Rational Optimism About the Environment

Continuing from last week's retrospective post, I wanted to look at a few more posts that I wrote last year; I left them out of the discussion in the previous post because they have overlapping themes that made it logical to discuss them together.

The posts referred to in the introduction comprise reviews of the books The End of Doom and Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation, and the documentary series Earth: A New Wild. I've included brief descriptions below, but check out the full reviews at the links if you're interested.

The first book, by Ron Bailey, discusses positive trends and offers an alternative perspective to fears (and the precautionary principle) about emerging technologies. In the conclusion, he writes:

The end of the world is not nigh. Far from it. Humanity does face big environmental challenges over the course of the coming century, but the bulk of the scientific and economic evidence shows that most of the trends are positive or can be turned in a positive direction by further enhancing human ingenuity.

A recent article that Ron Bailey wrote touches on some technologies to watch—such as Bitcoin, which may be of interest to some of my readers—for their potential to improve life.

These notes by astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield also highlight some positive trends.

The second book, edited by Dr. Terry Anderson and Donald Leal, brings an economic perspective to environmental issues. Its themes include: that environmental problems are really disputes between people about their preferred use of resources; that there is no ideal environmental baseline to get back to, because the environment is not static; making a link between dynamic environmental processes and dynamic economic processes; finding win-win compromises (instead of win-lose) on contentious issues; that sustainability requires tangible benefits to be secure (and thus truly sustainable); and an examination of the origin of novel property rights and prerequisites for markets.

Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation mentions the Freshwater Trust in Oregon. Its president, Joe Whitworth, gave the following TEDx talk:

In it, he talks about his organization's experience increasing the pace and scale of stream restoration projects by harnessing new technology and tapping economic investment by quantifying environmental benefits. This kind of solutions-oriented mindset seems quite optimistic to me. Joe Whitworth has a book called Quantified: Redefining Conservation for the Next Economy, that is on my list to read (and likely review on this blog) this year.

The documentary series that I reviewed (and would like to watch again before too long) included a number of stories of people and wildlife coexisting successfully. And just generally showed that the natural world does not have to be a world devoid of people.

Having looked back at things I wrote last year, I plan to move on to some new content in my next post. I have some ideas to write about DIY projects, board games, book reviews, outdoor adventures, and more. So stay tuned!