Optimal Levels of Pollution
Using the words “optimal” and “pollution” in the same sentence may appear daunting to many, however when the notion of an “optimal level of pollution” is fully explained, it appears more logical and applicable to our current global pollution problem. In his book, “People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution”, William Baxter makes several astounding points which lead us to the conclusion that zero pollution is not feasible, therefore we must consider what an optimal level of pollution for the earth is instead. If we can understand the notion that there are optimal levels of pollution, can we then make the assumption that there are optimal levels of most other things, such as violence, disease, and litter? Optimality, if taken into consideration on a world-wide, cross-species scheme, may actually be applicable to most of the things that we come in contact with on a day to day basis. In order to start applying a level of optimality and the lines we can draw concerning it, we must first understand the conclusions that William Baxter has considered concerning optimality. We can then draw a line concerning how the idea of an optimal level can come into consideration.
As stated previously, the notion of an optimal level of pollution is a thought that could be hastily pushed aside by many of today’s deep ecologists and environmentalists. However, Baxter lays out a very detailed and insightful proposition. He begins his essay by asking us what we want to achieve. Let us say that the goal in mind is to take positive steps towards improving the condition of our current environment. If we want to make the air cleaner and reduce GHG emissions, we must first ask ourselves some questions. These might include: how may we go about doing this? How clean is clean? What exactly does clean mean? How low of a level must the emissions be before they are obsolete? Do we really need them to be obsolete? And skeptics may even ask, “Why do we need clean air?” Baxter says that these questions are inevitable and must be stated in order to make a change concerning the current situation. The only way to both answer these questions and make a difference is to establish some general community goals. The four goals that Baxter suggests shall be explained in more detail later. The goals must be applicable to most people. We need to consider, first, the nature of human beings. We are a species that is innately self-centered. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because all species are innately self centered. It is natural for us to look out for our own survival and well being. However, humans are a species that also have the mental capacity to think outside ourselves and preserve the goodwill of other species. Keeping this in mind, we must find a way to promote social change without giving up our selfish nature, but still providing enough room for those who wish to reach outwards (i.e. towards nature, animals, preservation) to do so.
In order to implement this social change, given our knowledge of the mostly ego-centric nature of humans, Baxter suggests that we need to implement 4 general community goals. These goals will help to organize and unify our positions and objectives. If we do not organize ourselves, we will not achieve social, environmental, or any other type of change. Without a mostly unified body of goal-oriented adherents, change cannot be made or manifested. We must have an optimal goal of human involvement in order to accomplish any type change. Baxter, however, does not assume that there will be unanimous consent. The first of the five goals that he describes is the “spheres of freedom criterion”, in which “every person should be free to do whatever he wishes in contexts where his actions do not interfere with the interest of other human beings”(Baxter 519). The second idea he proposes is that waste is a bad thing. It seems that humans have always been faced with issues of scarcity, resources,...
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