by Johnny McPherson (Canada). B.Sc. in Environmental Management, Diploma in Environmental Technology.
It was recognized long ago, by Aristotle for example, that “what is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest.”
A list of global environmental issues would overwhelm even the most well-intentioned optimist. However, the mutual basis of all these issues (and their solutions) is human relationships with each other and with the natural world. How relationships are conducted can be classified as occurring in communities or in markets.
‘Communities’ are groups that share historical, cultural or geographic connections and are characterized by exclusive and personal relationships. Communities tend to be governed by public institutions that are fixed in region and slow to respond to external conditions.
‘Markets,’ on the other hand, are aligned with consumers, and characterized by mass inclusion and impersonal relationships. Markets are flexible and mobile, engaging with consumers in any part of the globe and moving on if market conditions are not right (potentially creating problems for communities to remediate).
The root cause of many important environmental challenges is that communities interact with each other through, and tend to be directed by markets and community and market interests are dissimilar. Global engagement on environmental issues requires reconciliation of community and market interests.
The members of a community interact with each other as citizens, governed by public institutions. Because communities are rooted in history, culture and geography these institutions tend to seek protection of common interests but are slow to respond to influences from outside the community.
On the other hand, modern communities tend not to be self supporting in terms of desired resources and seek relationships outside the boundaries of the community, in markets. Contrary to communities, markets are nimble and able to respond quickly to consumer interests, indiscriminately of communal interests, and over large geographies.
Finding ways to reconcile market interests with community interests is a key to solving environmental issues.
I propose the following two conciliatory solutions for a myriad of today’s environmental issues.
One proposed conciliatory solution for consideration is to have costs of environmental damages considered in the accounts of those that exploit environmental resources. Where costs are borne by communities, through taxation for example, there is little incentive for producers and consumers to waste less and innovate more.
A second key conciliatory solution for consideration is to empower communities to make decisions on how to apply efficiency improvements. A phenomenon known as the “rebound effect” is one where potential lessening of environmental impacts through improvements in efficiency are minimized or cancelled by increased and expanded usage of the improved technology. One reason this occurs is that there is no limit on how consumers elect to use improved technologies and a lack of community imposed limits on consumption.
The stark contrast between the self interests of markets and common interests of communities is a characteristic of the overuse and degradation of the environment.
Finding solutions to reconcile these differences is a key to solving environmental issues.
About the Author:
Johnny McPherson has a B.Sc. in Environmental Management and a Diploma in Environmental Technology. He has spent over a decade living in the Arctic where he worked on a number of research contracts, mainly in fisheries and wildlife. He also has extensive experience in air quality; helped develop Nova Scotia’s climate change and energy regulations and policies; and is currently working in the field of solid waste resource management.