I don’t know whether to shake your hand or smack you upside the head (ahem, metaphorically).

On the one hand, your letter to Newsweek (third one down) introduces a very large audience to the vital environmental issues related to the tsunami, namely that poor land-use decisions, deforestation, and heedless development removed many of the natural barriers that might have helped protect the coastlines. Kudos.

But then you pin the blame as follows: “It seems our endless desire for ‘progress’ bears responsibility.”

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First of all, must you put “progress” in scare quotes? Are you trying to play into the stereotypes that bedevil the environmental movement and provide its enemies cover?

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Second, “our endless desire for progress” is not at fault. Presumably you wouldn’t condemn the poor coastal peoples of Sri Lanka for wanting a measure of the health and comfort you enjoy? What’s at fault is an irrational, poorly planned process of development driven by the short-term greed of small, corrupt government and business elites. The answer to this problem is not to renounce progress but to open up and reform governments, enforce the rule of law, develop more intelligently and sustainably, and seek prosperity in a way that distributes the benefits to those in need as well as those who already possess wealth.

Better progress. Smarter development. That’s what enviros should be pushing for.

Love,
DR

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