Stone Pigs

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Wealth Causes People to Mow Their Lawn

Posted By Alan Partis on March 14, 2009

Only after basic needs are met will people care about their environment.

I once heard a story about two men lost in the woods in winter.  As night fell and their situation became more dire, one man found some wood and built a large fire to warm them through the night.  The other man complained that they were damaging the environment and polluting the air with smoke while releasing lots of excess carbon into the atmosphere.  The first man responded that their need to survive outweighed their environmental concerns.  The next day they were rescued thanks to the visible plume of smoke and fire their rescurers followed.

On a global scale, the same principles hold true.  Wealthy nations, that aren’t as concerned about day-to-day survival, have the luxury of being able to be better stewards of their surroundings.  Poor nations tend not to.  A quick glance around the globe will confirm this.  Witness the pollution and mess left behind in many parts of eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Witness the poor and unsanitary conditions found through much of Mexico or southeast Asia.

The same principles hold true on even a neighborhood level.  Poorer areas, where people are often running as fast as they can just to stay ahead of poverty, are more unkempt while wealthy and ritzier neighborhoods are virtual parks.

It’s not that wealthier people like nicer yards.  Wealth allows people the luxury of taking better care of their surroundings.

People who are serious about improving the environment should focus their energies on helping poor nations produce more wealth and freeing the people therein from the shackles that keep them bound to their condition.

As I recently heard espoused very well by liberal radio talk show host Thom Hartmann, wealth is something that is produced and created … it’s not necessarily money.  His analogy was that if you had a $5 piece of cotton cloth and turned it into a $50 shirt, you just created wealth.  Whereas if you had a share of stock in a company that you bought for $5 and sold for $50, then you made money (given to you by another person), but wealth was not created.  I am in complete agreement with Thom on that.  As such, the best approach to solving environmental problems is to help drive industry and productivity in poor and developing nations.

Now the question is, how is that accomplished?


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