Lab c2: Environment and Conservation

Environment and Conservation

While some regions are cleaner than others, the overall situation on OboxPlanet is incomparably better than on earth. The reason for the difference is simple. On OboxPlanet, pollution has always been considered a violation of somebody’s private property right and has never been allowed to persist. On earth and since the industrial revolution, the states have sets most standards of how much pollution people have to put up with.

To say that pollution is a violation of your property right of course raises the question of how you define property and what is an inacceptable violation. If I throw trash into your garden, that’s usually considered pollution and inacceptable. But if I light a scent candle and you don’t like the smell when the wind blows your way, can I stop you from lighting it? Or from playing your flute in the garden?

Whenever people disagree on OboxPlanet, they consult an arbitration person or agency, see the interview below in the Exploration Room plus the chapter conflict resolution. These persons or agencies are in the business of finding the best possible compromise. As time passes, these rulings are used as the standards of what is acceptable, These standards may be different for different communities or societies and history has shown that as people get richer, they become stricter because people are less willing to put up with pollution. In other words: as long as you are hungry, you have little interest in environmental perfection.

Up to the industrial revolution, there was little difference between the earth and OboxPlanet. The common law practice on earth came up with similar rules as the arbiters on OboxPlanet. Then, on earth, nation states started competing for dominance. They put such overriding goals as “industrialization” or “national strategic interests” higher than people’s desire for clean air, soil and water. And for all conservationists, history has one clear warning: do not put your trust in the state. The greatest environmental disasters were produced in the former communist countries, Russia, China and their allies.

To see just how this process works, we have included the interview from the chapter “Climate Change” in the Exploration Room below, after some remarks on conservation. 

In the introductory section, we talked about environmental pollution. Now, let’s discuss the protection of natural resources and landscapes on the Obox planet.

On the OboxPlanet, the focus on conservation and animal welfare began earlier than on Earth, primarily influenced by cultural values and increased affluence.

Increased affluence tends to amplify interest in conservation, and the rationale behind it is quite straightforward. The more one’s personal needs are met, the more likely they are to be concerned about their immediate and distant environment. Simply put, when while you are starving or freezing, concerns about rare species and ancient structures take a back seat. OboxPlanet societies, having experienced rapid prosperity, exhibit a greater overall commitment to conservation and the preservation of values beyond immediate personal gain. Additionally, the absence of wars has spared the planet from the devastating destruction seen on Earth.

Cultural preferences on OboxPlanet are diverse when it comes to the preservation of nature, animals in their natural habitats, or cultural and historic monuments. Different regions and societies exhibit on the one hand more homogeneity within specific territories, and more variety between different territories and societies. Some areas may feature vast expanses of untouched nature, while others boast parks that facilitate human interaction with animals and nature through activities like skiing, boating, or safaris. 

On the Obox planet, there is both private property owned by individuals and property owned by groups like cooperatives or companies. In all cases, there’s a strong economic interest in optimizing both short-term use and long-term conservation of the value of the property. Overusing natural resources in the short term is economically costly and happens much less often than on Earth, where abuses often occur when the state grants temporary permits for resource use.

In summary, on the Obox planet, economic reasons drive more sustainable use of resources compared to Earth.

Another topic is protecting the natural environment, including animal reserves. This is a relatively recent concept on Earth because people who are struggling for basic needs are less concerned about preserving nature for aesthetic reasons. This concern becomes more relevant with affluence. On Earth, eco-movements gained popularity since the 1970s, mostly in wealthy industrialized countries. On the Obox planet, this movement is older and more widespread, given their longer history of wealth.

On the Obox planet, there are more and larger “protected” landscapes, often designed to provide beneficial experiences for people. One significant difference from Earth is in water bodies, especially the sea. Most marine areas along the coasts are privately owned, with farming, conservation, and pollution control. In other words, coastal water areas are managed as carefully as the land on the mainland.

And here the promised interview: how exactly does the pollution-prevention process play out? From the chapter on “Climate Change”

This interview is set on Earth. Marco is an experienced traveller to the OboxPlanet.

Interviewer: You often mention how much wealthier people are on OboxPlanet. That implies they consume far more energy than we do on Earth. They must have experienced climate change for a long time.

Marco: Climate change is an unknown concept on OboxPlanet for two reasons. Firstly, there is no pollution, and there never has been any pollution to speak of. Secondly, there is no state, so thinking about its potential effects doesn’t make sense. Imagine if there were no cars on Earth; planning traffic rules would be pointless. It just doesn’t enter your imagination.

Interviewer: Let’s address one point at a time. No pollution ever? That’s hard to believe.

Marco: Let’s say there’s much less pollution. That’s because property rights have always been strictly enforced, which prevents polluters from damaging or infringing on others’ property.

Interviewer: Can you give an example?

Marco: Sure. Let’s say “General Productions” builds an industrial plant, and the neighbors complain that its emissions invade their property. This could include smoke, noise, sewage, odor, or anything else. Normally, they would seek out a neutral arbiter to resolve their differences.

Interviewer: That sounds like a good neighborly solution. What if it is a more serious accusation?

Marco: Then the quarreling parties involve their insurance companies. As we discussed in the chapters on ethics and security, almost everybody has an insurance contract to protect their property from damage. Business firms have additional insurance for liability claims to protect their assets. These insurance companies now come into play.

Interviewer: And how exactly does that play out?

Marco: Initially, the quarreling parties’ insurance companies try to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. If this still does not work, all insurance companies have a portfolio of neutral judges from which the quarreling parties can choose. The first choice is usually the accuser’s, but that’s not really important. If the first ruling is acceptable to both parties, the case is closed. Otherwise, the second party gets to choose a different judge. If the verdict is the same, the case is over. If the two judges come to opposite conclusions, a final appeals court makes the ultimate ruling.

Interviewer: This sounds too easy to be true. Does everybody play by these rules?

Marco: These procedures are written down in the insurance contracts which all clients accept when they sign. It’s part of everyday life, and people are familiar with them. They are simple, quick, and relatively inexpensive—they just make sense, “common sense,” so to speak.

Interviewer: And who gets to choose the judges? Who ensures they are not biased?

Marco: Competition among the insurance companies. Insurance companies want to choose judges who have made the best rulings in the past, the most widely accepted rulings under the circumstances. These legal services are usually familiar with local customs and values and are well established and respected in their communities. Their rulings reflect what is considered “common sense” in the community. There is no perfection in human affairs, but this is probably as close as humanly possible.

Interviewer: This sounds like endless litigation and countless court cases before anybody can do anything. Isn’t it much simpler and more efficient when state legislators and bureaucrats make rules that are clear and applicable to everybody?

Marco: No. The magic word is “common sense.” In our example of the production plant, “General Productions” has a very good idea of what the acceptable “common sense” rules are in a particular community. They can and will coordinate uncertain details with their future neighbors. Everyone aims to avoid quarrels because they know that if they try to cut corners and violate “common sense,” the court will likely rule against them. Secondly, disputes are bad for one’s reputation and profits in business.

Interviewer: Back to the claim that there has never been pollution—where does that come into play?

Marco: Through the tradition of protecting private property, pollution has always been suppressed, at least more so than on Earth. On Earth, during the start of the industrial revolution, some new industries or steam train companies were allowed to pollute because the state wanted to foster industrial development. The “public interest” sometimes takes precedence over individual property rights. On the OboxPlanet, there is no state that could grant special privileges to certain producers.

Interviewer: Are you saying the industrial revolution happened without the environmental pollution we experienced on Earth?

Marco: It’s useful to realize that before the industrial revolution, conditions were similar. People lived indoors with open fires and terrible smoke exposure, especially in winter. This caused widespread lung diseases and short life expectancies, but nobody knew any better, neither on Earth nor on the OboxPlanet. When the first production plants emitted smoke and ashes, people were much more tolerant than today. But with enough food on the table and central heating providing clean comfort in winter, people started demanding better.

Interviewer: That sounds like what happened on Earth. How did it differ on OboxPlanet?

Marco: The political processes are much slower than the court system on OboxPlanet, plus we have the above-mentioned possibility for politics to use “public interest” to overrule private property rights. Most importantly, people got richer much quicker on the OboxPlanet and had the means and priorities to clean up the environment.

Interviewer: How did this play out? What is the greatest difference in the result today?

Marco: The push for clean and quiet production and transportation facilities led to the adoption of electrical solutions earlier and more widely than on Earth. Nuclear power was developed much earlier, not by the military with destruction in mind, but purely for powering electrical plants, ships, and long-range train engines. Today, electricity production by fusion has become economical. It’s the process of creating energy like the sun, by combining atoms instead of splitting them. On the OboxPlanet, they have “the sun’s way of producing energy” available right there on the planet, driving down energy prices to levels we cannot even imagine on Earth.

Interviewer: Back to climate change and CO2. Was this ever an issue?

Marco: The CO2 topic, as we know it, is less of a factor because fossil fuels have largely been replaced by electric power. However, it is conceivable that something will be considered a threat to the wellbeing of the whole planet. Insurance companies, which would have to pay for damages caused by their clients, constantly search for potential dangers. Plus, people are rich enough to act even on a small chance that something bad will happen. So far, there have not been worldwide scares and coordinated actions.

What experiences on Earth, past and present, help us understand life on the OboxPlanet?

This topic fills libraries with examples that illustrate a prevailing theme: the more state involvement, the less direct responsibility, the more detrimental for the environment.

Taking a broader perspective, economies under state control in former Communist countries demonstrated widespread disregard for environmental concerns. Production quotas took precedence over environmental preservation, resulting in catastrophic pollution of the air, rivers and even landscapes all over the Eastern Bloc. 

As an illustration, the most popular Eastern German car, the Trabi, in the 1980’s emitted an estimated 15 to 30 times more of the poisonous carbon monoxide than a contemporary western car.

Another example is the manmade ecological disaster of the infamous “four pests campaign” in China. Sparrows were a target because chairman Mao believed that they ate grain, depriving people of the fruit of their work. People were called upon to shoot sparrows, destroy their nests and bang pots and pans until the birds died of exhaustion. Millions of sparrows, perhaps even hundreds of millions, were killed, producing all kinds of unintended consequences like plant-eating insects and locusts. This in turn contributed to the “great famine” with millions of people starving. 

In the United States, the greatest state enterprise, the military, is at the same time the greatest polluter, while many major environmental disasters have been attributed to state regulations, corruption, and mismanagement. The Love Canal incident may serve as a small-scale illustration.

The underlying reason for this pattern is relatively straightforward. State managers do not personally own the resources they oversee, so their incentives do not align with sustainable practices. Their pay and future well-being are not directly tied to the value or condition of the resources they manage. They give generous log cutting permits or water use privileges even if they are damaging or inefficient. In contrast, private owners have a vested interest in maximizing the current income from their properties while preserving their long-term value. This intrinsic motivation for sustainable practices is inherent in the logic of private property ownership.

In sum, when we examine regions on Earth facing significant environmental challenges, we often find that even where privately owned enterprises are accused, there is usually government ownership or oversight involved.

The solution to address environmental issues is therefore simple: privatize resources and properties and hold them liable for damages to humans and other properties. Various suggestions and studies have explored the possibilities of privatizing diverse areas, including parts of the sea for fishing rights, nature parks, and other environmental assets.On

Now it’s your turn. Where do you see room for improving the environment and how could you imagine privatization could solve it?

Things we could learn and implement from the OboxPlanet:

Privatize everything. The egotistic, selfish interest of private property owners will lead them to balance current income from exploiting the resource, and the preservation of the capital value.