It's Earth Day, and you know what that means. We’re supposed to think about how we’re impacting the Earth. But notice: it’s always assumed that we’re have a negative impact, and that we should resolve to lessen it. But are we--and should we?
Well, consider this question: Is there any better environment for humans throughout history than the one we live in today? The further back we go 50, 100, 200, 500 years--the less impact humans had. But would you want to live back then? In particular, would you want to live before the Industrial Revolution, which has been radically transforming human life for 200 years?
If you want to live in an environment that is safe, healthy, clean, and otherwise hospitable to human life, today’s highly-industrialized environment is without equal. Where previous generations faced the risk of disease from simply drinking water, which was often contaminated by animals, we have clean water, thanks to man-made reservoirs, treatment plants, underground pipes, and indoor plumbing. Where previous generations walked streets contaminated by large quantities of human and animal waste, we can conveniently and safely dispose of it thanks to sewer systems and the garbage industry. Where previous generations faced large-scale death whenever there was a severe freeze or heat wave, we can live in a comfortable climate year-round, thanks to sturdy homes and modern, high-energy heating and air-conditioning.
And the list of positives goes on. Thanks to industrial agriculture and transportation, we have grocery stores full of healthy food year-round. Thanks to modern transportation, we have unprecedented access to the rich cultural experiences and natural beauty that the world has to offer. Many of the benefits of today’s environment are reflected in life-expectancy and population statistics: the average person lives longer, in better health, than ever before.
In sum, human beings have made the Earth a far, far better place to live for ourselves. Yet even though life is better than ever, we are wracked with green guilt over our industrial development.
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