A better world for people vs. a world with less human impact
Started to write a long comment but realized it boiled down to: well lots of people get into environmental activism because they really like animals and nature while not being particularly inclined to systematize their moral views.
Unsurprisingly that leads to people acting as if they value nature for nature's sake (beyond instrumental benefits of diversity, happiness and even animal pleasure). I don't think they really have coherent preferences here but rather are just doing what most ppl do and cheering what makes them feel good and booing what makes them feel bad.
I wouldn’t mind the anti-growth crowd if they owned the consequences of their choices. The UK is experiencing crises of various depths of general living standards but also specifically in housing, energy and water. When these crises hit, the folks who contributed to them by preventing the necessary infrastructure being built don’t say it’s a price worth paying, they go looking for bogeymen to blame. Typically people they already disliked such as leaders of large companies.
Yeah, tradeoffs are hard, and some parts of the environmental movement are ascetics.
But if you're denying that there's some intrinsic value to biodiversity and nature, I think you might find that it's not just blue-state hippies that disagree with you on that one.
I think people are going to read this and conclude Matt supports paving paradise and putting up a parking lot if it means increased GDP in developing nations and can be done in a carbon neutral way, when that's not what he's saying.
Like everything, you need to think critically about priorities. Human flourishing is (and should be) our top priority since as far as we can tell in the universe, and certainly on this planet, it's humans and humans alone who are fully sentient beings capable of the greatest joys and the greatest suffering, and in the long run life has its best shot to last and expand if we are here to protect it (don't @ me with accusations of longtermism). But human flourishing is not the only priority. Ecological diversity is a priority, and ecological diversity is absolutely necessary for human flourishing. But when those two come into conflict, we should opt to maximize human flourishing and minimize the impact to ecological diversity, and not maximize ecological diversity and minimize the impact to human flourishing.
If you sincerely don't believe humans are intrinsically more valuable than just about anything else in existence, now we're having a values conversation and I can't help you. I think humans are unbelievably special and our extinction or failure to thrive would literally be a tragedy of universal proportions. We are not separate from nature, we are nature. We are not separate from a cold, uncaring universe, we are of that universe and made of it's dust and we those tiny pieces love and care about ourselves, therefore the universe loves and cares about us.
Ok sorry, have a good morning everyone.
Neopastoralists should really rethink nuclear power given its much lower physical footprint. Always amazed at the inability of the envrionmental movement to prioritize.
This is such a misguided framing.
I like humanity. I also like nature. I want both to survive and thrive, and I recognize that often there are tradeoffs between the two. But to pit those values against each other is as foolish as insisting that anyone who wants to address income inequality and poverty simply hates all business and wants the economy to tank.
I can want to preserve nature and limit the destructive potential of human technology while also wanting all people to live good, healthy, prosperous lives. The odd thing about this essay is Matt explicitly recognizes there are tradeoffs to be made about, say, the benefits of energy abundance versus the health hazards posed by pollution, but he dismisses all concerns “about biodiversity and nature” out of hand as sort of intrinsically ridiculous — unworthy of the tradeoff calculations he’d apply to other areas, I guess.
>But is this a good objection? We can’t allow immigration because it’s too beneficial to immigrants? I’m skeptical.<
Just to preemptively tackle an objection one inevitably sees when this question arises: no, in fact, there's nothing even slightly wrong about enticing skilled people away from developing countries.
In the first place, a human being's right to live where they want demolishes concerns about skill leakage: Human being aren't tools for us to do with as we please (even for goals as laudable as "help poor countries no longer be poor"). But secondly—and this is something I rarely see mentioned but fail to see how it couldn't be true—the fact that their best and brightest could potentially leave is a powerful incentive for dysfunctional governments to become more competent and effective at improving the lives of their citizens.
The modern industrial world presents significant environmental, health and safety risks, but we accept (and can try to minimize) those risks because they pale in comparison to the preindustrial world’s not just risk but near certainty of a short, miserable life of poverty and sickness.
I truly hope that the “less human impact” view doesn’t become the face of environmentalism, because not only is it a harmful ideology - it’s a political loser as well!
On the neopastoralism front, in local development conversations, it's pretty striking how often you encounter aging Berkeley hippie types who, with just the slightest scratch at whatever "greedy developers/not right for the neighborhood/etc" talking point, will quickly reveal some kind of hardcore population control view.
Many humans, including a surprising number of moneyed liberals, really do care more about charismatic megafauna than poor, dark skinned children. The megafauna don’t vote and will never demand equality.
Nature doesn't care about biodiversity, ecological preservation, or animal welfare. Nature is amoral and apathetic. 99% of all species that have ever existed on Earth are now extinct; this gradually approaches 100% over time. Earth's environment and biosphere have been devastated and reformed countless times by the natural processes.
Any moral imperatives regarding the environment exist solely in the values and preferences of humans. Preventing biodiversity and habitat loss is important because living alongside lots of different animals and plants pleases us; protecting ecological features from pollution and environmental catastrophe is important because we enjoy seeing them in their pristine form.
Humans value high standards of living, we value rights and freedoms, and we value the environment. When we put environmental values into that framework with our other preferences, we can evaluate policies on the basis of costs and benefits, maximizing total value.
I actually think this ties together with the more conservative objection to building more housing; namely an overly romantic attachment to "nature" as something intrinsically better than cities. For the small (but influential in places like SF And NYC) lefty cohort, it's sort of what Matt describes. But for the (much larger) conservative cohort, it's that cities are where "bad stuff" happens and cities have "those people". But it all ends up with over sentimentalizing areas without many people. Reminds me of those "trad"* accounts that big up how great farming life is and how similar these tweets are to extreme lefty people evangelizing the same way of life but for environmental reasons.
Those "trad" tweets also point to a much more banal reason where right wing anti-development "lets protect nature" comes from which is pure fear of change.
*there was a tweet from a "trad" account making the rounds the other day that might be the "chef's kiss" example that small "c" conservativism is just absurd over the top nostalgia of the past. A tweet showing how supposedly better everything was 3 years ago...in July, 2020. Like, I think I speak for everyone when I say if you're nostalgic for the way the world was in July, 2020 you just might be an insane person.
I think this is a false dichotomy. Many people who care about the environment—I want to say most but don’t have data—value both nature per we and human flourishing. Certainly I do.
Just because those values are sometimes in tension doesn’t mean there are or should be defined camps of ascetics and monomaniac utilitarians with human welfare as the only value. Maybe Matt would trade a penny + instrumental value to humans of pandas for killing all pandas but I wouldn’t even though i support permitting reform.
Sometimes terminal values conflict! Like telling and discovery the truth about the world and fostering happiness.
People failing to correctly perceive and then being clear headed and rational about tradeoffs among competing values strikes me as the much larger problem rather than genuine value conflict (wanting to have and eat cake and denying the tension etc.)
I don’t quite know what to do with the fact that animals and plants are super important to me. I feel like hard trade offs are to be made but seeimingly no one speaks for the innumerable lives destroyed in that process until we’ve reached the end and we have a mere rump of non-human life left in a world which is substantially reduced to a toy for people.
There are a lot of comments pointing out that the beauty of the natural environment and charismatic megafauna also matter and I 100% agree. The only point I want to make is that allowing for more density allows for more land to go untouched and to remain pristine wilderness. I tried to make this point to my grumpy neighbors on my infamous zoom call, but it fell on deaf ears. If more housing isn't allowed to be built in cities like Seattle and Portland and their immediate suburbs, more trees get cut down in the exurbs.
That's it. I'm tired this morning, I don't have anything more insightful to say.