Friday, April 20, 2007

Aesthetics and the Environment

It is interesting how much aesthetics is tied up with environmentalism - if it looks ugly to the observer, then it must be bad for the environment. I have two interesting examples in relation to this.

1) Last September I was in Germany and in the northern part of the province of Hesse there are a lot of wind turbines. They sit in the middle of a rural farming region. The turbines are in the middle of fields. I have had a number of people look at the pictures I took and comment on how ugly the wind turbines are - I ask them why. The answer is that they wreck the viewscape of a natural environment, it is the industrialization of a natural spot, that they are harming the natural state. All this in an area that has not been in anything approaching a wild state in over a thousand years. In our western society we have decided that farming and farmer's fields are part of natural environment and are a beautiful thing to see. This ignores that the fields are monocultures and have destroyed all the orginal habitat.

2) Clearcutting in forestry - once again, they look ugly and therefore must be bad. But when one compares the amount of land that is impacted by forestry each year versus the amount of land being permanently impacted by farming. In BC about 200 000 hectares of forests are harvested each year. If the land is considered to be fuly unavailable as habitat for ten years, then this means there is about 2 000 000 hectares on a rolling basis that are not available as wildlife habitat - about 2% of BC. About 5% of BC is farmed - this land is effectively not available at any time for wildlife habitat, and this of the best lands in BC.

But clearcutting is seen a villain and farming is not.

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