June 15th


Tough problem today: what’s the difference between an environmental problem and a poverty problem? This blurring is particularly acute with water pollution and drinking water. Bad drinking water is the cause of perhaps 2 million deaths per year, mostly of children under five in Africa. However, this is usually due to biological contamination, not industrial. To put it another way, people were dying this way hundreds of years ago, long before we began our various polluting activities. So this is really a poverty problem, isn’t it? The decisive factor for me was Crawford’s First Law. I asked, “What can the user do about it?” The answer is “Spend money on plumbing.” That’s not really an environmental decision, so I decided to ignore this factor.

I’m actually a little low on environmental factors; my list of factors is only 74 entries long. The original Balance of the Planet had some 120 factors. I’ve been poring over the two lists, cross-comparing. Here’s the old list:

The items are color-coded as follows: Green indicates a factor that is already included in the new version of Balance of the Planet. Black indicates an obsolete or rejected factor. The use of CFCs has now come under control, so they no longer present an environmental issue, so all the factors associated with CFCs, such as Ultraviolet Light and Skin Cancer, are rendered obsolete. I also decided to reject Housing as a factor, because that’s a poverty issue, not an environmental issue.

Purple is used for factors that have been subsumed into existing factors. For example, the whole Price-Demand-Supply set is now handled in a single computation, so there’s no need to present all three. The interesting items are the red ones. These are factors not already in BotP that I might want to insert.

The most interesting difference between the two lists is that the earlier list is more phenomenological. That is, it addresses every particular that people have heard about environmental issues. Recycling is a big deal, so there are two entries for recycling. While recycling is a significant (though not large) factor in Northern economies, it is not significant on a global scale. However, I really must include tiny factors in the system, if only to show the player how tiny they are. I’ve been too rigorous about simplifying the simulation by rejecting tiny factors.