Nip it in the bud

Sue Nethercott
6 min readApr 10, 2024

Do you see problems coming and nip them in the bud? Or do you only fix them when they hit you in the face? Or do you exploit them and leave them for others to fix?

Generic graph showing exponential cost increasing with time before fixing

When I embarked upon a career in IT, one of the first things that I learned was that it is a lot cheaper to fix problems with software in the early stages, before it goes live, than to fix it and deal with the consequences later. So testing was very important and a good investment. Yet some companies skimp on it. Since then I have noticed many areas where we embark upon expensive solutions rather than tackling problems at source, which is crazy.

Nature has got it sorted. Through trial and error over millennia, life has found ways to survive even after ice ages, droughts, fires, meteor impacts, winters without a summer. Even, to a lesser extent, the disruption caused by mankind, though many species cannot cope and are going extinct. But life in general will likely survive long after we are gone, or at least after our ‘civilisation’ has collapsed. Life is thriving around Chernobyl, for example. Many creatures have evolved to adapt when things go wrong — floods and droughts, for example.

Humans delay sorting problems to our own cost

But humans are being slow to recognise the problems we are causing, let alone finding sustainable solutions.

Some of us see the problems coming and are calling for them to be solved sooner rather than later — climate change, for example — but others are ignoring them or positively adding to them out of greed (e.g. big oil).

One example of how skimping on the early stages of production and testing is the case of Boeing. Once people with a bean counter mindset took over and started cutting corners to save costs, quality went down and accidents increased, with a resultant loss of trust. The troubles can be traced back to 1997 when Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas and the corporate culture changed. There was another accident only yesterday. Boeing actually donate to the candidates of the party who will regulate them less. Who knows what harm this is doing to America’s secretive defense projects.

Expensive solutions

And when we do recognise problems, rather than solving the root causes of them, we are opting for the most expensive and last-minute solutions that we can find. That is very expensive in lives as well as money. Some of the climate solutions ignore the possibility of reducing fossil fuel use and are very expensive and inefficient, such as carbon capture and storage and nuclear power, which produces waste that will be problematic for many generations to come.

Soil losing fertility? Add expensive fertilisers rather than farming in a way that conserves the soil.

Vegetables losing their nutrients? Use biofortification.

Water shortage? Don’t stop growing those almonds or building in deserts, escalate tensions with other water users instead.

Not got enough political power? Start a war.

Pollution causing cancers and asthma? Don’t regulate pollutants and find healthier alternatives. Develop all kinds of expensive drugs to cure or to alleviate the symptoms, and lots of expensive equipment in hospital. Ditto for malnutrition, plus add nutrients back into foods that have been stripped of them during production. Create superfunds to do an expensive clean up rather than produce less pollution in the first place. Bury pollutants and leave others to be sickened, as happened at Love Canal, which is still harming people.

Pesticides killing off all the pollinators? Develop artificial pollinators instead of saving the bees.

Poor diet causing obesity and subsequent health problems? Buy food supplements rather than ensure that everyone has access to affordable healthy food. Not enough exercise? Go to the gym, don’t design environments where walking is practical.

Too many disabled and unwanted children? Don’t improve diet and access to healthcare and birth control for mothers. Make the situation worse by banning abortions and birth control instead, adding to overall health care costs and criminality as the children grow.

Too many migrants? Don’t stop trying to impose leaders on other countries and don’t help other countries become more resilient to floods and droughts. Don’t wage peace. Don’t use immigrants to fill worker shortages, which thanks to an aging and shrinking population includes care of the elderly. Instead build expensive walls and border forces and make expensive deals to take a tiny fraction of immigrants, as Rishi Sunak has done with Rwanda in order to appear to be doing something when really he is not.

People burning too much fossil fuel? Don’t reduce pollution and heating costs by insulating homes better. Don’t develop renewables faster. Don’t improve the national grid so that more renewables can be connected. Instead ban onshore wind and develop more oil and gas and nuclear to add to the pollution, let a future generation (and current bill-payers) pay the cost.

Too many floods? Don’t ban building on flood plains. Don’t plant trees and restore bogs and restore hedges and generally reduce run-off from farms and other land (which washes off topsoil too). Instead build expensive flood barriers in some places, and put up with the disruption and expense of flooding elsewhere.

Prone to earthquakes? Don’t impose high building standards. Put up with the loss of life and expense of buildings falling down instead, unlike Taiwan.

Population growth stopping and resources running out? Keep touting an economic model that is built on growth and find new, possibly more expensive resources to exploit and keep on advertising to persuade people to buy things they do not need. And ship the waste overseas.

Is monoculture risking our food sources, for example bananas? Don’t diversify. Don’t choose crops that are better suited to the new climate. Instead gene edit existing crops and apply more fertiliser and/or pesticide.

House too dry? Buy lots of skincare products.

House too cold? Turn up the heating, don’t put on warmer clothes.

No good at building up a business? Just buy somebody else’s, load it with debt, strip it of its assets including skilled staff (with the most skilled going first as they are more expensive, reducing quality), leaving a mess for somebody else to clear up, workers without jobs and unsatisfied customers.

We need to do better

Of course, some people and companies are doing the right thing, but not many of the world’s political and corporate leaders are, particularly those who act like dictators.

Rather than building a political party with sensible policies, we populate the upper ranks with people who have the gift of the gab and who are willing to lie to order. No experience or ability required. They spend their time trying to deflect blame for the resultant messes onto others, rather than coming up with real policies to solve real problems.

Rather than educate people who can govern wisely, schools like Eton produce people, like Boris Johnson, whose belief in themselves far outstrips their abilities, and they cause havoc in politics and in industry. Often we reward them with great wealth — particularly the glib-tongued and the willing hatchet men who cut a damaging swathe through industries. Others, like Donald Trump, seem to be born that way. They benefit from “The Power of Positive Thinking”, even if they have not read the book themselves. Others lose. Either way, we need to steer them away from politics and industry and the media at a young age, and find something productive for them to do.

The wise gardener does all he or she can to prevent disease or pests from ravaging their plants in preference to dealing with the results. Human society needs to do the same.

Nature has worked it out. It doesn’t waste anything. It recycles. It has come up with forms of life that can cope with any situation. Why can’t we?



Sue Nethercott

Open University BA, UMIST MSc, OU BSc Environmental Studies. Interests: environment, COVID19. Double #ostomate. Thom Hartmann’s newsletter editor. Views my own.