By Nick Lyth
So let us ask the question, who thought our actions were a good idea? We are surrounded by them. Who thought it was a good idea to burn the Amazon rain forest? Who thought it was a good idea to rip oil and gas out of the sea bed? Who thought it was a good idea to turn plastic production into a global industry? Who thought it was a good idea to increase the size of fishing trawlers until fish stocks of certain species were caught to the point of extinction?
They are different questions to those which applied a century ago. But they have the same answer. Who thought the First World War was a good idea? Who thought the atom bomb was a good idea? Who thought the machine gun was a good idea?
The answer is the same in all cases. Our Governments. In other words, ourselves. All settled nations, like the UK, get the Governments we deserve, whether we vote for them or not. It is impossible to rule millions of people peacefully without their consent, however that consent is given. Governments might be numbered in thousands of people; populations are measured in millions. That is why revolutions are always possible in countries that are not settled or stable.
So if our Governments all thought these self-evidently harmful actions were good ideas, we come to the next question. Why? And the answer here too is always the same. Because these ideas represented progress. Nearly always, economic progress.
Here we need to introduce a more granular illustration of the point, to explain it at the level of practical reality. Nearly everything that is harming us today started with a scientific invention. The scientific geniuses who created the jet engine; the internal combustion engine; the creation of plastic itself; atomic fusion and then fission. The list goes on and on. Think of the level of innovation required to create the platforms in the North Sea to extract oil and gas in such volumes. Think of the equipment in a modern mine. Think of a helicopter, and the ingenuity required to invent it.
Inventions are always supported by the public purse in the first instance. There is not a single invention that has come to dominate the last hundred years and more which did not start life with public sector support. The public sector, all over the world, supports its scientists, more or less successfully depending on education, culture, society and resource. Let us not ignore this start point. Science has given us the calamities we face today.
But let us not blame the scientist. In the life of every invention, there is the crossover point at which a businessman sees it, and realises this invention could be the basis of an innovation from which he or she thinks he or she can make money. Here greed cuts in.
But let us not blame the businessman. Because he or she is only able to make money from innovation when Governments controlling the economy allow him or her to do so. There is, quite literally, no such thing as a free market. Governments control their own markets. They tax cigarettes, alcohol, and other products judged to be harmful or dangerous. They make others illegal to trade or consume. They control the movement of money, and the rate at which interest is charged. There is no such thing as a free market, only a spectrum of relative freedom. Hence these inventions can only become innovations when Governments permit. They nearly always do, in the name of progress. Economic progress, jobs, prosperity, growth, possessions, comfort.
So Governments allow these inventions to turn into commercial opportunities for those clever and rich enough to exploit them. But let us not blame Governments either. Because in the end, the Government is us. Wherever you look. The British Government is as much the British people as the Chinese Government is the Chinese people. It is incorrect to argue that the British people are free whereas the Chinese people are ruled by oppression. The Chinese people fought a thirty-year war in order to become a Communist state. The Chinese people chose, much as the United Kingdom chose its curious mixture of monarchy and democracy. Our war lasted less than ten years, and was fought in the 17th century rather than the 19th. But are we so different in anything, except ideology?
So blame ourselves. Invention is to blame, but it is our invention. Greed is to blame, but it is our greed. Economic progress is to blame, but it is our progress. In the end, we are to blame. We made the world where these mistakes would happen. And so it is only right that we should face the consequences. Humanity. These are our chickens coming home to roost. It is up to us to deal with them, just as it was a consequence of us that they were created in the first place.
Let’s get on with it. We need now the inventions from the scientists, the business development from the businessmen and women, economic incentives and policy from the Governments, and the will of the people to take these chickens by the scruff of their necks and say, they do not roost here, on this planet, but fly away to where they are not going to harm us or our children, or their children. We need to make the world safe from the mistakes we have made in the last hundred years, and never make them again.
Now that is something we can all agree is a good idea.
Nick Lyth is Founder and Director of Green Angel Syndicate, the only angel investment syndicate in the UK specialising in the fight against Climate Change and Global Warming. For regular updates follow Green Angel Syndicate on LinkedIn and Twitter.