Thursday, February 13, 2014

#44 / Human Nature

I try to keep up with and keep informed about the ongoing debate on desalination, particularly in the Monterey Bay Region. Thus, I immediately clicked on a link to a recent opinion editorial published in the February 9, 2014 edition of the Monterey County Herald

Ron Weitzman, author of this guest commentary, argued that the cost of desalinated water, however great (and desalination is a very costly way to produce water) is actually less than the current costs being paid to the California American Water Company by the company's Monterey Peninsula customers. I am not sure I completely agree with his economic assertions, but I am somewhat sympathetic to his appeal that local voters ought to put themselves directly in charge of their public water supply. I tend to think that relying on private, profit-making corporations to deliver essential public goods is somewhat perilous to the public. 

Anyway, the Weitzman guest commentary is worth reading, if you are interested in water issues on the Monterey Peninsula, or want to start thinking about the upcoming vote on public water. What ultimately attracted my attention, however, was something else; namely, how Weitzman went about arguing for the use of desalination as a technology to "solve" the Peninsula's water problems. Here is how he characterizes the issues: 

California American Water reigns over six small cities on the Monterey Peninsula, cities that over the years have been experiencing an accelerating rise in the cost of water resulting from an accelerating decline in its availability. Yet, the Peninsula juts out into the vast Pacific Ocean, surrounding it by water that only needs desalting to be drinkable. We have the technology and the wherewithal to do it; only lacking is the will. The problem is not Mother Nature; it is human nature.

Weitzman (in my opinion) glosses over lots of very significant issues when he portrays desalination as essentially having zero impacts on "Mother Nature." In fact, the impacts of desalination on the marine environment might well be incredibly negative.  The negative global warming impacts of desalination are undeniable. The environmental impacts of the growth that would be induced by a new source of desalinated water may also be far from benign. 

All that aside, what most attracted my attention was not the substance of Weitzman's argument, it was his use of the phrase "Human Nature."

This phrase is a common phrase, and yet there really isn't any "Human Nature," the way I see it. The World of Nature and the Human World are two distinct spheres. Our world, the world we create by our actions - indeed by utilizing our "will," as Weitzman notes - is a world different from and outside of the World of Nature. 

Our actions, within our Human World, indeed reflecting the exercise of our human "will," are characterized by a human unwillingness to respect the World of Nature at all. There is no "Human Nature," in the same way that there is a "Mother Nature," a world in which the laws of Nature apply with an inevitable integrity. 

Our human laws, the ones that apply within the Human World that we create, are an exercise of human "will," unconstrained by the necessities of Nature. 

We would be wise, I think, to realize that the exercise of our "will," which Weitzman calls "Human Nature," puts our continued existence as a species at risk, precisely to the extent that we characterize our fundamental life choices (like the choice whether or not to provide water for the future by desalination) as something that can take place without regard to "Mother Nature."

I don't care how great our "will," the laws applicable to the World of Nature bind our actions, too. 

We would be wise not to forget it.

Image Credit:


  1. There are two aspects of human nature: cultural heritage and the bell curve of human behavior.

    Humans exhibit a wide variety of behaviors, ranging from extremes of altruism to extremes of selfishness. There is no universal human behavior.

    Culture mitigates the range of human behavior, encouraging some behaviors and rewarding others. The differences among the differing ways of cultural management of behavior is what distinguished one society from another.

    Unfortunately, the dominant culture today emphasizes and rewards personal and societal consumption, individualism, separation from nature, commodification of all resources for human profit and consumption. In our economic systems, natural resources are considered "free" to use for private profit, and all costs of using those resources are externalized from the economy.

    In other words, we've overpopulated the house without paying the rent.

    This cannot continue.


Thanks for your comment!