The environment’s true value
We must consider ecological worth when balancing costs versus return
By Georges R. Dupras
Each link in a long chain of regulations governing the production and delivery of bitumen* represents significant environmental liabilities. Every link in this long chain demands its share of the profits at minimal cost to each link. At the root of this reality is ‘man’ – man who frequently confuses need with greed.
Pragmatism versus idealism
True pragmatism would dictate that we balance costs versus return. This equation should go beyond economic values and include ecological worth. In the real world, this just doesn’t happen. This doesn’t happen because man, as a rule, is detached from the natural environment and, if not personally affected by change, cares little beyond social encounters.
What we do know versus what we think we know
It can be said that most of us have only a basic understanding of economics, one that rarely goes beyond how it affects us personally. What we understand even less are the very environments that support all life on this planet. I’m referring to marine and terrestrial environments that we take for granted.
Every link in a long chain of regulations governing the production and delivery of bitumen* represents significant environmental liabilities.
There exists a disconnect between most societies and the natural environment. How often do we hear rural interests say that city people don’t know where their food comes from? If this is the case, can this same observation not be said about man’s ignorance of the natural environment?
Resilience versus fragility
Dr. Lynn Rogers once said about people and bears, “The problem for bears is not so much what we don’t know, it is what we think we know that isn’t true”. That same statement can be said about our knowledge of the very environments that support all life on this planet.
Studies have shown that if just one component, or species, is removed from a region the ecology, including the topology of that area changes. I’m referring to research on wolves (Yellowstone) and cougars (California, Oregon, Washington) in the western states. Despite peer-reviewed studies on the effects of exploitation, we still approach contentious environmental issues, back to front. This means we react to situations rather than work to prevent them from the offset.
Human health costs
Environmental considerations are a low priority** when megaprojects are in the offing. Profits and jobs, in that order, are of singular and primary importance. The problem is that no one knows how to place a value on fresh air, clean water, our good health, or countless other natural gifts that we either take for granted or are unaware of. How about the simple gift of silence that we experience when walking in the woods? There is no question of the benefits that come from a healthy environment. Many of our drugs are compounds originating from floral essences.
‘…man, as a rule, is detached from the natural environment and, if not personally affected by change, cares little beyond social encounters.’
Our daily lives and family relations are under constant attack by stresses of our own design. The result of these anxieties frequently gives rise to violence, alcoholism, illicit drug use, family breakdowns and all too often, suicide. Still, capital values are pre-eminent in our cultures. Economics come before social considerations and materialism before all else.
We profess one thing and actively take part undermining that same contention. Many of us give tacit support to arguments recognizing climate change, but are less concerned about the rising waters in Venice or attempts to eliminate Canadian wood bison in the interest of cattle grazing. Industrial gold mining has serious health concerns due to the use of mercury. We show less concern for small mining holdings that feed families than we do for mega-projects that feed the top one percent (perhaps because they aren’t listed on any of the global exchanges).
Land and waterways are seriously damaged by runoff from mining, agricultural and other operations. The recent bitumen spill in Venezuela is another example of the interests of the top one percent, ignoring the needs of those less fortunate.
Déja heard, stating the obvious, tell us something we don’t already know
I ask myself, why do I keep repeating the obvious? Because contrary to what we were told about the importance of studying history in high school, we do keep repeating our mistakes.
‘There is little doubt that despite our obsession with growth the world will go on, and regardless of the loss of species, humans will adapt as we have to the loss of so many others.’
For now, the obvious suits us, economic growth is our mantra, it’s comfortable and we have been conditioned to believe that any other format is inconceivable. To this, I would say that we live in a world of doubles. With few exceptions, we have two of most everything except the environment that supports us. There is little doubt that despite our obsession with growth the world will go on, and regardless of the loss of species, humans will adapt as we have to the loss of so many others.
It would be interesting however to know how man’s epitaph will read, this after having annihilated all other lifeforms while still promoting himself as humane and caring.
* A viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum distillation (dilbit)
** In some developing countries, environmental and safety issues are not considered.
Read also: other articles by Georges R. Dupras
Georges R. Dupras has advocated for animals for over fifty years. A member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), a Director of the Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC), Quebec Representative of Zoocheck Canada and past Board member of the Canadian SPCA, he worked on the original Save the Seal campaign in 1966 that culminated in the founding of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 1969. Georges Dupras has published two books, Values in Conflict and the eBook Ethics, a Human Condition, and currently lives in Montreal, Canada.