Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Small Picture of Environmental Issues

For many years cities have been stereotyped as one of the most unenvironemtnally friendly places around. They produce tons of pollution from their factories while cars and trash are everywhere. Yet Shanta Barley makes the claim in this article, "City vs Country: The councrete jungle is cleaner" that people living in cities do in fact produce less pollution than people living in the country. This claim is backed up by the idea that people in cities don’t have to drive as far or as much as people in the country and that they frequently have less children due to the fact that children are not as useful for city livers versus somebody in the country.
The problem I have with this article is that it ignores the concept that everybody in a society works together to keep everyone in a healthy state of living. This claim is completely untrue for one main reason. People who live in the country produce much of the raw goods our societies require. For example essentially all agriculture, mining and other raw material extraction takes place in a country setting. Conversely, somebody in the city doesn’t work in these fields. City livers are likely to work in business, security, health or some kind of social service. In short the country provides the raw materials and the city takes these and creates the goods and services that a thriving society requires. What this means is that no matter how many people live in the city, the same amount of raw materials need to be produced and transported, while the same number of goods need to be created and again distributed. Even if a larger majority people were to start living in cities, the overall amount of stuff we produce would not change. Therefore the net amount of pollution we create would also not change. Specifically Shanta makes the claim that “This mass exodus from the countryside should lift the strain of intensive agriculture from the land, allowing forests to bounce back.” (Barley 2010) Land wouldn’t get to be reclaimed, at least in any meaningful measure due the fact that the same amount of food would still need to be produced to support everyone, and therefore agriculture could not be dialled back. What this amounts to is that even though the city livers do produce, per person, less pollution, the same amount of emissions would still be released it would just have been redistributed.
Shanta goes on to say that people in the city drive less and therefore produce fewer emissions. The article again ignores the fact that country and city living are connected. Even though people in the city may drive less overall, if the majority of people lived in cities and not in the country then more goods would have to be brought into the city by trucks and other modes of transportation. While I cannot speak to which is worse I do not believe the carbon emissions saved would be meaningful in anyway. Pollution would have again just been redistributed among everyone with country livers producing more on average than city livers to support the extra large cities.
This article really doesn’t address any of the real problems that might arise from even more people living in cities. It makes an attempt once or twice when it talks about how the slums created could actually be a good thing, or the idea that people in cities have fewer children, but overall it ignores many possible outcomes. The idea that their finding of city livers producing less pollution than country livers is just a product of our current set up is completely ignored. Shanta never considers in what way our way of life might be affected by a large exodus from the country side. Perhaps we would actually produce more emissions due to the reasons mentioned above of increased need for transportation of goods and the fact that the same net amount of goods will still need to be created to support everyone.
In a more practical sense, the living conditions of cities are also avoided in this article to a large degree. Shanta make the claim that “Yet it is important to remember that cities can also provide the ideal launch pad for future green initiatives.” (Barley 2010) If this is true then I see no truly significant evidence that would serve as a justification for this mass migration to cities.Cities are a breeding spot for slums, poverty, hunger, disease and much else. With more and more people living in cities this would only get worse and worse. The benefits of living in such close quarters with so many people does not outweigh even the possible benefits mentioned used to argue in favour of this proposal.

Connor Gibney

Works cited
-Barley, Shanta, “City vs Country: The concrete jungle is greener” New Scientist, November 8th 2010. November 8th 2010.

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