Ecological vs. Human Economic Interests

Posted By Dylan Ribb

One thing that I struggle with when it comes to my desire to be “ecologically aware” & “environmentally friendly” is a rather nagging question: How do we balance our desires to preserve ecosystems and environments with human problems such as poverty, hunger, famine, and economic failures? If we choose to focus on the environment, must we exclude human desires? Does the reverse apply if we choose to focus on human needs? These are problems that are not only philosophically difficult, but also causes of much consternation in practical terms. In addition to the “surface” issues, we are also faced with the much more troubling philosophical problem of uncertainty in future events. We really don’t have any idea what’s going to happen five years from now, let alone fifty years from now. So, with all this uncertainty, where do we go from here? The solution, I think, Is an integrated viewpoint, wherein the environment and humanity are not exclusive, but necessarily connected, and we view them not as one being more important than the other, but both being equally important and one depending upon the other.

There is a lot of favoritism that occurs in our country. Many people, who claim to be “environmentalists”, choose to take extreme action toward protecting ecosystems and the environment, yet disregard the very human issues of poverty, lack of education, and poor economic performance. These are the kinds of people who tell doomsday stories about global warming and forget that we have children starving in Africa who need to be fed and cured of HIV. There are also, of course, those who ignore the environment and focus solely on human interests. These are the kind of people who would rather buy a Hummer simply because it “looks cooler”, than a more fuel-efficient vehicle that leaves a significantly lesser impact on the environment. These ideals are portrayed a lot in the media (although I must admit that lately advertising and big media have done a better job at synthesizing them).

However, there are those, such as myself, who hold much more complicated viewpoints on the environment and human activity. We forget that human beings are actually a PART of nature, including our cities and industries. With this in mind, we have to realize that not only do we have a negative impact, but also a positive impact. “Nature” tends to strive for equilibrium, so who is to say that man is not simply doing nature’s bidding at this very moment? However, even if this may be the case, we must not ignore our “duty” to preserve our living space. But why should we let millions of people starve to death while we build another “sustainable” building that no one’s going to live in? On the other hand, why should we indulge our desires to own condos and SUV’s but ignore the cutting down of trees and strip-mining large portions of land for fuel? These are all complicated questions, which may or may not have answers.

To sum up, my main point is this: There is a horrible lack of balance between environmentalism and humanism. And it’s an odd lack of balance, because the scales do not tip to the left nor right, but they lack any sort of pivot point at all. This is something that needs to be fixed if we are going to learn how to live "peacefully" within our environments and ecosystems. Instead of focusing our efforts on one thing, why don't we spread out our resources and make life better for everyone and everything? We can take the excess of funds that go towards sustainability and apply them to poverty reduction programs and disease prevention. We can also focus more on education and give people the means to make better decisions who would otherwise lack the skills to do so. Ultimately, by helping humanity and the environment at the same time, we can make the WORLD a better place, by not only improving the environment in which we live, but also by improving the quality of life for those that live in it.