The Condition of the Land

Nature never produces anything that it can not decompose and return into the pool of fresh resources. Man does. Nature returns organic wastes to the soil as fertilizer. Man often dumps such wastes in the oceans, buries them in landfills, or burns them in incinerators. Man's deeply rooted belief in continuous growth treats nature as a commodity, the land, oceans, and atmosphere as free dumps. There is a subconscious assumption that the planet is inexhaustible. In fact the dimensions of the biosphere are fixed and the planet's resources are exhaustible.

The gross national product (GNP) is an indicator based on the expectation of continuous growth. We consider the economy healthy when the GNP and, therefore, the quantity of goods produced increases. The present economic model is like an open pipeline which takes in resources at one end and spills out wastes at the other. The GNP in this model is simply a measure of the rate at which resources are being converted to wastes. The higher the GNP, the faster the resources are exhausted (Figure 3). According to this model, cutting down a forest to build a parking lot increases the GNP and is therefore good for the economy. Similarly, this open-loop model might suggest that it is cheaper to make paper from trees than from waste paper, because the environmental costs of paper manufacturing and disposal are not included in the cost of the paper, but are borne separately by the whole community.

In contrast, the economic model of the future will have to be a closed-loop pipeline (Closed-GNP). This will be achieved when it becomes more profitable to reuse raw materials than to purchase fresh supplies. This is a function of economic policy. For example, in those cities where only newspapers printed on recycled paper are allowed to be sold, there is a healthy market for used paper and the volume of municipal waste is reduced. Similarly, in countries where environmental and disposal costs are incorporated into the total cost of the products (in the form of taxes), it is more profitable to increase quality and durability than to increase the production quantity (Figure 3).

In addition to resource depletion and the disposal of toxic, radioactive, and municipal wastes, the natural environment is also under attack from strip mining, clear cutting, noise, and a variety of other human activities. In short, there is a danger of transforming the diverse and stable ecosystem into an unstable one which consists only of man and his chemically sustained food factory.

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