February 09, 2009

Clean Wind Energy vs. Wasteful Spending

Part not apart from...

The Lebanese media has been abuzz recently with the news about the grandiose plans to construct an artificial island off the Damour coast in the shape of a Cedar Tree, as if the shape of such an environmental monstrosity is supposed to make it acceptable.

No country, rich or poor, can possibly justify spending precious human and environmental resources in order to create an artificial habitat whose only purpose is to cater to the whims of the rich and privileged. Homo sapiens, at least the variety in Lebanon, do not seem to have learned the most basic of ecological principles; we are part of nature and not apart from it. This implies that we have a moral obligation to respect other specie and not to act as if everything was created for our benefit. A basic environmental truth is that the more we do then the less we will have. All of that is made absolutely clear by the Second Law of Thermodynamics; entropy; which has been described by no less of an authority than Einstein as the supreme law of nature.

Lebanon is not the only country in the world that faces many challenges in practically all fields but yet it is a country whose challenges appear to be daunting whether one is to consider its political stability, economic progress, social coherence or ecological sustainability. Lebanon’s political existence is challenged daily both from within and from without but what is even more essential is the fact that its social structure is fractured , its economic modus operandi rests on inequality and exploitation, its political system is tribal and its ecology is unsustainable. Such a set of circumstances must relegate the destructive ideas of building small gardens within troubled areas as totally unacceptable and ultimately selfish. It looks that the invisible hand has demonstrated its shortcomings and grotesque failure the world over except in Lebanon where the idea of individual gain still trumps the common good and that is sad.

What is even more deplorable is the complicity of the Lebanese state in the promotion of these environmentally degenerate projects. The most ardent advocates of the free market enterprise system admit that in many instances the forces of the market fail to find the theoretical optimal allocation and the proverbial efficient solution. The name of the economist Pigou , a strong advocate of traditional mainstream economics during the early part of the 20th century, will always be associated with the notion of externalities that prevent the actual market forces from performing their magic. An equally important circumstance that prevents the free market from working efficiently is that of Public Goods.

The ultimate question in regards to the Cedar Island and the Hotel opposite Saint George in Beirut is that of ownership of the sea bed on which these projects are to be constructed. Who owns the sea bed? Obviously it is not individuals, nor corporations or a handful of politicians. The closest thing to an international law regarding the ownership of beaches and waterways is the Public Trust Doctrine which simply states that the citizens are the ultimate owners of these resources and that each and every one of us has the right to protect these natural endowments even if we have to sue on their behalf. The beaches are our natural patrimony and we have an obligation to protect them on behalf of the future generations.

What Lebanon needs, and very badly for that matter, is not a Hotel on stilts in the sea or an artificial island for the rich but a serious investment in clean and renewable energy that will cut down on our carbon footprint and yet supply us with the electricity that we need. We must ask those that are running for elections about their positions on these existential issues and vote accordingly. Good citizens have no choice but to act in a manner that will promote the integrity of the ecosystem as Aldo Leopold , the great environmental ethicist, has taught us.

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