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World Environment Day. The way in which our natural capital is currently consumed is looting

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by: Hans van der Broek
World Environment Day. The way in which our natural capital is currently consumed is looting

The current consumption of non-renewable raw materials and energy sources means that future generations no longer have them at their disposal, but that they are stuck with the negative consequences of their use: pollution, deforestation, climate change, desertification, summarized as an ecological crisis.

A liberal ethics for the consumption of non-renewable resources and energy sources

How could we account for this consumption towards future generations? Which arguments would future generations consider acceptable? Which arguments for the use of, for example, plastic - which has increased exponentially in recent decades - can we give to future generations living in a world in which plastic has negatively affected the ecosystems of planet Earth? The argument 'plastic is a convenient and cheap packaging material' will most likely not be recognized as sufficient justification.

Natural capital
Forrest, lake hill
If raw materials and non-renewable energy sources are used to create a sustainable society, the consumption of natural capital can be seen as an investment for the long term. And by long term I mean the next 200,000 years.
The resources of planet Earth can be seen as the natural capital. People can live off the interest of that capital, that is to say, the benefits that nature produces and regenerates. Another option is to enter the natural capital. Take a bongard as an example. The fruit trees yields fruit. When people grow that fruit, the ecosystem remains intact. However, in the short term, besides the fruit, the wood of the fruit trees could also be used and the land of the bongard could be sold to build houses. This yields more economically than just the use of the fruit, but there is a reduction in the natural capital. The short term prevails over the long term when it comes to natural capital.

Looting

Fossil fuels are finite. Even if there is still oil available for 1,000 years, it is still the question what its use justifies when future generations, after 1,000 years, are without sitting and are also dealing with a warmed up planet.

According BP one of worlds largest oil producers, the world has 53.3 years left to find an alternative to oil before current proved reserves run dry. Of course, nations are finding new oil – meaning that number is rising – but new extraction methods are costly and can pose environmental threats.

Any use of non-renewable resources must be morally justified.
If part of the non-renewable resources, the natural capital, are used for the transition to a sustainable economy and society that will benefit future generations, then this is a convincing moral argument. The consumption of a part of the natural capital does not harm future generations (at least not fundamentally), but it is beneficial for future generations.
The way in which natural capital is consumed now is looting: natural capital is used for the short-term self-interest and the interests of future generations are harmed. This goes against the liberal non-harmful principle.

Waste bin capacity

Of whom is the natural capital actually? The legal definitions of property, as commodities are owned by the inhabitants of nations, are short-sighted. The natural capital belongs to all earthlings, now and in the future. We know that man has been scurrying around on this planet for about 200,000 years. Let us assume for the sake of convenience that man will last another 200,000 years. That means that the natural capital of planet Earth must also last 200,000 years.
The natural capital of planet Earth consists not only of the amount of raw materials that people consume (minerals, fossil fuels), but also the amount of waste that the Earth can absorb, or the waste bin capacity. There is a limited amount of waste that the earth can absorb, but it is quickly exceeded. The quantities of plastic, pesticides, fertilizers and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere disrupt the planet Earth's ecosystem, which naturally invades capital. If, for example, deltas, where millions of people live, are under water due to climate change, it is clear that this is causing damage.

Megafauna
Wildlife Sergengeti
How can you justify to your grandchildren your consumption of natural capital that has contributed to the bankruptcy of system earth?
The consumption of natural capital requires moral reflection. However, in the current political-economic system there is no reflection on the justification of natural capital. However different the political-economic systems may be, they all prioritize contemporary self-interest at the expense of future generations and at the expense of the common good.
When few people lived on planet Earth and humans did not yet have technology, there was no need to reflect on the issue of the justification of the consumption of natural capital. Yet people have very early on the natural capital. For example, the disappearance of the megafauna, such as the mammoth, is largely due to man being overrun. However, since the industrial revolution, the use of natural capital has increased exponentially as a result of the technology and the problem has therefore become urgent.

Wasting natural capital

The ecological crisis is the impending bankruptcy of planet Earth. When the natural capital becomes depleted, there will be a tipping point in the ecosystem of planet Earth, as a result of which the living environment for, among others, the animal species will become unfavorable. However, as long as the capital is not up, it seems like life is a party. Optimists see the party that is financed by the slurping of natural capital. Pessimists see the long term, the mess that remains when the party is over.
The ethics of consumption of natural capital is a moral blind spot. It is not a question that is addressed in the political-economic paradigm. The reasons why the natural capital is widely disassembled is that it is possible and that we also have a legal system in which it is legal to do. Technology is making more and more possible, but in practice this leads to ever more intensive looting of natural capital.

The bankrupt of system earth
Yello crane in barren hills
The extent to which looted can be measured with the ecological footprint. The average ecological footprint of the Dutch person today is 3.7 planet Earths. This means that if everyone would live on Earth if the average Dutch person would need 3.7 planet Earths. Since we have to live on 1 planet Earth, this means that we commit suicide and we attack the natural capital. We rob us of future generations. Shell and Friesland Campina are examples of companies that deprive future generations of the opportunity to enjoy the proceeds of the natural capital because they participate in the plunder of the planet.

Individuals can also ask themselves the question: what justifies my consumption of natural capital? The richer people become, the greater their ecological footprint. Although the rich may have acquired their money within legal frameworks, not everything has been said about the moral justification of an exorbitant lifestyle with a large consumption of energy from non-renewable resources and raw materials (or a large ecological footprint). How can you justify to your grandchildren your consumption of natural capital that has contributed to the bankruptcy of system earth?

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By: Floris van den Berg. Photo Cover: Bigstock

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Hans van der Broek , founder Founder and CEO of WhatsOrb, world traveller, entrepreneur and environmental activist. Hans has countless ideas and has set up several businesses in the Netherlands and abroad. He also has an opinion on everything and unlimited thoughts about how to create a better world. He likes hiking and has climbed numerous five-thousanders (mountain summits of at least 5000m or 16,404 feet in elevation)  
Hans van der Broek , founder Founder and CEO of WhatsOrb, world traveller, entrepreneur and environmental activist. Hans has countless ideas and has set up several businesses in the Netherlands and abroad. He also has an opinion on everything and unlimited thoughts about how to create a better world. He likes hiking and has climbed numerous five-thousanders (mountain summits of at least 5000m or 16,404 feet in elevation)  
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