Montag, 20. August 2012

Protecting the earth's natural resources

CC-BY_SA 3.0, by Makemake at de.wikipedia


The price defines the worth - You may not like it, but it is a fact.

I'm not completely happy with the political and economical system of the world. Of course, there is not one system, there are many. But there is a dominating common denominator which is: money buys you influence, and influence in turn provides you with money.

And those who do have money (the big one) and influence (the big one) do everything to keep it that way. Unfortunately, one way to earn money is by exploiting nature at all cost. Namely at the cost of nature itself. This can be seen most prominently in the oil industry where the easy oil fields are already harvested. The higher cost in getting the oil makes oil more expensive which in turn is taken as an opportunity to raise the margins and thus the profits. Those higher profits make the exploitation of sites economically profitable which some years ago would just have been silly to exploit. Examples for these include extracting bitumen from tar sands in Alaska or drilling for oil at thousands of meters below the ocean surface close to the Brazilian coast line. Whilst drilling deep below in the sea there is a large risk of producing a hardly controllable leak which then pollutes all the sensible ecosystems in deep sea and at the coast close by excavating loads of tar sand just leaves by default already a big mess. Mind, that for the extraction of 2.9 liters of refined oil from tar sands one liter of oil energy equivalent has to be used. For easier exploitable oil fields in the past these ratio has been 25. Ten years ago you still could get 15. And now compare that to the lousy 2.9. Let's call it 3. This is just ridiculous. Another alternative for oil industry is to go where still some easy accessible oil is left, for instance in the Niger delta. There, the people in power give a damn if nature is destroyed as long as some millions are paid to their bank accounts.
And what's the cost? It's destruction of nature.

What can be done to preserve the important ecosystems all over the world? 

One could argue, that the whole political and economical system has to be changed. But is that a realistic approach? I'd say no. Changing the whole system is not easy to achieve. And if the whole system is changed history shows, that this is almost never without a boatload of violence. An often the outcome is not better than the state before the revolutionary events.And a profound change takes a lot of time.
Hence, instead of trying to go for the one big change, I'd propose to chuck down the way from now to the objective in as many small chunks as possible and do them one by one. This has the advantages, that smaller steps are easily executed and the resistance against each one of them is easier to overcome than the resistance against the one big silver bullet leap. And a further advantage is, that we might not know the best steps right away, but we will know more about which step to take right along the path.

What are the smallest steps to be taken to get a maximum of preservation of nature?

(small meaning: no immediate big system changers)

In the introduction I wrote, that the price defines the worth of something, and later I wrote, that I'd like to go for the smallest steps with the largest impacts first. The smallest steps are steps which stay within the economical and political system.

This step could be: Attach a price to natural resources.

So far, harming nature is in most cases essentially free. Of course, there are some regulations in place, but if the big Oil company comes by and wants to exploit oil somewhere, all the regulations are soon forgotten. The politicians who ditch the regulations are then getting paid the propaganda for the next election. A real win win situation, if you don't consider the people, if you don't consider *us* people.

Sparing for the moment the question of how a true value can be defined for a natural resource we can think of what would be triggered if exploiting nature would not be free and how it could be enforced. When there is a value associated to the resource and there is a price derived from the value, who should pay it? I think it's twofold: All countries should pay for the preservation of all natural resources. While all pay, more money goes to the countries with more and/or more important resources. Ideally preserving nature should provide the country with more money than if nature is destroyed as a byproduct of exploitation.

Of course, paying the country does not necessarily mean, that there is the exploitation stopped or reduced. The corrupt ruler/politician in that region still will make his private income-balance and maybe find, that the several million Dollars on his Swiss bank account stemming from the oil company is more for himself, than the many more million Dollars on the countries accounts (especially if the usage of the money for preserving nature is controlled transparently).

Hence, there has to be another contributor to the payments apart from countries (=tax payers). It's the oil companies and all the other companies who want to exploit nature. They should have to pay for each tree they cut and for each square meter of soil they dig out, contaminate, drive over or build something on. At the end it is the earth of all the people living on it. If someone would like to dig a hole in your garden, you'd probably make him pay. Why should it be different somewhere else on earth.

Making companies pay for exploiting nature adds actually no additional cost if the whole system is regarded. Because the cost for repairing nature afterwards (if it can be done) is there either way. Now, this cost is just exclusively carried by Mrs. and Mr. tax payer.


If it would be all that easy it might have been done so already. Questions which have to be tackled are:
  • How can the value of a certain region be defined?
  • How can the payments be agreed on world wide?
  • How can the payments be enforced world wide?
  • How can the preservation of nature be controlled and enforced in all the regions?
But hey, there are always issues around. Independently of what you are doing, you have to overcome some problems. These issues can be overcome as well.

What is the goal of all this?

I believe, that there are alternatives to our current dependency of fossil fuels. While these alternatives (solar energy, wind energy, biofuel [to a limited extend], etc.) nature would be preserved much better by still enabling a life style for the people which is similar to today's life style (in the western world). I even believe, that they are more convenient and cheaper for us on the long run. They are just not in place yet, because moving away from an established system (oil, coal, gas) needs always an initial additional force. And attributing the costs of environmental damage caused by the extraction and the use of fossil fuels to them would balance the cost. This would then favor the change. 

The change from exploiting nature brutally to exploiting nature sustainably will happen. There is frankly no way around this. The faster we do the transition, the better for earth and humanity.

You are very welcome to leave your comments! Let me know what you think.

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Protecting the earth's natural resources by Peter Speckmayer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.