Smart Consumption

A common misperception that people have when it comes to solving environmental issues is the degree to which resources and the natural environment should be preserved. Some ardent environmentalists argue that in order to save nature, we must stay away from it as much as possible, thereby setting extremely stringent standards on the use of nature. People should strive to live a spartan lifestyle, consume as little “artificial” products as possible and resources should only be used when absolutely necessary.

A strong criticism against this view of nature, however, is the cost of living such a lifestyle. The cost I refer to is ‘opportunity cost,’ a term economists use to refer to the value of the alternative foregone. Using the example of the simple lifestyle, the opportunity costs are numerous: from longer and less efficient travel time to a lack of raw materials for the creation of infrastructures and appliances that make our lives so convenient today.  Put simply, our consumption and utilization of nature allows us to improve the quality of our lives by making processes easier and providing us materials for the creation and use of technology. A strict observance of one hundred percent conservation would leave us with zero percent consumption, and that will ultimately prove to be very inconvenient.

A more pragmatic approach to the problem would be to consume the natural resource while making sure that it is extracted at a rate that will bring about the greatest benefits for both the current and future generations. From what we have learned from the La Liga Policy Institute, this is what is being done in the Marikina watershed. The organization has seen to it that citizens living within the watershed practice organic vegetable gardening, herbal gardening and vermiculture to ensure that while they are utilizing the land for their livelihood, they are also helping to rehabilitate it. The people living in those communities are also planting trees in order to complement their crops and prevent floods from sweeping them away.

These actions not only increase economic welfare; positive externalities are created since the responsible ownership of the land would result in less floods and therefore, less damages caused by heavy rains in the future. A more general example would be the use of minerals obtained from mining. Conservation groups might cry foul over the extraction of these resources, but leaving them buried under the ground would ignore the fact that these raw materials have value and can actually create products, jobs and wealth. Not using these resources would mean wasting the opportunity to benefit from them. Again, mining is not ‘bad’ per se as long as it is done responsibly (with clear rules in place) and with the consent of the community. Furthermore, if rehabilitation is set to be part of the conditions under which mining is permitted, the company can be held responsible for beautifying the area, thereby creating more future opportunities for tourism, for example.

Thus, a point can be made for the use of natural resources. ‘Smart’ conservation does not always mean one hundred percent conservation. In fact, not using these resources at all may even decrease our welfare. Ultimately, smart consumption can propel us to the growth and more importantly, the development that we aspire for. 

-Danilo Lorenzo Atanacio (2012-57960)


2 thoughts on “Smart Consumption

  1. Precisely a point well put. If it’s one thing Economics has given me, it’s the ability to assess: the skill that which allows one to recognize the nuances that are the gray areas of decisions and outlooks. Simply put, a number of decisions aren’t simply a matter of choice A or choice B; things aren’t so clear cut that you can make the decision and then stop thinking after. Such as the case with the practice of environmental conservation– it’s not just to extract or to not extract at all; to pollute or to not pollute completely. Choices and the courses of action that come from them, I’d say, ought to be dynamic, ought to be adaptable given current situations as well as projected future scenarios. To give a more narrow extension, take mining: a better issue rather than “Mining is bad,” or “Mining is good,” is how much mining should be carried out; what are the costs and benefits given the set scale of operations; who are those directly and indirectly involved such that their identification can lead to steps for compensation or payment (not just limited to monetary terms, mind you). Because, after all, we should admit that we people, on the average, try to seek our own betterment. In Economics speak, we generally try to maximize utility– and let’s be honest about that, at least.

  2. I agree. Sustainable development really is the way to go, given our ever increasing population and consequent consumption needs. Proper organization is needed to ensure that our natural environment and resources can carry the weight of future generations. This needs a lot of research though – it is difficult to predict the effects of consumption vis-a-vis environmental damage empirically, especially if the changes are supposed to take effect over the long run.

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