Environmental Abuse

Abuse of our environment arises from actions that cannot be sustained by

nature. For instance, if 3 trees are felled in order to make way for a new

house, then nature has lost three trees and any offspring forever. This is not


If, after felling the three trees,  four new trees are planted in an

alternative location where growth and reproductive prospects are the same as in

the previous location, then this is sustainable. Why four trees, you may ask?

Two reasons: 1, because not all saplings survive into maturity, 2. to compensate

for the time lag before the new trees reach the age of those that were

replaced. This is a simple example to illustrate the point. In

reality, the calculation for restocking tree plantings involves many factors and

is quite a bit more complicated!

Power Stations – a Special Case

Another example: if a power station is to be environmentally friendly then it

should either ensure that no pollutants or excess carbon dioxide is pumped into

the environment or take alternative actions that will restore the quality of the

environment. Historically we know this has not been achieved. If the cost of

making power stations environmentally sustainable was reasonable then we would

have done it long ago. The fact that this is a widely known problem has led to a

major misconception across society that being environmentally friendly costs money.

This is simply not the case. Modern power stations are generally far kinder to

the environment than older ones. They still pollute the environment, but not

nearly as much as the older ones did. To translate the power station experience

to other aspects of life, and industry in particular, is a mistake.

Pollution Production

Pollutants are unwanted bi-products. They have been produced and this

production has cost money. Trash that goes into land-fill is a bi-product of

goods that we want. This trash is made up primarily of packaging. Somebody went

to the trouble of making the packaging, using valuable energy and probably

emitting some pollution in the process. Somebody else went to the trouble of

purchasing this packaging – then, at the end of its life it is dumped. The same principle can be

applied to all pollution. It has been produced and paid for. To say, therefore, that

pollution reduction costs money is illogical.

Improving Power Stations

Let’s apply this logic to power

stations: virtually all power stations around the world are pumping out

particles into the air as a bi-product. Older stations (especially coal-fired

ones) are pumping out relatively large particles compared to modern stations.

These large particles are responsible for seeding rain clouds and changing

weather patterns. If all these particles, large and small, were added up and

weighed, you can imagine that they would add up to thousands of tons a day that

are being pumped upwards – and eventually falling back down again. This is like

chartering 100’s of airliners every day to take off loaded with tons of carbon

particles and then letting them free into the atmosphere. Old power stations

were built this way, when pollution and waste was not the main consideration.

Most countries around the world have brought in legislation to curb these

emissions, along with sulphur, mercury and other harmful substances and things

are improving all the time. I would contend though, that in time, this would

have happened through market forces. For example, another bi-product of coal

fired power stations – fly ash – is now routinely made into bricks for building

construction and is also used in road construction. Modern power stations also

recycle much of the heat produced in emissions as a way to improve

efficiency.  Many also heat local homes and businesses, including the power

station itself, using this heat output. As I stated, though, power stations are

a special case, and their struggle to be environmentally friendly has led to the

mistaken belief that environmentally friendly measures are costly.


To recycle, and even better, to re-use is surely preferable to a constant

cycle of dumping old and buying new. An even better way is summed up in an old-fashioned term:

conservation. This is not only the most environmentally sound way to proceed, it

is also the most cost effective. By turning down your thermostat a notch or two,

or by walking instead of driving occasionally; by turning off lights when you

leave an empty room: these may seems small measures to take, but if multiplied

around the world, would make a real difference to the environment. Take travel:

why do we travel so much? Can’t some people work from home and therefore avoid

the rush hour and have a better quality of life? Can schools and homes be nearer

to each other? Perhaps there should be more/smaller schools and instead of less/larger? In fact, more and smaller of everything may not be a bad idea when

considering travel reduction. Perhaps the time has come to consider a steep rise in fuel


Environmental Footprint

Most production activities, and increasingly most of our everyday activities

have a so-called environmental “footprint”. This footprint is a

measure of the effect of an action on the environment. When we take out then we

should give back. Just as new trees are planted to replace those that have been

felled, so we should make amends when we pollute our environment. Better still,

though, is the idea that we make no footprint in the first place. The question

is: why were the trees felled in the first place?

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