Common Error No. 91


91. "We have to live more simply and restrain our extravagant lifestyles, or pollution will overwhelm the Earth's ability to cope with it."

smoke stacksIt sounds fine in theory. If we all bought locally, went back to horse-drawn carts, and stopped our acquisitive drive for more, surely we could reduce our footprint on planet Earth and allow it time to heal itself? Probably not. Rich people might fantasize about the simpler, less stressful life, but the poor want to get rich. In the Asian sub-continent and the Far East, they want to get as far as they can from starvation and subsistence, and lead the lifestyles they see us enjoying.

In China and India they are using Earth's resources hand over fist, burning energy at an unprecedented rate. It is not environmental quality they seek, but the wealth that offers a better life. The Chinese will build two new coal fired power stations a week for a decade, maybe two, and probably burning cheap, sulphurous coal to generate their electricity. They do not wish to be told to curb their ambitions and live more simply.

The scapegoat targets like 'food miles' and budget air trips make a negligible contribution to the pollution humans cause. The biggest contributors to that include agriculture and power generation. Even if the whole planet, rich and poor alike, made binding agreements "to live more simply," it would only succeed in lowering the quality of life for many, probably without making any significant change to the planet.

The answer is not simplicity but technology. Rich countries can afford to live cleanly, and can develop the technology to make this possible. We can produce clean power, clean engines and clean industry, and we can be wealthy enough to afford these things. Instead of living more simply, we should be developing and rewarding this advanced technology and doing what we want to do in a way that has less impact on the planet.