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Tag Archives: Economy
A New Declaration
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
That the real, physical world is the source of our own lives, and the lives of others. A weakened planet is less capable of supporting life, human or otherwise.
Thus the health of the real world is primary, more important than any social or economic system, because all social or economic systems are dependent upon a living planet.
It is self-evident that to value a social system that harms the planet’s capacity to support life over life itself is to be out of touch with physical reality.
That any way of life based on the use of nonrenewable resources is by definition not sustainable.
That any way of life based on the hyper-exploitation of renewable resources is by definition not sustainable: if, for example, fewer salmon return every year, eventually there will be none. This means that for a way of life to be sustainable, it must not harm native communities: native prairies, native forests, native fisheries, and so on.
That the real world is interdependent, such that harm done to rivers harms those humans and nonhumans whose lives depend on these rivers, harms forests and prairies and wetlands surrounding these rivers, harms the oceans into which these rivers flow. Harm done to mountains harms the rivers flowing through them. Harm done to oceans harms everyone directly or indirectly connected to them.
That you cannot argue with physics. If you burn carbon-based fuels, this carbon will go into the air, and have effects in the real world.
That creating and releasing poisons into the world will poison humans and nonhumans.
That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to create poisons for which there is no antidote.
That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to create messes that cannot be cleaned up.
That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to destroy places humans or nonhumans need to survive.
That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to drive human cultures or nonhuman species extinct.
That reality trumps all belief systems: what you believe is not nearly so important as what is real.
That on a finite planet you cannot have an economy based on or requiring growth. At least you cannot have one and expect to either have a planet or a future.
That the current way of life is not sustainable, and will collapse. The only real questions are what will be left of the world after that collapse, and how bad things will be for the humans and nonhumans who come after. We hold it as self-evident that we should do all that we can to make sure that as much of the real, physical world remains intact until the collapse of the current system, and that humans and nonhumans should be as prepared as possible for this collapse.
That the health of local economies are more important than the health of a global economy.
That a global economy should not be allowed to harm local economies or land bases.
That corporations are not living beings. They are certainly not human beings.
That corporations do not in any real sense exist. They are legal fictions. Limited liability corporations are institutions created explicitly to separate humans from the effects of their actions—making them, by definition, inhuman and inhumane. To the degree that we desire to live in a human and humane world—and, really, to the degree that we wish to survive—limited liability corporations need to be eliminated.
That the health of human and nonhuman communities is more important than the profits of corporations.
We hold it as self-evident, as the Declaration of Independence states, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. . . .” Further, we hold it as self-evident that it would be more precise to say that it is not the Right of the People, nor even their responsibility, but instead something more like breathing—something that if we fail to do we die.
If we as a People fail to rid our communities of destructive institutions, those institutions will destroy our communities. And if we in our communities cannot provide meaningful and nondestructive ways for people to gain food, clothing, and shelter then we must recognize it’s not just specific destructive institutions but the entire economic system that is pushing the natural world past breaking points. Capitalism is killing the planet. Industrial civilization is killing the planet.
Once we’ve recognized the destructiveness of capitalism and industrial civilization—both of which are based on systematically converting a living planet into dead commodities—we’ve no choice, unless we wish to sign our own and our children’s death warrants, but to fight for all we’re worth and in every way we can to overturn it.
Photo by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.
Right now there are a great many dollars in the global economy that are no longer worth the same as any other dollar. Consider the trillions of dollars worth of essentially worthless real estate loans on the balance sheets of banks around the world. Governments allow banks to treat these as assets, but unless governments agree to take them, they can’t be exchanged for anything else, because nobody in his right mind would buy them for more than a tiny fraction of their theoretical value. Those dollars have the same sort of weird half-existence that horror fiction assigns to zombies and vampires; they’re undead money, lurking in the shadowy crypts of the world’s large banks like so many brides of Dracula, because the broad daylight of the market would kill them at once.
~John Michael Greer in The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered
More and more, I’m convinced that learning skills that will allow us to live outside of the broken global economy is a good idea. But I could be wrong.
Picture found here
George Lakoff makes a similar point in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate
Taxation is paying your dues, paying your membership fee in America. If you join a country club or a community center, you pay fees. Why? You did not build the swimming pool. You have to maintain it. You did not build the basketball court. Someone has to clean it. You may not use the squash court, but you still have to pay your dues. Otherwise it won’t be maintained and will fall apart. People who avoid taxes, like corporations that move to Bermuda, are not paying their dues to the country. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer. It is traitorous to desert our country and not pay your dues.
Perhaps Bill Gates Sr. said it best. In arguing to keep the inheritance tax, he pointed out that he and Bill Jr. did not invent the Internet. They just used it — to make billions. There is no such thing as a self-made [person]. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure. He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the Treasury and Commerce Departments, the judicial system, where nine-tenths of the cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers paid for. The owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.
I’m not sure what’s so complicated about that. Democrats (and other people who love America) ought to start repeating it every single time they get a chance. And they get a lot of chances.
Here’s an article about some amazing work being done to help save Mama Gaia.
Since 1991, Dr. Daily, 46, has made frequent trips to this Costa Rican site to conduct one of the tropics’ most comprehensive population-level studies to monitor long-term ecological change.
“We are working to very specifically quantify in biophysical and dollar terms the value of conserving the forest and its wildlife,” she said.
In recent years, Dr. Daily has expanded her research to include a global focus. She is one of the pioneers in the growing worldwide effort to protect the environment by quantifying the value of “natural capital” — nature’s goods and services that are fundamental for human life — and factoring these benefits into the calculations of businesses and governments. Dr. Daily’s work has attracted international attention and has earned her some of the world’s most coveted environmental awards.
I admit that, at first, my reaction, as a member of a Nature Religion, was that Dr. Daily must be mad. You can’t put a dollar value on nature, on wilderness, on preserving biodiversity. You can’t put a dollar value on my relationship with my landbase or the loss that people feel when their landbase is raped. How much money is Muir Woods “worth”? How much money would someone need to be able to make off of destroying the Potomac River to make it OK to do so? How much money were the buffalo “worth” to Native Americans?
But the project actually sounds as if it has the potential to do a lot of good.
It aims to transform traditional conservation methods by including the value of “ecosystem services” in business, community and government decisions. These benefits from nature — like flood protection, crop pollination and carbon storage — are not part of the traditional economic equation.
“Currently, there is no price for most of the ecosystem services we care about, like clean air and clean water,” said Stephen Polasky, professor of ecological/environmental economics at the University of Minnesota. He says that because economic calculations often ignore nature, the results can lead to the destruction of the very ecosystems upon which the economy is based.
“Our economic system values land for two primary reasons,” said Adam Davis, a partner in Ecosystem Investment Partners, a company that manages high-priority conservation properties. “One is building on the land, and the second is taking things from the land.”
“Right now, the way a forest is worth money is by cutting it down,” Mr. Davis said. “We measure that value in board-feet of lumber or tons of pulp sold to a paper mill.” What has been missing, he says, is a countervailing economic force that measures the value of leaving a forest or other ecosystem intact.
And it’s already having positive effects. For example:
After deforestation caused extensive flooding in 1998, China committed $100 billion to convert vast areas of cropland back into forest and grassland. The government is building on this success by helping to develop and test the [project’s] software to put in place a new reserve network that is projected to span 25 percent of the country. The reserves will help with flood control, irrigation, drinking supply, hydropower production, biodiversity and climate stabilization.
I imagine that ecologists could have lobbied forever and not gotten China to commit to turning 25 percent of its land into forest reserves.
Dr. Daily does appear to understand that nature’s intrinsic value can’t be quantified.
Because the natural capital concept is anthropocentric, Dr. Daily sometimes is asked whether quantifying ecosystem services runs the risk of ignoring nature’s intrinsic worth or overlooking difficult-to-measure aspects of the natural world, like aesthetic or spiritual benefits.
Dr. Daily acknowledges that certain properties of nature defy quantification. “The beauty of the natural capital approach is it leaves the vast, immeasurable aspects of nature in their own realm while focusing in a very practical way on environmental benefits that we can and should incorporate into our current decisions.”
Of course, the danger is that, often, its only what’s quantifiable that matters. I’ve no doubt that, especially as population continues to explode, there will come a day when the money to be made by cutting down Muir Woods and putting up condos will exceed “the environmental benefits that we can and should incorporate into our current decisions.” But Muir Woods should never be cut down. And the model suffers from the fact that (as near as I can tell) it doesn’t take future generations into account. If the value in today’s dollars of cutting down forests exceeds the environmental benefits, the model makes it “justifiable” for people to cut down the forests.
Dr. Daily seems to get that, as well:
“The loss of earth’s biodiversity is permanent,” Dr. Daily said. “And it is happening on our watch. We need to convey with compelling evidence the value of nature and the cost of losing it. I find it stunning that until the next asteroid hits the planet, it is humanity that is collectively deciding the future course of all known life.”
I’m adding several of her books to my reading list.
George Pope Morris may have said it best:
Woodman, Spare That Tree
WOODMAN, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I’ll protect it now.
‘Twas my forefather’s hand
That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!
That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o’er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earth-bound ties;
O, spare that aged oak,
Now towering to the skies!
When but an idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
My father pressed my hand —
Forgive this foolish tear,
But let that old oak stand!
My heart-strings round thee cling,
Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I’ve a hand to save,
Thy axe shall hurt it not.
Picture found here.