Rethinking Basic Assumptions...
The Ecology Volume 29 No 7. November 19» C, J 0.(US$5)
1 rx, Madness of MIII it ar \ nergy
WBy Zac Goldsmith
ithin days of putting last month's special issue, The Madness of Nuclear Energy, to bed, the nuclear industry seemed to have set itself the task of vindicating our every accusation.
First it was Japan, where citizens in the Ibaraki region, and particularly those of Tokaimura village, were exposed to massive doses of radiation on September 30th, following a 'technical error'. More than 300,000 people were ordered to remain indoors with their windows and doors closed, 150 people were evacuated from their homes, and two site workers at the site are, at the time of writing, uncon
scious in a local hospital. The nuclear plant has been plagued by problems more or less since its inception, and independent analysts have been warning the industry and regulators for years of the dangers it posed.
The potential consequences are not yet known. And judging by the endless public assurances of safety that followed the accident, it is unlikely that they will be for some time. According to the company which operates the plant, the leaked radioactivity was 'too low to be a health hazard outside the compound' - but as Chris Busby reported in our special issue, there is no such thing as a 'safe dose' of radiation. The truth, when finally it does emerge, will doubtless serve
Russia's Catch-22 By Zac Goldsmith
The following bulletin from Russia reveals a fundamental conflict between the interests of the Russian environment and those of the economy. As economic activity accelerates, so too does the deterioration of Russia's environment. And as Russia is crippled by economic collapse, so is the environment set back on the path of recovery.
squalid societies. Secondly, that process generates sufficient wealth to repair the destruction wrought on the environment in the name of 'growth'.
But the facts tell a different story. Firstly, technology, and Western gadgetry in general, cannot replace that which has taken millions of years to develop. A species extinct is a species extinct. A for-
Environmentalists are therefore thrown into a dilemma. Do we support the environment, even where doing so is to the detriment of economic growth, and therefore to the people themselves, or do we focus on enabling people to achieve higher standards of living?
But as ever, the real issue is more complex.
I f we assume, as we are taught to from an early age, that economic growth is a process which genuinely benefits the world's people, then short of carrying out a mass extermination programme or condemning the world's people to lives of utter squalor, we find ourselves in something of a Catch-22. Clearly we cannot survive - in poverty or in wealth - without a healthy environment. And yet, a healthy environment often appears to spell economic doom.
The globalisation of modern economic development has rendered vast tracts of the planet virtually uninhabitable. This few people deny, but the process is nevertheless justified on two grounds. Firstly, economic growth brings prosperity to otherwise backward, primitive and
As economic activity accelerates, so too does the deterioration of Russia's environment. And as Russia is crippled by economic collapse, so is the environment set back on the path of recovery. est felled is a forest felled, and a rapidly changing global climate is something which, despite the lunatic ideas of some of our greatest 'thinkers' (including - the latest techno-fix gone mad - positioning thousands of mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away from the Earth), cannot be controlled by human technology.
But more importantly, economic development has, the world over, created poverty where poverty need not have existed, created unnecessary sicknesses amongst healthy peoples, and destroyed the very ability of cultures around the world to live healthy lives independent of the global economic system which has imprisoned them. The past four decades have seen an 11-fold increase in world
trade, and a five-fold increase in economic growth. According to conventional economic theory, this means that we have progressed enormously, as at no other time in human history. It should mean that we are all vastly better off. But what has this surge of economic growth really brought us?
It has brought a minority of humanity more consumer goods than it knows what to do with and a material standard of living higher than any in history. But it has also brought a gap between rich and poor which widens every week. It has brought starvation, misery and environmental degradation to the billions left outside the Western economic loop. It has brought runaway global warming, the extinction of species - 1,000 a year, according to the latest estimate from the Worldwatch Institute. It has brought destruction of cultures and rising job insecurity. This grim list is seemingly endless.
Even the US, the very pinnacle of 'progress', is facing collapse in virtually every sector. Here is a society with greater levels of crime than any other, with higher rates of degenerative disease than any other, with more serious drug abuse problems than any other, with domestic violence, depression and suicide reaching unimaginably high levels. Here is a society where children are routinely pumped with attitude correction drugs like Ritalin, where teenagers are more likely to turn to drugs, crime and delinquency than any other occupation, and where 70,000 elderly people, unable to look after themselves, are left on the
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 8, December 1999