Monday, September 24, 2007

More Tough Choices

Two Pumps
Green or Ethical? Not always the same thing
Generally when I find a screwed up piece of torn-out newspaper in a trouser pocket it means it was something that I meant to write about until something beer or rugby related intervened.

This piece from the Sunday Times was no exception. The story is an interesting look at the claims and counter claims over a piece of basic manual pumping technology that is being promoted over modern diesel pumps in the developing world as a lower carbon and lower cost alternative. In many cases the funding for the equipment has come from we in the west paying carbon offsetting fees to assuage our guilt over our long haul holiday flights.

What the article shows is that the more ethical position may not always be fully aligned with the most environmentally sound one. Everyone would welcome the fact that these manually operated pumps represent a significant cost saving to the families which opt to replace their costly hired diesel pumps, and even most of those who remain to be convinced whether there is any certainty in man made cause of any climate change still tend to accept that reducing fossil fuel usage is, in principle, a good thing.

Where the dilemma emerges is that frequently the children of the family are pressed into service to keep the pump going. I'd agree with the claim by the spokesman of the company promoting the pumps that the use of the phase 'child labour' is a bit emotive, but felt less comfortable with his assertion everything was alright because:
"It's a different way of life."

Source: The Sunday Times

This is all too typical of the thinking of the green lobby in general, imagining some more traditional ways of life as being representing some kind of pastoral ideal and raising the notion that any form of what would conventionally be called progress must be a threat to this ideal.

Would the same people suggest that we should also revert to older and less efficient forms of agriculture and industry if that was at the price that the human labour requirements dictated that, for all but the rich, schooling beyond the most basic primary education would generally become an unaffordable luxury?

I doubt it, and that being the case it's an ethically very questionable proposition whether we should be actively promoting the freezing in time of development in other parts of the world. It's easy to forget how rapidly our own society evolved in the matter of a few generations over the course of the industrial revolution. True, these innovations had their own downsides too, but overall few would claim the outcomes were anything other but a good thing. To suggest that others should not seek the same transformations is frankly wrong.

Perhaps if the funding was going towards the development of a super efficient solar powered pump I'd have less of an issue, but I suspect this would be a little too close to the US/Australian belief in technology as the way forward for the hard core Green lobby's liking.

As for the funding basis, I must have to admit that even though there are, doubtlessly other less controversial carbon offsetting schemes, there is still something about them that makes me feel uneasy about them.

There is something, even coming from a very much free trade background, about the 'you can always get away with paying' attitude that sticks in the throat.

I'd have thought that, for any true believer, that there must these schemes, though a little more practical in value, that must surely make them feel like sinful 16th century Catholics buying an indulgence.

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