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A god once created a beautiful planet and populated it with all kind of plant and animals. He brought up humans, because no world is complete without them. But then he paused. Not because he needed a rest, no, but because he thought about the future. And the future indeed looked cloudy.

His beloved humans would grow and multiply, invent wheel, iron working, steam engine. They would build railroads and factories, pipelines and chemical plants. They would play with nuclear power. What would happen to green hills and blue skies of this world? What would happen to its lesser creatures? Impeding ecological catastrophe looked inevitable.

Some other gods say that this is just a necessary step in a civilization growing up, and if ecological damage gets out of hand, a god should step in and punish his subjects with a great flood or something like that.

But not this god. So the god sat and thought about how his people can avoid spoiling their world. His powers were immense. He could strip the world of any natural resource, or make it overly abundant. He could change atmospheric composition and move around planets and moons. But his powers were limited too. He couldn't change laws of nature. And he couldn't change the nature of his people.

Some other gods say that ignorance is bliss. People are better off living in a garden of Eden, never knowing technology and its poisonous fruits. Maybe going a bit further and living in idyllic Middle Ages.

But not this god. He knew better of this so called idyll, and that his subjects deserve better. They deserve progress. But how avoid the dark side of it? So the god just sat and thought, and still could not come up with solution.

Can you help him?

P.S. The god understands that the term "ecological damage" is fuzzy and some strict criteria are required. So, the god suggests that his subjects should at all times comply with more stringent of Earth-based clean air and water standards. For example, US EPA sets following standards for air pollution: https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants/naaqs-table

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    $\begingroup$ Can your question be simplified to "Can a God perfectly limit individuals to only doing 'the right thing' while still giving them freewilll?" To that end, can you define "progress?" The progress we are used to thinking about is progress without such a deity. Progress with the deity would certainly look different. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 23 at 5:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Cort Ammon No, not like that. The god can't change the nature of individuals. Which means that given the opportunity and incentive and lack of restraint, people may act against god's will. So the question is - how to restrict opportunity or incentive, or introduce appropriate restraint? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 23 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ That is one very very very omnipotent god. You see, ecological equilibrium does not exist and cannot exist. Ecological system are chaotic; one cannot predict their future state by looking at the current state. And this just on the short term; does not even take into consideration natural evolution (medium term), and the changing amount of energy coming from the Sun (long term). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 23 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ Is a beaver dam "ecological damage?" $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Aug 23 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ Your god needs an endgame, a purpouse for what it is doing, and a scale of what is good; Are the green hills better than having Man? So, it will have to think hard about some of the questions people like Plato tried to deal with: what is Good and Beautiful? $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Aug 23 at 14:01
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No. But...

simply because the term "ecological damage" is nonsensical. Modern sensibilities equate that term with unpopular human influence on nature. But humans are and always have been as much a part of the planet's ecology as any other living thing. When humans want to dam a river there is much anxiety about the potential for damaging the local ecology. But when beavers dam a river without any regard for the impact it has on the ecology it's accepted by humans as nature running its course. When humans want to build a highway there is anxiety over the destruction of natural habitats. But when herds of elephants cross an African plain trampling plants and ant hills along the way humans find it charming. But in essence there is no difference among them. All are examples of ecology in progress and in particular energy transferring through it. There would be no ecology without energy. (And in the case of Earth energy from the sun.)

Since technological evolution as we know it requires transferring energy within the compartment of an ecology there will always be unavoidable "damage" within it. Just as the transferring energies of a thunderstorm "damage" localities that experience its influence.

So in that sense there really is no such thing as ecological damage. There will always be unavoidable physical effects of energy flowing through a complex physical system. That which is considered damage is simply an emotional argument subject to the whims of human perspective.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. This god, however, has an opinionated view on ecology. When he created a planet, it had a certain variety of species and certain environmental conditions. Deviating too much from it is a no-no, and he is very much looking into preservation of those conditions. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 22 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander Did your god create the dinosaurs then bury them to create oil for your humans? Or did God just put the oil there and leave fake evidence of dinosaurs for humans to find? I'm just Curious if your God is okay killing off an entire species, or planting fake evidence or no reason. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Aug 23 at 2:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadowzee no, the god didn't create any species just to kill them off. Whether or not he planted any fake evidence - I don't know. Maybe he did, because he seems to have a sense of humor. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 23 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander Then I think you have your answer: If the only conditions that are acceptable to your God are the conditions he created, then any conditions we create must, by necessity, be damaging. That is, of course, unless the acts of humans are part of the God's plans, in which case they are, by definition, not damaging. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 23 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Cort Ammon The god does not have any particular plan. However, he does not want the world to be messed up substantially. How much is "substantially"? Good question. I will update the question a bit later. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 23 at 7:28
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Technology is not in of itself a damage to nature. Lets look at earth, here the problems comes primarily from forms of greed. We use trawling for fishing, because then we can get 50% (arbitrary amount) more fish, even if it damages the sea floor. Same for most aspects of resource acquisition. It's a philosophy of "It's OK if I can get more now, if the consequences doesn't happen until after I'm dead".

So the question should be more along the lines of, Is it possible to create humans, who are selfish enough to strive to improve, but not so much that they will sacrifice future generations for their own benefit.

Secondly I suppose a lot of the damage we do to our environment happens because of ignorance. We just didn't know CFC gasses caused damage to the ozone layer, before it was too late. A god that actually bothers to inform and teach us of these consequences before they happen would probably be able to mitigate a LOT of damage to the environment.

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    $\begingroup$ Ignorance is really one of the main sources of disasters. The first farming civilizations knew nothing about soil degradation, desertification, and salinization due to irrigation techniques. So the god will have to send prophets, regularly, with useful knowledge to help Man learn these things earlier. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Aug 23 at 14:06
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God considered making humans live much longer, say a thousand years each. Maybe then they would be more cautious.

God also considered giving them more brains, a higher mental capacity to think ahead and do a risk analysis of what might happen and what one may better not do or just more mirror neurons to show more empathy with their surroundings.

God thought that better brains might be dangerous during a hunter-gatherer phase and so he considered additionally giving them inferior physical traits like bad eye sight, slow reactions, ...

God also considered changing the biochemistry in the human brain to make them love nature more, by letting the body release higher doses of positive messenger substances when surrounded by nature.

God also considered biologically limiting the procreation rate of humans. To this end God experimented with sperms that were mostly defect.

God also considered a barren, hostile world were humans would always struggle to survive. Vulcanoes, deserts, ... you name it, God thought about it.

God also considered just removing all the stuff that is dangerous. No radioactive material, no coal, no mercury.

Finally, God settled on making two almost identical planets next to each other (rotating on nearly the same orbit but half rotation around the local star separated), one with humans and one without. Humans wouldn't be able to move to the second planet unless they were technologically advanced so much that they had ruined the first planet and then they would hopefully have learned the lesson. God really couldn't change the fact that humans only learned after the fact, that's why God sighed and made the two planets.

Summary: Either make life harder for them or give them more brains & less strength and more love or give them a second chance somewhere in the future when the time is ripe.

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    $\begingroup$ Smarter and longer lived humans, basically the elves you are proposing, will wipe the megafauna with even more efficiency then we did because they will be better hunters due to better intellect and more hunting experience. Also, how will they get to the 2nd planet without nuclear pulse propulsion? Chemical rockets are almost useless and can only put some small satellites in LEO. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Aug 23 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Geronimo Smarter humans may be more efficient but hopefully less willing to wipe something out. The idea is that they can think ahead more. Regarding how they come to the 2nd planet? Hopefully not with the technological state of today. They would need to learn more before they get a second chance. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Aug 23 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ The hunter-gatherers didn't wipe the megafauna because they were willing to do, but because it was the best food source they had, big animals full of meat, bones and fat whose size became a liability when facing organized, intelligent, pack hunters like humans. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Aug 23 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Geronimo Okay you convinced me that large brains must be accompanied by inferior physical strength to avoid a wipe-out during a hunter-gatherer phase. Edited the answer accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Aug 23 at 15:11
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You can't. By the time of bronze age collapse the sumerians and egyptians had alredy messed up the natural environment of Mesopotamia and Nile basin. You don't need modern technology to turn forests and swamps into farmlands and then the farmland into a salt marsh, like the old farmlands of Ur. All human activity will upset the environment. What your god needs to do is to decide what is better: a world filled with humans or the green hills.

Edit: "idyllic" hunter-gatherers were able to hunt megafauna to the brink of extinction, like the mamooths and, if i remember correctly, the horses in America. So, keeping the humans in the neolithic won't work.

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Technology is changing the environment

All tech involves some kind of change. Collecting rainwater sounds harmless, but ...

  • Can result in stagnant water and thus water-born diseases
  • Result in changing the water table
  • Affect the details of run-off and may either reduce or enhance flooding
  • Requires materials to store rainwater, or land to submerge

Virtually all technologies produce heat. Heat itself can be a pollutant.

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As other said, any technology will change the ecosystem. Prehistoric humans used fire and tools to hunt mammoth into extinction, along with other large animals.

Any kind of agriculture replaces natural ecosystem.

In fact, even evolution of animals changes the ecosystem. Mammals have driven dinosaurs into extinction.

So your God would have to decide what kind of change to ecosystem is acceptable, and what isn't.

A few ideas, following real-world governments:

  • Declare certain areas, rivers and species as sacred, so they should be left alone.

  • Require fishermen to return a quarter of the catch to the water, and farmers should leave a quarter of their lands wild, as a tribute to their god.

  • Mining, metalurgy and chemical industry make some pollution inevitable. Require workers to do their best to filter pollution, and the company must donate to monasteries or buy land and keep it wild (i.e. Pigouvian tax)

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Feed the humans information and technology that allows them to skip the more destructive aspects of civilization.

Better farming techniques and better plants being cultivated (ie, have more tolerance for environmental variations plus greater food output per plant) means less ground needs to be cultivated to support the same number of people. Better farming technology means fewer people are necessary to produce the same amount of food. Combine that with greater health knowledge allowing greater survival of children and women in childbirth means farmers don't have to keep pumping out more kids to both make up for the ones that don't survive and to supply enough workers to do the farming (traditional farming depends on child labour). That helps manage population rise while also reducing the requirements to create more and more farmland, which will have benefits in preserving natural areas.

Encourage urbanization, because urban areas are far more efficient in supporting populations; ten families spread out over a few square kilometers require more resources than ten families in a small area where they can share services; among other things, urbanization reduces the needs for things like roads. The roads connect the urban areas, they aren't sprawled out all over the country because the population is scattered.

Get to electricity as soon as possible; electrical generation can come from a huge variety of energy sources, which allows you to choose the ones that will have the least impact; windmills in windy areas, hydroelectric for people near areas where that's appropriate. Even if your source is a coal-fired generator, it's easier to control the pollution from one single source than if every home has its own coal furnace.

Essentially, your deity's overall goal should be to get them to early 21st century technology as soon as possible. You can see this sort of thing in less developed areas of the world, where people are skipping, essentially, the more destructive aspects of the industrial revolution (big coal-spewing industries, environmentally destructive mining involving stripping everything away and dumping whatever wherever) and going straight to tech that's less harmful because it's more efficient.

And since said deity is active anyway, the odd lightning bolt that fries some idiot who thinks the proper way of dealing with garbage is just dumping it at sea would make a useful object lesson. "Thou shalt reduce thine impact on the environment lest thou get thine ass kicked" would be a useful commandment.

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