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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Posts in this Series
- Review of 1988 edition of Economics for a Round Earth
- Ends and Means
- Evolution Not Revolution
- Notes on Evolution Not Revolution
- Concepts and Terms – What is ‘wealth’?
- The Throughput Chain
- The Derivatives of Wealth
- Global Inequalities in Wealth
- Economic Growth Redefined
- Misconceptions in Practice
- Borrowing to Invest to Get Rich
- Environment versus Economic Progress
- Digression: Pollution Red Herrings
- Digression: Depletion and Inflation
- Value Inflation – the Trigger, not the Bullet
- Living Standard and Quality of Life
- Digression: Resource Consumption, Jobs, and Hands Off
- When the Boom comes
- The Effect of People’s Expectations
- Hard Work – Virtue or Vice?
- Who needs the Snail Darter?
- More Dollars for Conservation?
- Non-renewable Resources – Leave Them in the Ground?
- Digression: Fast Breeder Nuclear Fission Reactors
- Minerals in National Parks – Leave Them in the Ground?
- Population and Wealth
- Left, Right and The Environment
- Digression: “So Long As We Profit, Costs Elsewhere Aren’t Our Problem”?
- Limits to Growth?
- Solar Energy – a Special Case
- The Solar-Powered Car
- Money Supply, Throughput and Inflation
- Real and Money Wages: Living Standards
- Digression: Caution about “Increases” and “Decreases”
- The Idea of Proportionate Flows Applied to Wages: the Great Depression
- Deficit Financing
- The Optimum Proportionate Flow Condition
- Digression: Thrift versus Spendthrift
- Digression: the Private Motor Car – a Basic Necessity?
- The Idea of Proportionate Flows Applied to Wages – the Stagflation of the 1970’s and 80’s
- Excessive Wages Can Cost Jobs
- Fight Unemployment or Inflation First?
- Digression: Work and Jobs
- Other “Job Creation” Schemes
- Visual and Noise Pollution
- Digression: Renewal and Recycling of Resources; Wages and Jobs
- Ratio Distortion and Consumption
- Aggregate Demand – Components and Internal Ratio
- The Slave Economy
- Employment and the Steady State
- Consumer-Led Recovery
- Interest Rates and Ratio Distortion
- Demographic Trends and Living Standards
- Digression: Bad Economics Good for Conservation?
- Coping with Aging Populations
- Stabilising the Human Population
- Costs – What Really Costs Us and What Doesn’t?
- Digression: Other Comments on Statements in UN Report
- Discussion of Costs Resumed
- Budget Balancing Methods – Cost or Gain?
- Digression: Government Expenditure – Government Employees
- Expenditure on Weapons