More reasons why we (tend to) destroy our planet

While reading old posts, I realized that we identified many reasons or incentives persons may have to harvest or let other harvest from the environment more than what it can sustainably give and to ‘give’ or let other ‘give’ in return more wastes than it can absorb sustainably. We talked about discounting, environmental justice, psychological factors in play when it comes to make some efforts to preserve some species but not others, and so forth. Not feeling very original, I will add two factors to this already long list.

The fist one, I think, is quite similar to the different emotional responses that most of us have toward a ‘cute’ mammal risking extinction or a clear-cut forest scene when compared to the emotional response we have toward a fish risking extinction or a bottom trawling scene. In her talk, Line J. Gordon said that in countries where people where over draining their underground water for agriculture, the general opinion was that water had never been so abundant and therefore that there was nothing to worry about or no planning necessary. As in the case of the line separating the visible above water world from the invisible underwater world, it seems very hard to overcome wide spread opinions or emotive responses which result from individuals own day-to-day experiences and observations. The obvious response is: more information, we need more information! The presupposition is that once people do know what is really happening behind what they can directly observe, their emotional responses and habits will automatically change and they will ask their politician to bring about general changes to redress the situation. I think that the presupposition reveal a certain naivety. I am wondering what kind of information would be required and delivered in what ways to counter the psychological reflexes that we seem to have. Doing some researches (or reading the results of past researches, if any) in psychology and in communication might be necessary to put all the data collecting and synthesis to efficient use when it comes to transforming mentalities.

The second one is tied to the idea that rich people can insulate themselves (at least better than the poor one) from the effects of environmental degradation. This idea, which I no doubt think is true, taken with the idea of discounting gives, I think, a very strong incentive to destroy our planet. Since depleting the environment now often means getting richer and richer through time thanks to our system of interest rates, one can ‘rationally’ think that it is in his/her own interest and in the interest of his/her own children that he/she deplete the environment now (since, anyway, on that line of reasoning, someone else will do it if he/she doesn’t do it), because not only that person is more likely to be able to protect himself or herself from the bad effects of his or her acts, but, through inheritance, to protect his or her children also. On that line of thinking, the “think about your children and grand-children” slogan would not induce an environmentally friendly behavior, but quite the opposite. And this, I think, is quite chilling.

4 Responses to “More reasons why we (tend to) destroy our planet”

  1. parasite kid says:

    In your second description of more reasons why it seems “logical” that people should destroy the planet, I think you may be giving too much credit to the factors driving the majority of the population. In many ways it seems to be a lack of logical connection between current action and future consequences that has contributed to our current circumstance. I would suggest that the success of advertising, not to mention the results of the past 2 national elections in the United States, support the idea that people respond very strongly to emotional slogans rather than weighing the costs and benefits of their actions…especially those relating to consumption.

  2. Culture Kid says:

    Merle and Parasite Kid both draw on important points here, but I think the main problem lies in how we generalize the population. There are people for whom economic cost/benefit analysis prevails in mentality, and thus guides all decision-making – thus, with discounting, there is little incentive NOT to exploit the environment. And there are also people for whom emotional slogans are the primary driver in decision-making and/or general attitude towards the environment. For these people, strong rhetoric (arguably, propaganda) from authorities such as national governments guides action. The two groups I’ve described above are not mutually exclusive, either. Perhaps a problem we should consider further in understanding the ways in which people react to the ubiquitous “environment” is that we are not static thinkers, and our perspectives change relative to who we’re listening to, what they are espousing, and how convincing their arguments are. This blog is an example of the very ways in which students of 650 change our minds constantly, as we try to figure out what we really think about many, many issues.

  3. crocus says:

    The point addressed by Culture Kid is a good one. People have many different reasons for why they destroy the environment: be it “logical” cost-benefit reasons, or emotional reasons. For that exact reason, there must be logical and emotional arguments for preserving the environment. I think we have gotten a good sense of what these arguments are based on lectures that we have attended. The importance of preserving the environment to prevent expensive remediation for essential services (i.e. provision of clean water), is just as important as making sure our children have a safe place to play one day. I think that the potential solutions and arguments for change are just as diverse as the reasons for the initial degradation and it is the dissemination of these arguments and solutions that is important.

  4. parasite kid says:

    I agree, we are not static thinkers but what is it that is changing the way we think? As culture kid pointed out, these changes depend on external influences. For those of us drawn to environmental issues, it is the books, speakers and discussions we are currently engaged with, for others it may as well be the current emotional argument. Given how fast these external drivers are changing; and if we are so dynamic in our thoughts and actions, then understanding how to lengthen our environmental attention span will be particularly important.