Saving the Planet (WAS: RE: Can you live forever? Esquire article)

Billy Brown (
Thu, 13 May 1999 11:21:32 -0500

Brian D Williams wrote:
> From: "Billy Brown" <>
> >You should also recognize that the situation calls for more than
> >just proselytizing. Most of the environmental degradation in the
> >Third World is not caused by evil western corporations trying to
> >get rich on the backs of the poor. Instead, it is caused by huge
> >numbers of impoverished people trying to survive as best they can.
> >Telling them to stop will do no good - they aren't going to let
> >their children go hungry to preserve a few more acres of forest.
> >What you need to do is give them an alternative way of providing
> >for themselves that doesn't destroy the land..
> I don't agree, much of the degradation is related to more advanced
> economies utilizing the people and resources of the third world for
> their own gain, plus since we don't utilize
> environmental/ecological technologies, we're the last one's who
> should tell anyone about it. Fortunately South America has an
> excellent example of it's own.... Gaviotas.

The Amazon rain forest is being destroyed by peasants clearing land for farms. Wildlife extinction in Africa is largely a result of local farmers and ranchers clearing out "vermin" to protect their crops and herds (although foreign hunters are also factor in some cases). The devastation on the Indian subcontinent is a direct result of overpopulation. Most third World countries don't make any efforts at all to limit pollution, so local industry tends to be very dirty regardless of who owns it. Is there some other area I've missed?

Meanwhile, in America most types of pollution have been decreasing for about a century now. We have more mature forest than we did at the turn of the century, and we've set aside a significant fraction of the country as a permanent nature preserve. Every industry in the country is subject to reams of environmental regulation, and we spend tens of billions of dollars a year on research aimed at figuring out how to do a better job of protecting the environment.

To mind, these facts lead inevitably to the conclusion that the real work of environmentalism is in the third world. America is in good shape already, and things will naturally tend to improve as our understanding of conservation issues increases. Places like Brazil and Bangladesh, OTOH, are headed for an experiment in complete ecological destruction if nothing is done.

The natural question, then, is what can be done? I see the following options:
1) We can preach at them. People in the really poor countries won't listen, of course, because they can't change what they are doing without starving themselves. We might make some headway in South Korea, Taiwan, and other recently-industrialized nations, but that isn't where the big problems are.

2) We can use treaties, economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure to try to make problem countries change their ways. This, of course, is exactly the kind of paternalistic neo-colonialism that they hate, so it isn't going to make us any friends. It also doesn't address the problem, so it isn't likely to help.

3) We can invade the offending countries, shoot anyone who resists, march all those peasants, farmers and ranchers back out of the wilderness at gunpoint, and set up puppet governments that will practice conservation. I hope we can all agree that this 'solution' is worse than the problem.

4) We can ask ourselves *why* these people are destroying their own land, and look for ways to change these underlying factors. This is potentially a very productive approach, since it involves spreading knowledge, technology, freedom and extropian ideas to some of the most impoverished people in the world. However, it requires a lot of hard work and a real understanding of how politics, economics and social systems actually work. It isn't something you can do by holding conferences in exotic cities, preaching on TV, or even starting a government program.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I