Lounge with Leona: Why Environmental Problems aren’t being Solved

Grey, smoggy, and dusty skies. Constant coughing. Days in which fellow KISians are sent home instead of participating in after school activities because of the air pollution outside. It is without a doubt that South Korea is heavily affected by environmental issues, especially revolving around that of the atmosphere. We often see people blaming China for the air pollution in South Korea, when in reality, much of it is due to our nation. South Korea is a small country where over 50 million people reside, many of whom drive cars which contribute to the deterioration of the cleanliness of the air we breathe. Moreover, South Korea’s economy is ranked fourth overall in Asia, making it inevitable for the country to build many factories in support of industrialization, also contributing to air pollution.

Of course, South Korea is not the only nation suffering from environmental problems. Complications such as climate change, overfishing, and ocean pollution affect multiple countries. Ironically, society is seen constantly calling for protection of the environment for the sake of future generations. However, we do not see nearly enough action taken for this to actually happen. In fact, it is quite interesting to speculate about why efforts towards protecting our planet is often minimized. For example, thousands of environmentalists call out for the increase in usage of renewable energy sources, yet we see the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe supporting the use of coal. The way I see it, it is perhaps because appealing to one’s sense of morality and humanity is simply not enough. Yes, individuals obtain satisfaction for having done something to improve the status quo of the environment. However, there is a limit to how effective such good will can be, in comparison to the satisfaction, power, and fame people may gain from depleting resources for certain reasons such as producing goods. Perhaps to influential world leaders, efficiency is more worthwhile than a badge that says, “I’m a proud environmentalist.”

“Yet in the same year that the world agreed to combat climate change, Japan’s utilities continued to increase the use of the cheapest but dirtiest fossil fuel, ramping up coal imports to a record.” – Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick

The pinnacle of economics is not a single equation. The essence of this subject is built upon the assumption that an individual will always act in their own best interest. However, couldn’t this tendency to act in one’s self-interest prove to be the greatest flaw found within one’s intelligence? Indeed, according to the theory of Laissez-faire, a utopian economy is formed when a nation is left in a free market situation, in which every man is bound to act in his best interest. Supposedly, the invisible hand works to form a perfectly functioning economic system as a result. Yet such pillar begins to crumble when it is juxtaposed with Hardin’s theory of the tragedy of the commons; in a situation in which people share a common resource, they will abuse and deplete the shared resource due to self-interest.

If a resource is common, one is typically not charged for it. As an example, human beings do not have to pay for the air they breathe (imagine Thneedville from The Lorax coming to reality…), resulting in people taking advantage of those resources, polluting them as a result. It is interesting to see how in economic situations, each individual’s selfish actions end up cooperating for the satisfaction of humanity, yet when it comes to the environment, self-centered behavior only leads to collective abuse. Couldn’t this be due to the fact that in both situations, acting in one’s self-interest allows for profit? Meaning, in the economic sense, what one considers correct is what one yearns for, because they both lead to money, highlighting the idea that money always holds the highest of priority and importance. It is difficult to compute the correlation between the proximity of what one considers “morally correct” and what one simply wants, because in the environmental sense, actions for “the greater good” may be considered correct, but not necessarily prioritized.

As long as human beings continue acting in their self-interest, environmental problems will never be solved. People are rarely, if ever, motivated by ethical agendas. After all, people are practical beings, always seeking rationality and functionality, even when their actions may not necessarily serve the commons very well. It is natural for human beings to have selfish motivations. Isn’t this why the usage of renewable energy is rarely implemented, because it is much more costly in comparison to if they were to simply use coal? Human beings chase profitability, and will most likely choose the path which promises them the largest amount of revenue. Nevertheless, we must realize that in the long run, nonrenewable sources of energy will run out. We must realize that it will be too late if we continue putting off our responsibility to protect the environment. We must realize that there may be no future if we do not change our patterns of action when dealing with the finite amount of resources found on our planet. There will be a time in the future where we will regret not taking action in advance. Determining a way in which we can consolidate natural, selfish motivations of humans with a need to protect our environment is pivotal if we want to do something about the status quo of the Earth.

– Leona Maruyama (‘17)

Featured Image: Hannah Kim (’19)


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