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Juan Donado

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Does all kind of economic activity necessarily harms the environment?

I have been thinking that all kinds of economic activity harms the environment in some way. Burning gas to go somewhere, burning coal to turn on the computer, produce goods and services using natural resources etc. Can you think of any sort of economic activity that doesn't involve using up resources and harming the environment?

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    Aug 16 2013: That depends on how radically you define “harms the environment”.
    Many do more good than harm, but by radical standards the Amish harms the environment with their ways.
  • Aug 31 2013: I agree, we should stop burning things like a bunch of cavemen. Here is an idea to clean up our planet. It all starts with plenty of clean fresh water for everyone everywhere in the world without having to rely on rain, snow, rivers, lakes and streams. If people have fresh water for themselves, their animals and plants, we could go a long way toward improving the environment that we live in.

    Underwater desalination plants along coasts powered by gravity could be built feeding fresh water inland thousands of miles through bedrock tunnels that angle down into the earth so the water flows by gravity inland. Solar powered pumps to pump the water to the surface for use by people, animals and plants. Hydrogen split from fresh water through electrolysis next to homes & businesses, stored in small quantities for use in hydrogen oxygen fuel cells to generate electricity in a distributed way to eliminate the need for a grid and wasted power generation. Hydrogen oxygen fuel cell vehicles to provide transportation. No burning of wood, coal, oil or nuclear fuel. Just hydrogen oxygen fuel cells that generate electricity and a waste by product known as water. An entire system designed to provide fresh water, locally grown food and support the power needs of homes, businesses and transportation resulting in clean air to improve the health of people. This system could support 1+ trillion people on this planet as water flows back to the oceans in this closed loop clean economic system. There would be a lot of jobs and work to do if this type of system were built all around the world. We would have to shut down all the old power plants and take down the power grid or keep using it to send excess electricity generated to other locations.
  • Aug 18 2013: The whole point of human activity is to change the environment. Whether you call that harm is your choice.

    When a tiger kills its prey, is it harming the environment?

    When an organic farmer clears a field of its default plant life and then sows eatable plants, is that harmful?

    Part of this question that disturbs me is the apparent distinction that the environment is separate from humans and human activity. We think of tigers and bison and rattlesnakes as part of the natural environment, and seem to think that humans are separate from all that natural stuff out there beyond the suburbs. That attitude is not realistic. Cities are a more natural part of the human environment than any desert.

    Personally, I eat meat and intend to continue to do so. Pigs and cattle are my prey, and I do not consider it harmful to continuing eating my natural foods. I am participating IN the natural cycle of life, not doing harm to some otherly environment from which I am, by definition, excluded.

    Inevitably, humans will continue to break eggs to make omelets. So, to me, it makes more sense to discuss how we can live sustain-ably while encouraging diversity. Rather than trying to distinguish harmful from helpful, we need goals that are specific and measurable. For example, our standards for clean water and clean air are based on what is harmful to humans. It might be wise to base those standards on the affects to other species as well. You might want to watch this talk:

  • Aug 15 2013: Yes. All activity that sustains life, economic activity included, necessarily reduces the local entropy in the surrounding environment. The reduction in entropy can take the form of cellular organization, chopping wood, home construction or food transportation, as examples.

    However, the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy may only increase overall. This means that the work done to reduce the local entropy must be more than offset by increasing total entropy. Thus, even lifting a brick expends chemical energy and releases waste heat into the environment.
  • Aug 15 2013: Since all activity requires energy, all activities change the environment and probably harms it in some way.
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    Aug 15 2013: This depends on what you mean. For example, when people talk about sustainability, they do not mean that they are not using any resources at all.

    Not only economic activities use resources. We drink water, animals run across and trample the grass, people have through history used various means of generating heat for cooking, from the first discovery of fire, which consumed wood... If you include time as a resource, we use it daily in everything we do. If you include air, we use that too.
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    Sep 3 2013: If you consider that economic activity as changing material from one form into a form that is usable by man to be harmful, then the answer is yes. Let's consider. Man breathes in oxygen and exhales CO2, a pollutant that is said to increase global warming. Man drinks pure water and excretes a uric acid solution that is corrosive and well.... not even going to talk about the vegetable and animal materials man takes from the environment and what is left behind.
    And even these simple activities have economic implications that harms the environment in some way. So, where are we gong to draw the line.... Yes, everything harms the environment.
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    Aug 29 2013: What I've come up with is that some garbage disposal businesses are possibly helpful to the environment. For example,people collect wasted water and use hi-tech to purify it clean enough for people to drink.Selling the recycled water helps develop the business and is good for the environment.
  • Aug 28 2013: Define "harm" vs. "change".
  • Aug 23 2013: It seems to me quite that economy activities and the environment contradict each other. Because we have lived in a better world at the expense of our nature. But now, most organizations and companies find the methods for co-exist of both things. Our willness and real doing will open the road of adequate harmony of economy and the environment.
  • Aug 17 2013: Of course it does. Given that economic activity involves action of some kind then it must effect the environment. Most of this action will involve the use of machines which of course run on petrol which pollutes severely. In addition economic activity leads to a change of some kind, often in a large scale e.b. open cut mines, cutting down forests etc.
  • Aug 16 2013: The thing is that all economic activity relies on energy costs, in one way or another.
    In some industries its as minor as the electricity to power their office building, in others its as massive the power required to run entire factories' worth of heavy machinery.

    Energy generation as of today, is bad for the environment.
    The renewable ones, like solar and wind are expensive as hell (geothermal and hydroelectric are an exception, but require you strike lucky on geography). Nuclear comes with a host of political issues.
    That leaves you with energy generation via fossil fuels.

    So, in general the answer is no, not all kinds of economic activity harms the environment, but large sections of the economy unavoidably do.
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    Aug 16 2013: Yes!
    “All kind of economic activity necessarily harms the environment”!

    But, only 2 kinds:
    (1) Necessary one ---- amounts to merely about 10%..
    (2) Unnecessary one ---- amounts to as much as about 90% !!!