.

It is thanks to the use of the earth's resources, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, that we've moved the human condition from a state of widespread poverty to a state of greatly reduced poverty and much more prosperity. Of course there's still a way to go, but as the developing world countries increase their infrastructure and market potential, they are going to be using the most ecologically efficient technology - so there is every reason to continue to develop and pioneer more environmentally efficient methods of industry.
Realistically, the things that are the biggest ingredients in achieving this - free trade, healthy imports/exports, high employment, sensible and equitable government spending, a good legal system, cultural plurality, immigration, global travel, welfare systems, human rights, property rights, family rights, and being freer citizens* – are going to have an environmental cost that is more than compensated for by the good it will do for the neediest people in the world.

Sadly, it's usually the lack of these things that is behind the killing of endangered species and the causing of extinctions, as well as people in developing countries not having a proper stake in their own country's resources - all of which are certainly things to be spoken out against.