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Old 2014-07-22, 13:06   Link #1
DonQuigleone
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Age: 26
Are Environmentalists modern "Luddites"?

Over the last few years I've found myself increasingly at odds with most of my same aged peers over the subject of Environmentalism. In general, I'd like to pose a question to you guys: Are certain strands of Environmentalism standing in the way of technological progress? Are radical environmentalists today like the machine breaking Luddites of the 19th century?

In particular, I find two trends distressing:
1. Purist attitudes to technology and industry.
2. Negative attitudes to man's role within the environment.

Th first is a problem as it limits the ways we can solve real world problems. For instance, the push for organic farming denies all the potential for chemicals, GMOs and pesticides to end hunger in large parts of the earth, increase yields and farm more efficiently with less damage to the environment. It's a dogmatic view of how to solve problems.

The second is broader, where there's a narrative that puts humans as the villain within an environmental story, and if not humanity in general, then at least some subset like multinational corporations, farmers, loggers, etc. I think it's quite simplistic to view things that way.

I'd like to hear all your comments before I ramble more .
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Old 2014-07-22, 15:59   Link #2
ChainLegacy
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I think the push for organic farming is just people voting with their wallets. I think it's great. We don't necessarily need to be anti-GMO, but anti artificial pesticide? I think that's probably a pretty rational decision. We live in a world where, despite all the advancements in medicine, cancer in its various forms is increasingly prevalent. People are rightfully paranoid about the affects of all the newly changing ways we produce our food.

I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say that an organic approach would cause more damage to the environment than a modern conventional approach. GMOs, pesticides, etc can vastly increase yield, but there are indeed negative repercussions to the environment from their use. One notable recent example is the "bee epidemic" currently going on. That's not to say we're going to create some chemically-diseased wasteland because of them, but they aren't free of consequences, and I don't understand what you mean when you say they cause less damage than organic.

In regards to GMOs, I've kind of noticed there's a bit of intellectual snobbery going on from armchair or actually reputable scientists regarding the potential health effects from consuming them. What I mean by that is, and I am recalling specifically, among other incidents, a facebook post I saw from what I believe was a pharmacist more or less talking down to a group that was anti-GMO. Their argument is that most people don't understand what GMOs are, which is probably true, and that there's no evidence of them being dangerous.

That's all well and good, but no evidence for them being dangerous, especially given their rather short history on the human plate, means pretty much nothing. Screwing around with the genetic code can have unintended consequences. Creating or enhancing a trait that increases a crop's ability to fight off insects (or the more eyebrow raising - their ability to survive being dumped with pesticides that can kill insects for them), for example, may make it slightly neurotoxic, where it wasn't before. Or you could unintentionally up levels of damaging compounds, whether they be proteins, fats, minerals, acids, etc, that are a long term detriment to health, or provoke allergic reactions, or impairs organ function, or decreases mineral absorption -- the potential list goes on. Even prior to the modern era of genetic modification, we did it the old-fashioned way through artificial domesticated selection. Most of the time we were making barely edible foods edible (the early domestication of corn), or outright toxic ones non-toxic (for example, almonds). There are examples, however, like the breeding of wheat crops in the past few centuries, that have ultimately selected for traits that are harmful to some people (celiac disease, or just non-celiac gluten intolerance). Now that we're leaving the ballpark of what can be achieved through selective breeding, we're in uncharted territory, and while traits in the past were largely selected for taste and edibility with a minor input from crop production, now yield is the primary concern. That's a big shift and could have unintended consequences.

That being said, if it's between eating nothing or eating something that may potentially be harmful over the long term... well yeah, then GMOs, pesticides, etc definitely have their place. It's just, if you have the choice monetarily speaking, then why not take the safer (and more delicious, in many cases) bet?

As for the second caste of environmentalists you mention, yeah, I think there's some element of truth to what they're saying. Humans have driven and are driving many species to extinction. There's no denying that. There's two important things to remember, though: at the end of the day we humans are animals too. Certainly a unique group of animals, but animals nonetheless. In the grand scheme of things, we're a part of this Earth that evolved and developed like every other animal - and living being. The second point is that, while we are driving species to extinction at an alarmingly fast rate in the past few centuries, we've been driving species to extinction for a very long time. One need only look at the Clovis Culture in North America and how they played a hand in wiping out a whole host of species, or what happened when the Maori first reached New Zealand and decimated the Moa, etc. There was a much better balance in the past, true, and I personally am a big fan of hunter-gatherers, simple lifestyles, and the like, but we humans have always been altering our environment... it's just on a different scale, which is now a necessity unless we want massive swaths of the Earth's population to die off.

(By the way, good topic. General chat is sorely lacking in the interesting topics we used to have a few years ago).

Last edited by ChainLegacy; 2014-07-22 at 16:17.
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Old 2014-07-22, 16:43   Link #3
risingstar3110
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DonQuigleone View Post
Over the last few years I've found myself increasingly at odds with most of my same aged peers over the subject of Environmentalism. In general, I'd like to pose a question to you guys: Are certain strands of Environmentalism standing in the way of technological progress? Are radical environmentalists today like the machine breaking Luddites of the 19th century?

In particular, I find two trends distressing:
1. Purist attitudes to technology and industry.
2. Negative attitudes to man's role within the environment.

Th first is a problem as it limits the ways we can solve real world problems. For instance, the push for organic farming denies all the potential for chemicals, GMOs and pesticides to end hunger in large parts of the earth, increase yields and farm more efficiently with less damage to the environment. It's a dogmatic view of how to solve problems.

The second is broader, where there's a narrative that puts humans as the villain within an environmental story, and if not humanity in general, then at least some subset like multinational corporations, farmers, loggers, etc. I think it's quite simplistic to view things that way.

I'd like to hear all your comments before I ramble more .
I don't think the issue is quite as simple. Just like saying bankers are lowlife blood sucker who wash their clothes with children tears, and so on


On the GM issues for example. The GM anti-crowd generally comprises of several main groups as:
  • The "it's unnatural/ not created by God" group
  • The "it works but has been under terrible practice by big corporations" group
  • And finally the "there has not been enough study to identify its negative effect" group

I kinda agree with the last, 50% on the second, but not the former. So see i still can agree that "GMOs and pesticides can end hunger in large parts of the earth". But i believe that there are better alternatives out there, or GM as solution is just a mask on top of real problems (global food distribution system)
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Old 2014-07-22, 19:50   Link #4
monsta666
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I do have several issues with the attitude of environmentalists and find there is a tendency from certain environmentalists to equate anything with nature as good and the more "natural" something is the better it can be. While this is true on some levels such as diet in other aspects man made technologies and innovations have made life easier; just think of modern medicine and going beyond technology social laws that prevent "the law of the jungle" or "survival of the fittest" paradigms totally dominating society.

Moreover this type of thinking paints quite a rose tinted version of what nature is as quite often it can be ugly, dangerous and cruel (just think about disease, animals killing each other or poisonous snake bites). What is more there is a failure to acknowledge the benefits of modern technology and often demonise certain aspects unjustly. Perhaps this comes because people have taken for granted the benefits of technology while at the same time forgetting the horrors of nature. Vaccines and the reluctance of parents giving them to children is an example of this dynamic in effect.

Saying all that, technology and innovations are not a universal form of good and quite often technology and innovation in itself can cause unintended blow back. To name an example let us take the green revolution which changed the way we grew food radically. While the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides increased crop yields significantly and reduced the price of food considerably raising the standard of life in nations particularly in places like India which in the 60s was on the brink of starvation it did have its blow back.

The use of nitrogen fertilizer often causes run-offs of nitrogen into local rivers which reduce the diversity of the local wildlife. These artificial inputs also made farmers more dependent on bigger companies to supply them with the necessary inputs (they could no longer depend on manure for nitrogen sources) and also finance from big banks. More significant however is many of the inputs used in the green revolution are non-renewable such as oil for machinery and pesticide production while potash and phosphate rocks are also minerals that are mined at non-sustainable rates not to mention topsoil erosion which more intense agriculture has brought about to feed a larger population.

The other thing to be aware is most technological improvements suffer from a set of diminishing returns whereby more and more money must be invested while the returns will be less than before. With GMO's it is likely the gains made here will be less than the initial green revolution and on top of that there will be negatives or blow backs to this new technology and this all comes against a back drop of higher population levels today than before AND the fact the blow back from the previous technology was never resolved.

This is the big issue and why I can see people being rather skeptical. Also the other issue to be aware is in GMOs the biggest promoters of the technology are the ones who stand to benefit the most from it so we can often have a situation where the benefits are overstated while the negatives are understated or even ignored. Because of this it pays to have people who are sceptical and take a contrary position because then we can have a more reasoned debate where some more suitable middle ground is taken.

I will say that when it comes to issues of sustainability I maintain our fundamental issue is not technical i.e. not possessing enough technology to solve world hunger rather it is a behavioural problem. Issue here is it easier to develop technological solutions than it is to change human behaviour on a fundamental level. Humans like animals have a tendency to increase population and even if population where to remain stable (which it hasn't done so yet) on a global level there is tendency for greater prosperity which means greater per capita consumption of resources which is effectively a "population increase" through other means. In the end we already consume more resources than is replenished so we are suffering from an ecological debt that will have to be repaid at some point. Technology for all its benefits does not address this fundamental issue. For the most part it may allow us to use resources more efficiently (although that point is debatable) it is subject to diminishing returns.
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Old 2014-07-24, 06:27   Link #5
Vallen Chaos Valiant
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I will keep it short and sweet; I believe in environmental protection but am also pro- sustainable-whaling. I believe in good quality food but consider the "organic" tag as pointless and not proof of quality. I believe in dealing in facts, not conspiracies. And I believe GMO is GOOD, and that hatred for corporations should not mean condemning science.

There are always ignorant people. These people in the past once irradiate their own genitals thinking it would make them more virile. These same people now think GMO is evil. Who knows what they will do next.
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Old 2014-07-24, 07:11   Link #6
Jaden
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What I find to be in the heart of these modern-day Luddites isn't as much religious reasons as just plain nihilism or extreme cynicism. Try asking them what they think the solutions are to environmental issues, and you'll hear stuff like "Humans are the cancer of the planet, the only solution is for us to die off".

It's a pity, because you can be a realist and and an environmentalist at the same time. It's only when taken to these extremes that the environmentalist ideas become worthless.
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Old 2014-07-24, 10:25   Link #7
maplehurry
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DonQuigleone View Post

Th first is a problem as it limits the ways we can solve real world problems. For instance, the push for organic farming denies all the potential for chemicals, GMOs and pesticides to end hunger in large parts of the earth, increase yields and farm more efficiently with less damage to the environment. It's a dogmatic view of how to solve problems.

The second is broader, where there's a narrative that puts humans as the villain within an environmental story, and if not humanity in general, then at least some subset like multinational corporations, farmers, loggers, etc. I think it's quite simplistic to view things that way.
Ironically, some of the farmers are involved in pushing the organic/anti-GMO campaigns.

And let's also NOT pretend that "environmentalists" are the main culprit on why there's still hungers in non-developed nations. When it comes to protectionism of agricultural products, farmers and some politicians are the ones pushing it, for the most part.

At the end of the day, it's all about "balance". I doubt anyone here would enjoy living in Beijing with the smog problems.


Note: just making a general comment given what's written. Not lecturing on you or anything.

Last edited by maplehurry; 2014-07-25 at 08:10.
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Old 2014-07-24, 18:26   Link #8
Tiberium Wolf
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No matter what we do we won't end hunger and the increasing damage that humans are doing to the planet unless we stop our numbers from going up. It's too many billions of people already. If everyone in 3rd world countries had the same consumption and waste that we westerns have the planet would long gone.
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Old 2014-07-24, 18:49   Link #9
Vallen Chaos Valiant
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Originally Posted by Tiberium Wolf View Post
No matter what we do we won't end hunger and the increasing damage that humans are doing to the planet unless we stop our numbers from going up. It's too many billions of people already. If everyone in 3rd world countries had the same consumption and waste that we westerns have the planet would long gone.
That has nothing to do with population growth. If and when third world countries have the same consumption and waste as we do, your population growth fear would have ended. Every sign point to human population growth reversing at that point.

Human population is never the problem. We can fit the entire human population in an area the size of of New York. And any talk about human population is just not helpful as a result; problems don't get solved. If you want to lower resource consumption and waste, just say so. Telling Westerners to stop breeding is silly, as ALL modern western nations already have negative population growth. Facts are facts.

And that just reinforces my point, that too many people deny reality when they try to be environmentally concious. I know they mean well, but that won't do anyone any good if no result come off it.
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Old 2014-07-25, 02:04   Link #10
Tiberium Wolf
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Originally Posted by Vallen Chaos Valiant View Post
That has nothing to do with population growth. If and when third world countries have the same consumption and waste as we do, your population growth fear would have ended. Every sign point to human population growth reversing at that point.

Human population is never the problem. We can fit the entire human population in an area the size of of New York. And any talk about human population is just not helpful as a result; problems don't get solved. If you want to lower resource consumption and waste, just say so. Telling Westerners to stop breeding is silly, as ALL modern western nations already have negative population growth. Facts are facts.

And that just reinforces my point, that too many people deny reality when they try to be environmentally concious. I know they mean well, but that won't do anyone any good if no result come off it.
I didn't say that we Westerners need to stop breeding.
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Old 2014-07-25, 02:31   Link #11
Vallen Chaos Valiant
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Originally Posted by Tiberium Wolf View Post
I didn't that we Westerners need to stop breeding.
Then you shouldn't focus on population control.

If your problem is resource consumption then deal with resource consumption. Say "there is too many humans" is NOT even the right issue.
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Old 2014-07-25, 02:48   Link #12
Tiberium Wolf
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Originally Posted by Vallen Chaos Valiant View Post
Then you shouldn't focus on population control.

If your problem is resource consumption then deal with resource consumption. Say "there is too many humans" is NOT even the right issue.
But having too many humans is the issue. It means we need to produce more and that we need to rely on pesticides and such which we get harmful side effects because we tend to over use them. I leave GMO aside for now.

Relying on organic farming is also not a solution because it means we need more farm land to produce less pollution and less abused animals.
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Old 2014-07-25, 03:03   Link #13
Vallen Chaos Valiant
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Originally Posted by Tiberium Wolf View Post
But having too many humans is the issue. It means we need to produce more and that we need to rely on pesticides and such which we get harmful side effects because we tend to over use them. I leave GMO aside for now.

Relying on organic farming is also not a solution because it means we need more farm land to produce less pollution and less abused animals.
What harmful side effects?

If we need better pesticides then we make better pesticides. That's all there is to it. If you have an issue then deal with the issue. Don't then stretch it to "lets control the human population".

We CAN feed everyone. There is no food shortage, just unfair distribution and pricing.


If something harms us, we change it so it doesn't do that anymore. That's how humans do things. Any other decision is illogical.
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Old 2014-07-25, 19:22   Link #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiberium Wolf View Post
No matter what we do we won't end hunger and the increasing damage that humans are doing to the planet unless we stop our numbers from going up. It's too many billions of people already. If everyone in 3rd world countries had the same consumption and waste that we westerns have the planet would long gone.
What does it mean the planet would be gone? Short of Earth exploding, this planet's ecosystem has come back much worst then what has happen to the ecosystem the last 10,000 years. There were mass extinction where 99% of all life on this plant disappear but this planet still keep going.
Human race might go extinct but this planet will keep going for another few billion years.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiberium Wolf View Post
I didn't that we Westerners need to stop breeding.
Western countries have combine negative replacement birthrate. It is other areas of the world (Africa, SA, India, etc) that needs to have less children.
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Old 2014-07-26, 01:21   Link #15
Solace
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiberium Wolf View Post
No matter what we do we won't end hunger and the increasing damage that humans are doing to the planet unless we stop our numbers from going up. It's too many billions of people already. If everyone in 3rd world countries had the same consumption and waste that we westerns have the planet would long gone.
Bull. It is not a technical issue that prevents people from getting food, clothing, shelter, clean environments, water, medicine, education, and so on. It's the economic system.

The earth has finite resources, yes, and at some point there will be more people than resources. But we're nowhere near that point, yet.
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Old 2014-07-26, 01:31   Link #16
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Different projections give different results. I suppose the worse case version has us going over the planet's ability to support human life by the turn of the 22nd century.

Other projections suggest the population growth will not be as bad, or the planet can support more that other reports suggest.


I still vote for spreading out to other planets and stars.
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Old 2014-07-26, 04:13   Link #17
Bri
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I guess were not only debating modern Luddites but also Malthusians.

Population growth slows to a crawl when child mortality is low and the people have access to contraception, basic health care and a pension system. There is no need for population control by legal means when the previous conditions are met.

The development of green technologies and a global effort on poverty reduction would prevent many of the more pessimistic long term scenarios.
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Old 2014-07-26, 11:25   Link #18
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Originally Posted by Ithekro View Post

I still vote for spreading out to other planets and stars.
Unfortunately things don't look very good from that side either. Unless we find some new source of energy in vast quantities space travel will always cost too much, a lot more than creating alternative and more efficient food production systems, and let's not even talk about interstellar travels.

Our best bets for colonization are currently the Moon and Mars, which however have low gravity, a problem that we have no idea how to solve (it is still unclear how healthy you can expect humans to be by living in such low g environment, but it doesn't look good).
Terraforming them to make them habitable would be actually a colossal undertaking (and how can you do that when you can't even preserve the habitability of Earth?) and if you are going to just create isolated domes, you might rather create space colonies which, at least, would have an artificial gravity comparable to that of Earth. But yet again... enormous costs unless we can build a space elevator.

So well we really haven't reached a point where it would be easier and less costly to solve the overpopulation problem by colonizing space rather than solving the problem on Earth.


We really need those matter-antimatter reactors...

Quote:
What does it mean the planet would be gone? Short of Earth exploding, the plants ecosystem has come back much worst then what has happen to the ecosystem the last 10,000 years. There were mass extinction where 99% of all life on this plant disappear but this planet still keep going.
Human race might go extinct but this planet will keep going for another few billion years.
Indeed. And check this Vsauce video. It shows how life on Earth would still exist even if the sun were to suddenly disappear.

Do not underestimate our planet and the life that spawned on it. They can withstand and had withstood worse things than humankind.
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