Monday, February 18, 2013

Stupidity in Disguise

Dan Stone of the National Geographic Magazine recently wrote an article titled: Does China Have the Ingenuity to Solve Environmental Problems?

In his article, Mr. Stone claims that he is not too worried about all of the environmental ills we face because as he sees it: “the worse things get, the more incentive there is for some innovator to figure out a solution.”

To support his theory, Stone cites to one Chinese millionaire, Chen GuangBiao, who recently decided to sell “cans of clean air” for 5Yuan (about 80 cents) per can. Glorifying the "can of air" idea as ingenious, Stone names only a few drawbacks in passing: it’s not compressed air, so it does not deliver more than three solid breaths; it’s not the purest air so what you are buying will not reverse the impact of breathing in years of thick pollution; and the costs of producing cans and shipping them produces even more pollutions.



But Mr. Stone goes on to “salute the idea.”

“Because rather than lobby the Chinese government to address out-of-control pollution (fat chance) or wait until world leaders agree on a plan to reduce global emissions (even fatter), at least this man is doing something.”

Stone claims that even though it’s a "honkey" of an idea, that it won’t solve any problems, it does show a kind of ingenuity based on China’s growing capitalism to confront the worsening environmental problems in the future. Now I'm confused; if the idea a "honkey" of an idea then where does the ingenuity come from?

First of all, how is Mr. Chen’s idea the kind of ingenuity that can confront China’s worsening environmental problems? Isn’t China’s problem precisely the result of blind capitalism and unsighted and irresponsible developments? The root of the problem came from over production for crap we don’t need: like a can of fresh air. So how is this ingenious?

Second, how is China’s government not doing anything? The Chinese government has passed very stringent circular production laws and environmental protection laws for social stability reasons; it has promulgated very stringent regulations to stop the kind of blind ambitions from the likes of Mr. Chen to sell air (pun intended); it has done a whole lot to address out of control pollution  While it is true the Chinese people can’t wait on the government to solve all of their problems, that doesn't make an excuse for private citizens to come up with schemes like selling air to make a quick buck. So how is this idea doing something?

Finally, Dan Stone’s article points to a larger, much more pressing problem in how we approach our environmental issues. In the face of our escalating environmental, social, and economic problem today, environmental advocates much rather sound the bull horn and make noise than offer real solutions; no one is willing to think deeply about the problems we face and engineer real solutions. Everyone is more content to just buy into the quick schemes that got us into our predicament in the first place. For our blind ambitions in capitalist development, we now face critical resource shortage and environmental pollution; for our instant gratifications, we now have a new media culture that is all about getting a million views without the responsibility or the accountability of what we say. 140 character is the new norm and stupidity has replaced civil discourse.  

I’m not sure if Stone is stoned when he wrote his article or if he just didn’t think it through; either way, his sentiment does more harm, doesn't it? In fact, isn’t the kind of irresponsible “ingenuity” such as Mr. Chen’s and the kind of irresponsible media mouth like Stone’s that brought us to our current deeply flawed thinking about global politics and economic progress in light of our environmental problems? Has either one of them thought about the overall impacts of making all those cans of clean air? who can afford that clean air? the impact of selling something that is openly available? No wonder our political leaders can’t do anything; it’s because we the masses allow this kind of stupidity to take place.

So, yes, I am worried. It seems the bigger the problem we face, the bigger our balloon of foul air gets. 

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