The problem that is becoming widespread is the over-reaction that is causing ridiculous, radical solutions, where in fact sensible, rational ones, based upon the facts that we have should be.
I hate to disagree with Mike, but on this occasion I do. The problem is not that people are rushing around over-reacting to the dangers of environmental degradation but that we’re refusing to take it seriously enough, instead choosing to take refuge in the “warm fuzzy” activities such as paper and bottle recycling which might well be of negligible value. (Though at least, as Sarah said, these things keep the environmental issue in people’s minds)
But recognizing and acting upon the rising environmental threat does not mean turning our back on science and technology, nor does it mean a return to hunter-gathering. It means rather identifying and persuing appropriate technologies which will enhance rather than degrade the creation. Mike might well be right that we require industrial growth for our prosperity, but not all growth is equal. What is certain is that the way we do things now is completely unsustainable.
I’m more used to disagreeing with Josh Claybourn, and I’m not at all surprised to find myself doing so again. He notes that the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment says that, “Because many ecosystem services are not traded in markets, markets fail to provide appropriate signals that might otherwise contribute to the efficient allocation and sustainable use of the services” and implies that the report is therefore calling for a free-market solution to the problem. My reading of what’s there is anything but that. I wouldn’t deny that the market has a rôle to play, but the report also (and crucially) says “The establishment of market mechanisms also often involves explicit decisions about wealth distribution and resource allocation, when, for example, decisions are made to establish private property rights for resources that were formerly considered common pool resources. For that reason, the inappropriate use of market mechanisms can further exacerbate problems of poverty.”
Markets could be established that might address these problems, but they would require unprecedented international co-operation for a regulatory framework that could in no sense be called “free”.
The record of the “free market” on environmental issues is not a happy one. Whether it is CFC’s, lead in petrol, factory chimney emissions or any of a host of environmental problems that have faced us before, what has saved us has not been “the market”, but the pressure of unpopular activists leading to regulatory change. I see no reason to suppose that the present situation will prove to be any different.