Mercurius wrote Right now, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s surmised that we are in the largest mass extinction of history but again you have to think of these things in geological time. What makes you think the environment is in considerable better shape in the developed world than 30 years ago?
Perspective. The quality of the air in Los Angeles in 1970, before the establishment of the EPA, was downright toxic. The Rust Belt economy, when in full bloom, brought a great deal of wealth to northeastern Ohio, Detroit, etc., but the environmental hazards of that kind of heavy mid-20th-century industry was just off the charts.
The complaints we have now are the complaints of a formerly morbidly obese person who's come a long way griping that they're still fat, despite how much they've shed.
Mostly the developed world just exported its pollution, resource extraction and factories to undeveloped countries. How is ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s environment doing again?
Hence my qualifier about the developed world. However, I'll note that China's environment wasn't in that great of shape before they started on their current capitalist-industrialist boom; also, our awareness of it has grown much faster than its actual problems have.
Things are not all well on the home front either. There is a severe water shortage in the west and south. Soil degradation, climate change, fisheries collapsing, bees and bats disappearing, desertification, peak oil (sprawl) and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t forget the unknowns that are to new to study like nanopollution and genetic engineering (which I am mostly a fan of both, but worry about unforeseen problems.)
All of the above may be true, but that just identifies the problems for technology to solve; it doesn't speak to technology's inability to solve them. It speaks for the need for technology to solve them. Where do you think the water to replenish the shortages in the west and south will come from? Or post-oil transportation alternatives? We're not going back to horses and buggies. Or bicycles.
Yeah but we have more forested acreage in the US (we are also getting more of wood products from overseas) our rivers are clean (except for all the eutrophication and combined sewage overflows) and our air is cleaner (but how is the countries that manufacture our IPods air doing.) Write it all down as the progress of man.
The domestic lumber industry isn't doing so badly, either, and neither is the Canadian one. Our rivers are in fact cleaner, and things like combined sewage overflows are pretty rare, and increasingly acted upon quickly. (In agrarian days, such environmental hazards would barely have passed notice.)
Keep in mind that subsistence agriculture in low-technology societies isn't exactly environmentally friendly, either. Compare the water quality of the Ohio River to that of the Congo River. I'm not saying that the Ohio is so pristine you could drink from it--the pioneers shouldn't have been doing that, either--but the Congo is noticeably worse.
I'm not trying to argue that we already live in some kind of technological utopia that people just don't see; that's clearly not the case. My point is that the problems of today's technology are less, and the benefits more, than they were a generation ago, and the same to the generation before that. Technology has solved far more problems than it's caused, and also solved far more problems than has conservation or any other kind of restrictionist measures that would compromise living standards more than solving problems. The point of the above examples was to show that the world we have now is no more a finished product than that of a generation ago, and thirty years from now, we'll be talking about the problems of today that modern technology (of 2038) has solved. Not those that were solved by turning away from technology to simpler pleasures.