From Bad to Better
If you have been convinced that many things have gotten better over the past two decades, then I have accomplished half of my goal. But it is not enough just to say that things have gotten better. Such a statement could leave the impression that things get better by themselves, that there is some kind of natural repair process that makes environmental problems disappear with time. This philosophy is maintained by many scientists and scholars, and it does have some degree of truth. The atmosphere, the oceans, and the land do have some capacity to repair themselves, thanks to the actions of a myriad of life forms, the wonderful process of natural selection, and the immense complexity of the earth’s biosystems and feedback regulatory processes. But these repair capacities have limits, and when those limits are reached, irreversible damage can result. This has happened repeatedly in the history of the earth, always leading to major changes in the environmental conditions of the planet and attendant disaster for some species of living organisms. There is not much debate regarding the fact that the repair capacity of natural ecosystems can be overwhelmed by intense human activity. Much more controversy surrounds a different sort of “natural” repair: that associated with economic free market forces that some (see chapter 10) have postulated tend to kick in to correct environmental abuse automatically when it reaches a certain level.