PHS 100A Environmental Studies
Professor: David Terrell Ph. D.
Warner Pacific College
January 7, 2014
Some would say (and they would not be wrong) that I have a rather negative view of most things. Yet I have come by this negativity honestly, through bitter experience. And that negativity certainly extends to the area of environmental regulation.
A hydrologist and good friend of mine once said to me (and I have since come to believe this essential truth) that, “it is not the defense of the environment – by any means necessary – that is radical, but rather the defense of the status quo” (J. Rhodes, personal communication, 1997). What I take this to mean is that the critical eco systems of our planet – the whole biosphere in fact – is at a tipping point. If serious action to protect the environment is not taken soon, our children and their children’s children may never forgive us.
When I was young and naive, I thought, “well, if something is wrong with the environment, we should just pass a law that would protect it and all would be well.” Little did I understand the colossal obstacles that truly stand in the way of meaningful protection, not the least of which is human nature, that inexplicable ability to act in a manner only as it relates to immediate self-interest, forgetting completely that it is in the interest of our species to protect the planet in order to avoid extinction not only of God’s creatures, but also of ourselves.
Setting our human-centric nature aside for the moment let us discuss what environmental regulations are and why they have thus far failed to protect the environment.
In their book Environment: The Science Behind the Stories, Withcott and Laposata assert that environmental regulations are an extension of a wider environmental policy; and that policy “generally aims to regulate resource use or reduce pollution in order to promote human welfare and/or protect natural systems” (Withcott, & Laposata, 2013, p. 164). I don’t necessarily disagree with this statement; on the contrary I concede its inherent truth.
The problem, however, is that the text also claims that environmental policy addresses issues of fairness and resource use; yet, it outlines this fairness only as it pertains to the government, the private sector, and the citizenry (capitalism in other words), leaving fairness to the wider biomass of the planet out of the equation, thus refusing to recognize the rights of everything else to exist unrelated to human beings. Life is resilient, yet it exists only within a very narrow range of conditions. We are fortunate to live on a world which possesses those conditions, and, such wondrous biodiversity.
Until we are ready to postulate a policy that has at its core one self-evident truth, that ‘all life has a right to exist’ regardless of the needs of humanity, no policy or regulation will be adequate to protect it. It is the inability to come to terms with this truth that allows society to make such narrow, ineffectual, and loophole ridden policies in the first place, and explains our willingness to ignore the few environmental regulations that are well written. Consider the following example.
When I lived in Tucson, Arizona I worked for El Paso Natural Gas Company. El Paso has pump stations that have been in operation sense the 40’s and 50’s and are nowhere close to meeting current environmental air pollution standards. This is because when the regulations were written they gave the gas companies a loophole that says if they do not modify or repair more than fifty percent of the pump station equipment in a given year, they do not have to meet current air pollution standards. Meeting the higher standards is expensive, very expensive, so it is in the company’s economic interest never to change their old equipment. Normally these stations would last ten or twenty years, but I observed first hand that the predominant concern when performing maintenance is to never approach the fifty percent threshold! They will do practically anything to keep these massive (they’re as large as a building) antique engines running. There is no interest in being a good corporate citizen or protecting the environment. And this is a reflection of our society as a whole.
The sphere of influence of both economic interest and political ideology must be reduced along with a corresponding increase in ethical behavior is essential in order to effect meaningful change. Sadly, to the greater extent, these cannot be regulated. It would require a fundamental shift in human nature away from self-interests. My people (I am American Indian) have a saying, ‘seven-generations.’ What this means is to think of your actions in terms of how it will affect the next seven generations to follow. With that understanding, if I were to be asked to write just one regulation that would most benefit the environment, it would be to limit the human population of the earth to less than 1.5 billion people.
According Ben Stallings of World Population Balance, an organization dedicated to the sustainability of our global home, “The Earth’s 29.6 billion acres of biologically productive land and water could sustainably support only about 1.5 billion people at an ‘American standard of living and consumption’” (Stallings, 2009). Reducing Earth’s population would have the greatest positive effect on all other forms of life on the planet, and would ironically help ensure our own survival as a species. It would be painful to be sure, perhaps even cruel. But if you had a cancer would you not remove it? Well, humans are the cancer on the planet body. And a reduction in population is a necessary step to move from cancer to symbiosis.
Withgott, J., & Laposata, M. (2013). Environment: the science behind the stories (5th Ed.). New
York, NY. Pearson Benjamin Cummings. ISBN-13: 978-0-321-89742-8
Stallings, B. (2009). World Population Balance: Current population is three times the
sustainable level. Retrieved from http://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/3_times_ sustainable