Visual and Noise Pollution

In terms of physically damaging, poisoning, or depleting the earth’s living environment, there are no such things as visual or noise pollution.

These are red herrings in the sense that, for example, people who object to the noise of rock music, traffic, or children at play, or object to the replacement of an ornamental old building by a stark new one, feel entitled to attach their cause to the environmental cause (feeling licensed by the use of the word “pollution” in describing what they object to), thereby distracting attention from issues of real importance to the living environment and diverting energy that should go into resolving those issues in the environment’s favour.

This does not mean that noise control, preservation of pleasant old buildings, and restriction of huge billboards may not be useful causes in their own right. But they should be fought separately, not used to burden the environmental movement whose job is so vital to economic well-being and thus to human welfare and survival.

It would be better if the word “conservation” were only applied to living things and their habitats, while the word “preservation” were applied only to inanimate human artefacts such as old buildings, machines, and artworks.

The reduction of economic activity through environmental degradation takes place both directly and indirectly.

Several examples will illustrate the direct effect.

  • Failure to conserve topsoil reduces food production from plant and animal sources.
  • Failure to conserve forests destroys timber workers’ jobs and reduces wooden goods in the economy. Of course “they” can find substitutes for wood, but this involves increased throughput and eventual depletion of some other resource.
  • Allowing plant and animal species to become extinct reduces the genetic diversity necessary to maintain the vigour and ensure the continued fertility and adaptability of all life on which humanity ultimately depends.
  • Using practically non-renewable fossil fuels, coal, gas and oil, at rates far higher than could be accommodated using renewable energy sources, threatens economic dislocation. What to do about fuel consumption will be examined in a later posting entitled “Non-renewable resources – leave them in the ground?”

A mainly indirect adverse effect of environmental depletion on the health of the economy arises from the small component added to the rate of price increases by the depletion of so many resources, resulting from their throughput rate exceeding their renewal rate.

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