Human environmental impacts can be positive, not just negative. In fact, they can be vitally positive.
Not all impacts are negative
Notice this is not discussed when we talk about environmental impact. There’s this assumption that all impacts are negative. Even when we think that an industry or an energy source is overall good for human beings, we think it’s definitely making our environment worse. This is certainly true for fossil fuels.
I want to question that from this perspective. Was our environment better 300 years ago before we started using fossil fuels to generate energy or is it better today? Now, if you had a time machine that could bring people from that period to today to any city in the US even next to a coal mine, it doesn’t matter.
Ask them, “Who has a better environment, you from 300 years ago or us today?” What do you think they’d say?
Our environment is cleaner than ever before
They would think it was an insane question because today’s environment would be so much better. They would look at our water and they would compare it to theirs and say, “Your water is so clean. Our water is filthy. It’s hard to get clean water. We don’t know what kind of dangerous substance it’s going to be contaminated with and it just makes us sick all the time. We have to go to huge lengths to get any kind of water and you can just have clean water on demand.”
Then they’d look at the air. “Your air is so clean. People in my time are constantly burning wood and dung and they’re burning it indoors.” Compare that to even living next door to the dirtiest power plant in the US, which is very clean by historical standards. We only call it dirty today because, in a sense, we’re spoiled by how good the technology has gotten. Our environment is way better.
The takeaway from this thought experiment is this:
Nature doesn’t give us the environment we need to flourish.
It doesn’t give us clean air. It doesn’t give us clean water. It does not give us good sanitation. We have to impact nature if we want to have a clean environment.