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dearieme

"Global problems require global solutions."
Must they?

TC

"All too often environmentalists seem to think that it's the thought that counts. Surely, though, it's the action. In which case economics is the tool to perform some form of cost-benefit analysis, some calculation, to decide which option is the most environmentally friendly. Often, this may well conflict with whatever minimises visible waste. It may well be counter-intuitive. It may well be unseen."

This faces the same problem as JS Mill's Utilitarianism, in that the theory does not translate to practical action. Mill says that an action's morality is dependent upon it's concequences rather than on the nature of the action itself. I shouldn't murder my neighbour because this would upset his wife, relatives and children and leave his company with no one to calculate their accounts: not because murder is wrong per se. You are saying the same thing, that i should look at the results of my action and not do what Kant would call the Catagorical Imperitive, "that which i must do according to the General Will" (in this case recycle). Theoretically I think your idea is sound, but it's impossible in practice, just like Mill's: taking time to consider the consequences of all my actions would render me totally inactive. It would be too time consuming to think what is the most effective action in each given situation, so instead we infer general rules from a set of principles. More often than not murder will have purely negative consequences, so we forbid it, we make a general rule for practicality's sake. i think we could say the same for recycling; that overall, on aggregate, it may be better to recycle, even though there may be times when not recycling saves more energy. Because we don't have time to calculate the energy used in our actions it is better just to chose to recycle every time.

Perhaps. This is only a theory so please come back to me with your ideas. Ta.

TC

Sorry, this also reminded me of an anecdote about Japan, which perhaps supports your notions of theory and middle class guilt. If you live in Japan you quickly realise that there are extemely strict rules on waste disposal: you realise this when your neighbours come round to tell you that you've put the burnables out on the non-burnable day. Household waste has to be divided into burnable (ie organic waste like left-over food) and non- burnable (namemly plastic food packaging), glass, metal, paper, and large items such as your old toaster. These six groups are placed in different coloured bags and collected on different days., which obviously takes a lot of time and effort and makes you feel really good and a bit smug about doing your bit for the environment.
This all seemed great until I had a conversation with a student who worked for one of the large chemical companies along Tokyo Bay. Apparently the separation of waste is only superficial as everything is burned together; recycling wasn't proving to be cost effective and new technologies had reduced the polutants from the burning process. I wondered why everyone continued to separate their rubbish.

My conclusion was that most people wanted to feel that they were doing something helpful for the environment, whether it was genuinely effective or not, and the Government was happy to continue the charade. This wouldn't cause any harm, except for the possibility that the real process was hidden from most people, they were actually being deceived by the authorities. i don't know whether this was the case, but I did make me wonder what we really know about the effects of our 'ethical' decisions and how much we know about the processes of which we are a part.

Lisa

I understand that you are not an environmentalist; however, as I am an environmentalist, I could not resist saying that the comment that you have written was very impressive. While there are many other economic topics which we need to be considered in the society, it was nice to hear that someone cares and is trying to solve the environmental/economic problem we are facing. I would like to request you write about environment issues more often. I believe it is important to inform as many people as possible so that we are able to make decisions in a more meaningful way.
Nothing will change until someone says something about it.

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