The Economy Must Function Within Nature’s Limits
By Lionel Anet
31 July, 2011
The economic theories are the present reference base that global capitalism validates its economic policies, which is a circular validation. That’s why, whatever measure we propose to reduce our carbon emission and manage the planet’s depleting resources, economist evaluate it within the hybrid-laissez-faire capitalism’s requirement of growth for a successful economy. To keep the economy growing governments presently manipulate the market by using the taxation system and use taxpayer’s money to give a competitive advantage to industries that maximise growth, for the profit of corporations.
The part that competition plays as a subset of capitalist economic system is as the control-medium for the economy, but its much more than that, it also acts as a decision maker for government, corporations, and individuals. That’s why the economy has to maximise production of goods and services resulting in extraction to depletion all useful minerals and living things. In addition, it forces the maximum extortion from working people in an insidious way; and with the advertisers, shops pressure-sells to every one to attain or maintain sales leadership. Furthermore and as detrimental is the widening discrepancy of power between governments, and between people due to competition. The purpose of competition is to separate people into categories.
Measures that are essential for our survival would stem from different datum; they are, from science-based measurements, observation of our planet’s mineral resources, its biosphere, and particularly our human needs. Those observations states, how much we can take from our environment, what and how much we can dump, and what sort of requirement we need to maximise our wellbeing. Bearing in mind, that we want our descendants to have the best possible life we can leave for them.
Our primary consideration should be to manage the economy in a way we can maintain life as long as the solar system allows us. Presently we disregard the damage we are doing to the planet and the biosphere, because our leaders have to give priority to the economy, that’s for the wealthy to increase their wealth and power. The worst aspect of ignoring our dependence on a healthy environment is that we are an inseparable part of that environment; therefore, damage to the environment will harm us in many ways. Unfortunately, a small damage or just a local damage to the environment we hardly notice and as we progressively damage it, over time, we still don’t notice it. When we do become aware of problem, we think that with our incredible technology and scientific knowledge, we will surmount all obstacles but the scientific community are much more pessimistic of our ability to overcome those dangers. Its likely to end up with the dilemma, that regardless of any decision we may take, the ecosystem and of course that’s us also will keep declining as the planet keeps on warming.
The difference between businesses as usual instead of gradually moving to a no carbon economy is, with business as usual, the corporation will maintain their increasing profits for a short time but unfortunately most of us will fair badly and later we will all be annihilate by our pollutions and depleting resources. However if we stop burning carbon, life may be nearly as difficult at first as we also have to reduce the carbon already in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. Nevertheless, we would then gradually improve our lifestyle, the ecology, and attain sustainability.
To stop our carbon emissions and use resources in a sustainable way, we will have to start from the present market economy. The first step should be to change from where and whom government levy their tax. Because we need to reduce and then stop burning fossil fuels, our reliance on mining minerals, and destroying forests etc, we must have an increasing tax and charges on those items. In addition, we must have full employment; we can achieve that if we reduce and then remove all taxes and charges on employing labour and on wages from work. Shifting the taxes levied from the use of labour and the earning from labour to the extraction or use of all minerals, using land, infrastructures, and on company profits. Those changes will also simplify and reduce cost of small business, which employs the major part of the labour force and are less dependent on energy. Removing taxes on labour will also remove the headache that wage earned usually go through working out their superannuation and relatively small tax. Those changes must start small, but increased quickly until we stop polluting and everyone that’s able to work can.
We also must change to a very low carbon economy in a way that we lose only our affluence but gain a better quality of life. Standard of life is different from the quality of life one represents quantity and brand of stuff, while the other, the quality of our life, which includes nutritious food, safe and comfortable living space, and above all happiness, which is largely the result of secure, pleasant, safe, reliable relation with one another and the rest of nature.
It’s easy to reduce and then stop carbon emissions; all we have to do is to stop burning the stuff. When we stop burning carbon and achieve full employment with the tax changes stated above, we will not be able to produce so many things that we have to throw out because they are so cheap there not worth fixing and labour is too expensive due to the taxes and charges on it. We will be able to repair the products bolstering small businesses, which will create interesting and worthwhile jobs. We also won’t be able to afford food grown on the other side of the world or from broad acre and feedlots farming, but local family farmers will provide fresher food and become financially viable. We won’t be able to deplete the ocean of fish and turn forests into woodchip. We will then be able to obey nature’s requirement.
This means that, in future, our need for energy will have to be compatible with the ability of nature to provide it in a sustainable way, not determent by the need of a growing economy. There will be less available energy than we have now, and it may not be on tap exactly when we like to have it. To live within that constrain we will only be able to produce the goods and service that will enhance our lives and not have the surplus to overproduce or take part in activities that are destructive such as wars or simply to increase the wealth of the wealthy. How we produce and share those goods to fulfil our needs, will determine the style of life our children’s can have and even their ability to survive.
Nothing can replace fossil fuels; its flexibility, its enormous quantity, and its energy compactness, all of which has enable capitalism to provide the affluence in the industrialised countries. However, it produced the pollution, global warming, and the reason for many wars that are likely to increase as the fossil fuels run out. Oil powered machines have the ability to remove most of the world resources in a lifetime, it’s even the means to find the oil, extract, and transport it. Oil is also essential to clear fell and woodchip world forests, mine minerals without a thought for future generation, deplete most of what we find useful in the ocean.
We cannot rely on a more efficient use of energy, since this will produce cheaper products enabling a greater quantity of goods, which will use more resources, increasing demand of fossil fuels to top up renewable energy. It will defeat any idea of reducing the use of resources. Wikipedea- “In 1980 (Khazzoom-Brookes postulate) illustrated this well and early in the industrial revolution Jevons showed this phenomena.” “This idea is a more modern analysis of a phenomenon known as the Jevons Paradox. In 1865, William Stanley Jevons observed that England's consumption of coal increased considerably after James Watt introduced his improvements to the steam engine. Jevons argued that increased efficiency in the use of coal would tend to increase the demand for coal, and would not reduce the rate at which England's deposits of coal were running out.”
Machines didn’t cause the environmental degradation by running wild, however the competition has dictated the type of machines we made, the way we have to use them and with that system of control, better and more efficient machines will speed up the wreckage of the planet. The reason for the increase use of energy and resources is partly due to the intensity of the competition, our controlling factor. The present competitiveness will ensure that with increase efficiency, we will extract increasing quantity of stuff from the planet and have to tip more in landfill; we will end up emitting more pollutants.
Competition, especially for a very social being like us is similar to a virus infection; it’s an alien introduction into a cooperative social group. Competition is in direct opposition to cooperation; therefore, as a prerequisite for social existence, there must be some cooperation otherwise its chaos, furthermore, societies function best when there’s the most cooperation and the least competition. Maybe that is why Margaret Thatcher said "There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families." That was as far as Thatcher would allow cooperation. However, humans are genetically very social. This competitive ideology has removed most of society’s control from people to an antisocial way of interacting, where businesses are competing against each other, or dishonestly colluding. Individuals have to compete against each other and against corporation. Competition occurs in nature when there’s a shortage of food or shelter, which can bring on competition, also herd animals especially the males compete for sex. Not all primates compete, as the mating is in many cases a mutual decision. No living things seek competition, but today we use this, desperate survival technique, as a universal decision-making and control method. There’s probably more cooperation than competition in life, if we are rational, it’s better and safer not to compete, and even only few people, would compete against friends to survive during food scarcity.
In this competitive capitalist milieu, scientist evaluations are easily relegate to be less valid than opinions of political, reviewer, shock jock, and economist commentators particularly when it may have an effect on economic growth, that’s, corporation’s profits verses resources depletion and climate change. Politicians are influence and rely on common understanding derived from the Media to convey their message. This gives those people an advantage over scientist as politicians when they are talking to the public, who are also inform by the same organisation, are therefore reassured and it makes sense. While scientist, whose job is to observe, measure, experiment, and test the state of the world have made a very different assessment that contradicts the established understanding that the public have derived from the Media and, as the Media is a prior knowledge, it has a competitive advantage.
Governments world over are giving primacy to the needs of the capitalist growth economy, over future generation’s welfare, while scientist’s reports, which the governments employ to be informed of the health of the biosphere, are shelfed. Politician will make life very difficult for everyone within a few decades, regardless of the directions we then take because due to a time lag the oceans take to warm to a new stable level, it will then probably be to late and the planet will be unliveable. Business as usual could give the wealthy people in the industrial countries continuing lavish life for a short time, maybe a decade or two, until the economy collapses due to lack of resources and a more violent climate. In the ensuing chaos, money and what were the most valuable assets might become worthless while other basic resources might become priceless; it could even leave our powerful billionaires powerless, which might expose them to unpleasant retribution from their angry victims.
People expect the damage we are now doing to the planet can be fixed by our science-based technology as if its miracle -based. By the time it becomes obvious that we have depleted the planet of its vital resources and damaged the ecosystem, we will have a paralysed capitalist economy; the climate will become unbearable. Those changes will start to trigger off a chain of adjustment that is largely unpredictable and could be increasingly severe. That frightful outlook would be due to the tardiness we are expressing now to reduce our consumption, emissions of carbon, and deal with increasing population, all of which would have been an easy task two to three decades ago, but a difficult one now, and an impossible one if we leave it for a decade or two. The use of those resources has changed the ecology and the physical state of the planet, from the outer part of the atmosphere to the bottom of the deepest oceans and this is still in process.
We have two-reference point for people, the primary one is our human need of survival, security, and happiness, the other one is our external dependency on the environment and that takes in a combination of living things, the ecosystem, couple to the non-living component of the planet. Our survival requirements are; the physical one, food, water, and shelter, the other is our psychological needs. They are as vital for our wellbeing and as we are probably the most social of all living things we need company that is compassionate, and cooperative, and with our affinity for others, we experience, satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness when we cooperate and help each other.
The sun gave the biosphere practically all its energy and inturn the biosphere has provided all our subsistence until the industrial revolution. From then on fossil energy replaced the biosphere for most of our dependence for energy. That fossil energy allowed us to grow, expand our extraction of minerals, intensify the use of land, created artificial climate in gigantic buildings etc, but we are now dependent on fossil fuels like a drug. The fossil fuels will run out leaving us with infrastructures that can only function effectively with those fuels, we will then need different infrastructure but we won’t have the surplus energy we had in the pass. We’re on that dead end road.
We ignore the damage or change we are inflicting on the biosphere and how much stress we impose on ourselves because we are powerless to do much about it, while competition controls the economy and the economy adds to the controls of the world societies and its people. It should be obvious that competition prevents people from living within nature’s ability to sustain us and to interact with one another in a way that can give us security and contentment. This is because to stay viable in the economy, one must give precedence to the demands made by competition over those of nature and our longing for security.
People are psychologically very tough and can withstand extreme physical, mental strains, but the strain we exsert on the ecosystem are beyond its capacity to bear much longer, and without a healthy vibrant ecology, the climate looses its major regulator. To get to that fatal stage the economy demands more sacrifice and hard work from people to maintain the growing wealth for the corporations. Life can be easier if we reduce our wasteful and useless needs that the present faulty economy demands.
Like every one else, the intense competitive environment also controls the information Medias. Media proprietors have to maximise the number of people who use their services to maximise the income from advertisers and minimise cost for customers, if possible to nothing. The dire consequence of that financial arrangement is it gives the advertisers, the most competitive section of the economy, an undue power over the Media all through a cascade of competitive control. Competition for the Media has an added danger because it’s so intensive that we sacrificed honesty, public knowledge, and our feelings for others. The tendency to dumb down, to achieve a two-fold benefit, it reduces people’s critical ability and it’s an easy way to increase circulation. The Murdoch News Empire became a victim of that; it sacrificed its integrity. It achieved the greatest spread of ignorance and confusion of any media in the last fifty years. Murdoch thought he was in control, but the competition controlled him, as we all are, but to far less degree for most of us. Competition breeds dishonesty and even Murdoch’s News Media and his children need honesty if they are to survive.
Lionel Anet is a writer from Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org
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