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Economics is so fundamentally disconnected from the real world it is destructive. If you take an introductory course in economics, the professor, in the first lecture, will show a slide of the economy, and it looks very impressive, you know, raw materials, extraction process, manufacturer, wholesale, retail, with arrows going back and forth… But if you ask the economist: in that equation, where do you put the ozone layer, where do you put the deep underground aquifer as fossil water, where do you put topsoil, or biodiversity? Their answer is, 'Oh, those are externalities'. Well, then you might as well be on Mars: that economy is not based in anything like the real world.  -David Suzuki (from the film surviving progress))
If this is true of economics, as David Suzuki says, and if “The Economy” is “not based in anything like the real world” – as in the planet we live on, the air we breathe, the water we drink; basically the web of life that sustains us – then, there must be some disturbing conclusions drawn regarding “The Economy.”

In human psychology a “fundamental disconnection from the real world” is a good description of the deep states of suffering that psychologists and psychiatrists call by names such as “psychosis” or “schizophrenia.”  It is difficult to heal from such conditions.

To apply these terms to “The Economy” is not acceptable within current political discourse. But that admission then suggests that current political discourse is fundamentally disconnected from the real world. If so, then how are the changes that our planet is telling us need to be made going to be made? The more we learn about the physical and chemical changes that “The Economy” is making to our planet the more frightened we should be about this fundamental disconnect.

To be clear, I'm not talking about problems with basic first-year economics theory (I don't believe that's David Suzuki's intention either). I'm talking about a mass psychosis that must be healed for us to survive. It is a kind of radical healing that seems beyond the capabilities of our present system of oligarchical economics. It's going to have to happen with a grassroots community-based revolution if it is to happen at all.

To call our economy “psychotic” or “schizophrenic” is, without a doubt, ambitious criticism. Without this economy, which I criticize so ambitiously, we believe we would be left without the things that make life worth living – and without basic necessities for survival for billions of people who don’t deserve to live in the kind of suffering that the destruction of the economy would cause.

But this is not about eliminating this thing we call “The Economy.” Not at all. It is about fundamental, paradigmatic changes that must turn it into something completely different from the psychotic failure it is now. Something  along the lines of a fundamental shift in what we mean by value and what we measure and quantify to determine economic success. Something that includes Bhutan's focus upon Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product.

To the extent that economic thinking is based on the market, it takes the sacredness out of life, because there can be nothing sacred in something that has a price.  Not surprisingly, therefore, if economic thinking pervades the whole of society, even simple non-economic values like beauty, health, or cleanliness can survive only if they prove to be economic.--E. F. Schumacher (Small Is Beautiful)

What would it take to heal this disconnect The Economy has suffered, severing it from a planet that gives it life and upon which it depends utterly and entirely? How could we change it to a system that values completely and wholly that planet in it’s most basic equations – the ones it teaches to first year economics students?

Instead of “assuming away” the natural world it would begin with the natural world and place those considerations at the heart of its calculations. It would banish the economic concept of "externality." For an "externality" is actually an impossibility. There is nothing external to the planetary system we reside within. To base a system of thought upon an impossible belief is to disconnect it from the real world.

Our present economy, the one we live within like fish in water, operates under this delusion. It creates an infinity out of a limited system: growth can continue forever because garbage and CO2 go to that fantasy kingdom where externalities reside and are magically made irrelevant to our present orgy of shopping.

And that is another way to get where we must go to survive. End our orgy of shopping.

If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something, and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse, boom.

Fortunately, the economic party that has been the second half of the twentieth century has fostered more shopping than anyone would have predicted, more shopping than has ever taken place anywhere at any time.

(Paco Underhill  Why We Buy: the Science of Shopping)

The manufacture of wedding rings is illustrative. Producing that tiny gold band requires the generation of something like 20 tons of mine waste (often laced with cyanide and other toxics), the burning of large quantities of fossil fuels to generate energy to create that mine waste and to refine and transport the raw materials, and similar processes to manufacture the box and packaging which contain that tiny piece of gold. It is clear that the main “product” of wedding ring manufacture is mine waste and CO2. The actual ring is a miniscule by-product of all that waste production.

If you look at general economic activities you will find similar stories – vast amounts of garbage and CO2 “externalized” to produce a tiny amount of “goods.” The only things that figure into the calculations of marginal cost, marginal revenue, demand and supply, price incentives, etc... are the teeny-tiny little by-products of that vast machine of waste production which are of temporary use to us. What is essential to life becomes inconsequential. It is magically sent "Away" in order to focus upon those miniscule parts of the planet that can be commodified and bought and sold in the “free market” for profit.

It’s the fishbowl defining the ocean as irrelevant.

Looking at it in a different way:

“Warm Families Inc” is dedicated to “bringing warmth and comfort to those who matter most to you.”  Coupled with pictures of cozy children wrapped in the loving arms of their parents this company advertises their services of burning down houses to generate heat. They charge by the btu and profits are up. Their services include incendiary devices, trained experts in combustion technology and a friendly and helpful billing department that can work out payment plans for those who might be struggling financially. Your burned-down house is an “externality” - the price/ btu is what matters.

The word “economy” has Greek roots:   “oikos”  and “nemein” The oikos was the most basic and fundamental unit of classical Greek civilization; a civilization which arose gradually from the dark ages following the fall of Mycenae. An oikos was a human survival unit consisting of a small landholding (often in the ballpark of 10 acres or so) worked by the family living on it and one or more slaves they may have possessed.  “Nemein” means “appropriating” or “distributing”  (or even “feeding”).“Oikonomos” is then the process of production and distribution of the resources of a family farm among all the participants.

If you take the biologically productive land and sea areas of the earth and divide them by the human population you get 1.8 hectares – about 4.5 acres – per person. But this is if the entire earth were a human family farm – no wilderness whatsoever and no place for species that aren’t of use to humans. I think, therefore, it would probably be a good idea to have some biologically productive land and sea set aside for the other millions of species that aren’t consumed by humans.

But, for even those whose Eden is a global human family farm with no value assigned to species we can’t consume, we are screwing up. Humanity is presently using the earth’s “ecological services” faster than they can be renewed;  our farm is failing.
And we’re burning ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels and creating ever more enormous piles of garbage in order to accelerate that failure. We do this because economists tell us fossil fuel burning and garbage dumping are the "cheapest" ways to “Grow The Economy.”

What they don't tell us is that the reason these things are so "cheap" is that they've sent all reckonings of the costs of the primary products of "The Economy" - garbage and CO2 - off into that magical kingdom of "Away" and tell us we won't ever have to pay those costs.

The US  consumes 18.8 million barrels per day of oil. Of this 2.7 million bpd comes from Canada (as of 2011). Canada has the 3rd largest proven reserves in the world, after only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (because of large deposits in the Orinoco tar sands in the Orinoco river basin – imagine the kind of wholesale ecological destruction that is taking place in Alberta transported to this tropical, forested river system.)

Ninety-nine percent of Canada’s oil goes to US refineries. Almost all of this travels through pipelines. And more than 50% of this piped oil comes from the tar sands in Alberta. (Another 32% comes from the West Canadian Sedimentary Basin and the rest from offshore production, mainly off Newfoundland and Labrador).  So, right now about a million and a half barrels per day come into the US from Canadian tar sands.

So, many ask, why is Keystone XL such a big deal then; especially since we already bring in more than 12% of our daily consumption from the tar sands right now? If it is true, as James Hansen says, burning the Alberta tar sands will be “game over” for climate change, then when do we cross the line from our present rate of burn to “game over?”

Keystone XL will add another 830 thousand bpd to that million and a half barrels from tar sands – that makes about 2.3 million bpd, or 15%. Is that crossing the line to “game over?” Does “game over” lie somewhere between 12% and 15% of our daily oil consumption?

See what happened there?

Concern over Keystone XL gets diluted by playing a game of numbers. What needs to be noted is that building Keystone XL moves us in the direction of greater collective suicidal insanity. We need to stop burning fossil fuels now. And we need to stop digging coal out of the Powder River Basin - much less trying to build a mega-port in the Puget Sound to ship that coal to China.

Working our asses off to burn more carbon is foolish, insane - complete and total lunacy – it’s that psychotic thing called “The Economy” - which we have become convinced must only be allowed to move in one direction. Towards complete and utter destruction of our own precious selves and our planet – what economists call “economic growth.” Only one direction allowed. Burning our house down so we can shop.

And in the Kabuki theater over in the other Washington the actors prance on stage while the theater they perform in, their homes and their town, are burning down. “Pay no attention to that smell of smoke!” they say, “Look, at the drama! Look at the shiny masks we wear! Look at us fabricate this shiny, growing Economy! Pay no attention to that smoke –it’s just an externality.”

Everything we do, everything we say, all politics, all economics -  all global "issues" depend entirely and completely upon this planet we inhabit. There is no other planet - there is no debate: as in "do we have a planet" or "do we not have a planet"

Washington DC is not some exempt little Village that is somehow "in charge" of "environmental issues." It is a tiny little place residing upon the same planet everyone else inhabits. It rains there just like anywhere else. It gets hot there. It snows. The inhabitants eat food grown somewhere in soil that needs water and nutrients to produce that food. They breathe air. They drink water.

And that little fishbowl claims its source of water is irrelevant - an "externality."

Originally posted to grains of sand on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 11:08 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, DK GreenRoots, Climate Change SOS, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If only we could live so long (110+ / 0-)

    A Vision  (Wendell Berry)

    If we will have the wisdom to survive,
    to stand like slow-growing trees
    on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
    if we will make our seasons welcome here,
    asking not too much of earth or heaven,
    then a long time after we are dead
    the lives our lives prepare will live
    there, their houses strongly placed
    upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
    rich in the windows. The river will run
    clear, as we will never know it,
    and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
    On the levels of the hills will be
    green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
    On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
    the old forest, an old forest will stand,
    its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
    The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
    Families will be singing in the fields.
    In their voices they will hear a music
    risen out of the ground. They will take
    nothing from the ground they will not return,
    whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
    native to this valley, will spread over it
    like a grove, and memory will grow
    into legend, legend into song, song
    into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
    the songs of its people and its birds,
    will be health and wisdom and indwelling
    light. This is no paradisal dream.
    Its hardship is its possibility

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 09:00:48 PM PST

    •  Not really sure what to make of this lament... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      There are very few ecological/environmental 'issues' that cannot all be reduced to the ultimate need to limit/reduce the population, but curiously, in spite of your diary's great length, you made no mention of this, but decided instead to focus on 'economics' as the big obstacle that must be overcome.

      Is there any particular reason for this?

      •  IF we ever to be honest with ourselves (0+ / 0-)

        first we'd have to change the way we look at the world, and we'd need to figure out how to value things in such a way that we can honestly compare the cost in waste/environmental damage from producing something, as to compared to how many people are fed/clothed and so on.

        In other words, we'd need to change economics in order to be able to judge what we really needed, and what we should just stop producing.  

        I'm speaking for myself now, and possibly not the author of the diary, but if we are ever going to respond to this mess we will have to change our economics so rather than viewing the environment as an 'externality' it actually formally takes it into account.  We will, as a matter of fact, have to greatly reduce our population, but along the way we will have to make serious changes in how we value everything.  We will have to change our government, and we will have to profoundly change how economics works.  

        I suspect that we will need to first determine how much Co2, methane and so on can be produced, and then only allow production up to that point, and then only after we've done that can we allow the market to judge the value of anything.

        From your question, I get the sense that you don't understand how huge of an undertaking that is.  It's a big step, and we will not be able to skip over it.

        Ignorance more frequently begets confidence then knowledge. Charles Darwin

        by martianexpatriate on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 06:18:43 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thermostat (24+ / 0-)

    I turned my thermostat down as far as its been in 40 years.   I drive as little as possible.   I buy in the nearest supermarket.   Driving 20 miles to Walmart is counter-productive in so many ways.

    People in my town are not big gardeners.   I'd like to change that.

    •  Our garden was flooded by Sandy. (6+ / 0-)

      A temporary river ran through it.

      We'll see come spring how much salt water was in that mix. At least we are up river from the ocean.

      Gold Fish.
      Also, the "fishbowl" spoken of here lives on gaining attention from the rest of us. Gold Fish from that environment then use the attention to sell us lies. They take their bribes, they bow heads to the various forms of blackmail that accompany their way of life. They lie.

      It's not that the Gold Fish are ignorant or badly educated from being exposed to economics.

      Really, economics has plenty to say about how to accommodate our economic processes to adversity. Bribed and blackmailed Gold Fish are the big problem.

      You're familiar with Tony Blair? With John McCain? The dead American king, Ronald Reagan? Gold Fish, all.

      Poissons rouges. Carassius auratus auratus.

    •  I don't expect any social/political solution to .. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fleet, OregonWetDog, wader warming coming from the world's governments.  Certainly not from the US or China.  The UN can make suggestions, but there is no real enforceable mechanism that won't be vetoed.

      They may get serious once we've passed a 'point of no return' and the disaster is making life uncomfortable for the 1%.......of course the wealthy will find ways to insulate themselves while the rest of us burn.

      What you are doing........

      I turned my thermostat down as far as its been in 40 years.   I drive as little as possible.   I buy in the nearest supermarket.   Driving 20 miles to Walmart is counter-productive in so many ways. the only way to go.  Get as many people on this band-wagon as possible.  Stop driving so much, turn down the heat, buy less stuff et al.

      This space for rent -- Cheap!

      by jds1978 on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:43:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We can get the ball rolling with fairly modest (0+ / 0-)

        first steps. We need to unleash solar and other clean energy, with just a little bit of a push with tax breaks and other subsidies, combined with cutting back on big oil/coal subsidies.
        When people see jobs being created and the economy growing without a major catastrophe, then the gov. will have a mandate to do more on climate change, including bringing pressure to bear on China and India. Not only will there be pressure, but there will also be a carrot for development in those countries that doesn't have to be curbed as a result of less dependence on fossil fuel.
        We're right on the cusp, and the gop is in the way.

        You can't make this stuff up.

        by David54 on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:17:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Economic behavior involves the trade and exchange (18+ / 0-)

    of goods and services to avoid waste. Thus, if we are producing mountains of waste, that's an indisputable sign that our economic activity has failed.
    A simple statistic confirms it. At present, the global community is producing sufficient food to provide adequate nutrition for 9 billion people. Since we have just over 6 billion and man of those are ill-fed, it's clear that a lot of our food production is going to waste.
    Now, what accounts for this failure? It's my hypothesis that, while using currency to mediate our trade and exchange over time and distance is a salutary invention (that happened about 5000 years ago), in recent times there has been a consistent effort to ration the availability of currency in order to keep some populations on the edge of starvation so, at a minimum, their example can act as a spur to make others more compliant with authoritarian directives. The lust for power, it seems, is stronger even than the lust for sex. And, since power, to be felt, has to hurt, keeping people from getting enough to eat is an intentional strategy.  Moreover, by using money as a tool to deprive, assigning it a sort of middleman role, the deprivators are able to hide their part, making it less likely they'll be identified as targets for revenge.
    Those lusting for power aren't necessarily brave.

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 12:17:12 PM PST

    •  The history of humanity is a history of (18+ / 0-)

      drastically unequal resource distribution. From the model, as in ancient Egypt, where all resources belonged to the Pharaoh to the model where a tiny aristocracy possessed most resources and everyone else was near starvation. This inequality in resource distribution has not been banished in modern industrial "democracies" it has just been shifted to poorer countries ( who tend to be kleptocracies). I'm not sure about the role currency availability plays in this. Resources must inevitably come from the land - some land somewhere, some ecosystem, some plantation, irrigation water, oil-based pesticides and fertilizers, etc... The present economic model of resource "extraction" is an "extraction" from the planet that gives us life without a corresponding investment that gives equally back to that source - leaving square miles of dessicated  and poisoned land. Nature moves in cycles. We extract resources and dump garbage. And, of course, currency plays a pivotal role in this - for our economics system is all about short term monetary profit.

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 01:19:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Most civilizations have collapsed at the point (15+ / 0-)

        where the tiny aristocracy or ruling class gained too vast a proportion of the wealth.

        The USA came close in 1929, after which there were real fears the country would turn communist.  Roosevelt, for all he is vilified by Republicans and "conservatives", essentially saved Capitalism and Democracy, both.

        Funneling vast resources to the top requires enormous waste, as you've pointed out, to produce those resources.  Once it turns to mercenaries instead of citizen soldiers, into aggression instead of self-defense, to calculating fraud to steal from the poorest, a civilization is on its way down.

        It will take a huge effort - and a full accounting of all costs - for the world to overcome the false theory of economics under which we currently operate.  Something like a Bretton Woods x10 accord.

        Incidentally, the Maya are thought to have deforested nearly all of Mesoamerica once, if not twice.  Wood for fuel, wood for producing lime for cement for pyramids, cutting forest for crop-rotation land (slash-and-burn agriculture) eventually took its toll when too many people had to be dedicating to providing the ruling class with their level of luxury. Analysis of middens show shrinking food supplies in later years of various cities.

        We're doing the same thing. We're burning global forest, not just Mesoamerican forest.  We're burning actual wood - tropical rain forest destruction - and past millennias forests in the form of oil, coal and gas.  It will lead to the collapse of humanity. The world will survive, perhaps vastly changed. But it may just shrug off the destructive parasitic infection of "humans."

        "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

        by YucatanMan on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 08:24:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  What about when the goods and services themselves (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat

      are the waste?  A stay-at-home mom isn't contributing to GDP, but if she gets divorced (cha-ching), takes a job (cha-ching), and hire a day-care (cha-ching), now GDP just went up.  So an increase in economic activity and GDP is also a decrease in quality of life.

      BTW - monetary economic behavior that involves trade and exchange isn't about avoiding waste, it is about terminating relationships:  I paid you, now go away.  Minimizing waste is in the eye of the beholder.

      and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

      by ban48 on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 01:45:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  If only DC were the only problem (8+ / 0-)

    There are sociopaths in every city on the planet intent on profiting from the "economy" and "externalities" be-damned.

    I don't know what's possible nor do I believe in magic. Don't see much in the way of viable solutions.

    I'm afraid the human race may just screw the planet, its inhabitants and our own civilization in our zeal for energy, burning fossil fuel.

    Our humanity hasn't caught up with our technology. Then again - Our humanity really hasn't been all that impressive when it comes to being decent to each other or stewarding the environment anyway.

    Maybe one day the Fourth Estate will take their jobs seriously. Or not..

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 01:40:38 PM PST

    •  Governments are nothing compared to corporations (2+ / 0-)

      I completely agree, the issue needs more than just political action. We're moving into a second mercantilist age where government exists to abet the business class. So structurally, as long as money plays such a huge role in politics, politics alone cannot address these problems. We have to modify the structure to change that (and also lower consumption and change behavior, but that's a cultural change).

      "Stare at the monster: remark/ How difficult it is to define just what/ Amounts to monstrosity in that/ Very ordinary appearance." - Ted Hughes

      by MarkC on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 07:11:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think it will be up to the youth of the world (0+ / 0-) rise up and demand their birthright of a habitable planet. And refuse to take "no" for an answer.

        That ancient "May you live in interesting times" Chinese curse probably wasn't supposed to be taken this literally.

        Maybe one day the Fourth Estate will take their jobs seriously. Or not..

        by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 10:31:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  We need to develop survival tactics. (11+ / 0-)

    Here is just one of them.
    City folk and most folk throw away their garbage.  Garbage is not trash.  Trash should be recycled.  But, garbage is the food wastes that are bio-degradable.
    Living on a small farm, I do not throw garbage away, not one scrap as I have chickens, dogs and a cat.  I also have a compost pile for stuff the animals will not eat.
    Each unit of humanity especially in cities have to quit throwing out garbage and compost it by human unit.  By unit, I mean there will be a compost pile staged at a proper frequency as per population.
    There will be men employed at the compost pile to oversee proper protocols and procedure for optimum composting and sanitation.  Teenagers would be required to patrol at night under adult supervision to hunt rats by procedure and protocols.  
    Why are we filling up landfills with life giving biomass?  We could be using it in our community gardens and farms.  
    True, there is not alot of "money" to be made because top soil is considered an externality.  Problem is, we can't grow food without top soil.  We need to grow our food in living top soil instead of dead petro-chemical soup.
    We need to separate occupation from money.  We need to occupy ourselves with adaptions to the coming Climate Change and the scarcities that will result.

    •  yeah, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      qofdisks, Justus

      most things in the trash could either be reused or composted. I have gotten the lovely wife used to using the compost bucket in the kitchen which I empty daily. The remnent dry garbage can is much less nasty in this tropical climate as a result. I'm still working on the reuse part.. old dish sponges can still wash the car, plastic bottles and those milk/ juice boxes are plant pots, etc.

      This Rover crossed over.. Willie Nelson, written by Dorothy Fields

      by Karl Rover on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 09:38:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  our new book "Global Insanity" is all (10+ / 0-)

    about this   I hope you like it!

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 06:36:24 PM PST

    •  Looks interesting. Reminds me of this: (11+ / 0-)
      Yes, an entire civilization can go crazy. The nature of a group in this self-organizing world depends on the set of beliefs around which it is organized. If a group is organized around a 'self' that is filled with hatred and paranoia (for example, the Nazis or Stalin or self-styled militia), it will lead to self-destructive behavior. It is possible, then, for a whole civilization to embrace a set of beliefs that will eventually lead to self-destruction because they are not congruent with the deeper cosmological reality. Any tribe, clan, group, or nation whose set of beliefs is not founded in love, but who organize only around self-protection and fear, go against the natural order, whose nature is love. In turn, they will not succeed.

                          - Margaret Wheatley

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 07:39:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  fucking awesome post! n/t (7+ / 0-)

    You can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. Anne Lamott

    by zooecium on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 07:16:23 PM PST

  •  Pesimism (3+ / 0-)

    Human societies on the path that our human nature seems to drive us have ALWAYS procreated, dug, plowed, deforested, and despoiled our way to ecological collapse.

    I expect now that our shit is on the way to unbalancing the whole planet, we might find a new way.  However, one must also allow for only one-tenth of us left around to enjoy our new hot climate, ice-free, and thoroughly f***ked world.  One would also expect we will have suffered greatly in the process.

    Labor was the first price paid for all things. It was not by money, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased. - Adam Smith

    by boatwright on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 08:23:29 PM PST

    •  I find gratitude and hope in my community, (6+ / 0-)

      and my garden soil and my family. Pessimism arises when I consider the global situation and begin to feel powerless. When I can do something concrete, like facilitate a simplicity group or eat vegetables from my own garden it dispels those feelings of powerlessness. One step at a time, one person at a time. Solutions do exist and many are implementing them. The earth will abide, but the earth heals in millennia - not our short lifespans.

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 08:41:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Communal assets, like the environment, (9+ / 0-)

    are an issue in economics.  Certainly was, when I took it back in college.  It doesn't get addressed much on CNBC though, because the very concept of communal property poses ENORMOUS problems for the laissez-faire crowd.  

    I say the above because I was deep into libertarianism for a while back in the early 80s, paid big bucks to attend seminars and hang out with relatively smart people who took this stuff seriously, or at least took themselves seriously.  The issue of communal property posed huge problems for them and many of them knew this and tried various convoluted ways to address this.  So even they put some effort into it.  They did this with a certain amount of energy because they realized that it posed a HUGE HOLE in their whole way of thinking, one they had to patch over if they were to stay purists.

    But the usual Larry Kudlow types don't discuss this kind of thing.  Don't expect them to.  They would rather just ignore things that embarrass them.  If you own a mountain, for instance, and you want to blow the whole damn thing to rubble to get a little bit of gold or whatever, it's your holy sacred right to do so and any compromise on that principle seems cowardly.  SO THEY JUST DON'T GO THERE.

  •  This really should be a front-page diary. n/t (6+ / 0-)

    "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

    by YucatanMan on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 08:50:02 PM PST

  •  I appreciate the educational quality of your (10+ / 0-)

    post.  It's intelligent and quite effective in engaging the reader without either talking down or relying heavily on technical terminology and dull statistics.  It's a good balanced tone for a curious, educated reader who isn't specialized or otherwise well-studied on the current dilemmas we face.

  •  A dangerous delusion (4+ / 0-)

    that the economy is detached from the environment, and one shared shared by Republicans and many Democrats alike.

    Good post!

    Green is good:

    by bogmanoc on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 09:00:40 PM PST

  •  your title and the premise (3+ / 0-)

    have a tremendous and powerful corollary in the astrological symbolism -- dating back millennia in terms of the archetypes in question -- of the current ongoing transition (a coupla thousand years in the making!) from the Piscean Age into the Aquarian Age. Pisces (The Fish) is essentially the fish in the fishbowl and Aquarius (The Water-Bearer) could be thought of as the person pouring the water into the fishbowl.

    We're going to hear a LOT of noise out of the fish that wanna stay in the fishbowl forever and don't care what ocean is feeding it or if there even IS an ocean, let's just say.

    Luckily, they can't stop time... every gesture they make to stop the progression renders no one but themselves irrelevant, and more so every day.

    "Some of you are going to die... martyrs, of course, to the Freedom that I will provide!"

    by emperor nobody on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 09:44:31 PM PST

  •  Things have to change we can't keep this up (9+ / 0-)

    Here we are in front of Governor Schweitzer's office in August

    “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

    by Lefty Coaster on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 10:16:42 PM PST

  •  My feeling has always been (9+ / 0-)

    that we could live very well off one-tenth our current resources and be 10 times happier.  But that would be putting human relationships, creativity and culture above money and the ever-present 'economy.'

    Green is good:

    by bogmanoc on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 10:46:24 PM PST

  •  Thank you very much for this. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm writing my own series,
    the BCC,
    Build a Chicken Coop

    I'm also writing at Indigo Kalliope.

    We need to start a movement,
    so I'm starting one.

    The main point is surgical sterilization
    for four out of five,
    by popular demand,
    not government mandate,
    until the human population
    is way down to 100 million, worldwide.

    We will fail in our efforts,
    but these words may be the seeds
    of wiser behavior,
    hundreds of years from now.

  •  Would you please provide a link to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Warm Families Inc?"

  •  If that's the case, why are economists (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justus, ImpactAv

    overwhelming supporters of a carbon tax?

    If the environment were exogenous to the study of economics, we wouldn't expect the sort of broad consensus among economists that exists around one.  

    •  They are interested (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      because it is economic.  Any tax is of economic import and  carbon credit exchange is a potential goldmine to those who can manipulate it (or out right defraud it)

      "If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them. Isaac Asimov (8.25 / -5.64}

      by carver on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:01:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The tragedy of the commons... the two dimensional (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justus, carver, northsylvania

    mind of humans... carrot>stick, Stick>carrot... 1+2=3 leaving out all the other numbers and functions... "need">means>goal... remove any "impediments"... including things that weaken the means and make the goal pointless if not destroyed... and never analyze the "need" to see if it changes over time or was faulty in the first place.

    Medieval Europe kept chopping trees... moved past coppicing and other sustainable ways of ensuring supplies for the foreseeable future... needs of too many people in towns and cities eventually outstripped supplies and transport. The industrial revolution and the coal age came about because of the crisis... a slow moving generational changeover and set of dislocations that uplifted millions, as well as destroyed and blighted millions more... with a lot of overlap.

    Using up freshwater, arable land, breathable air, forcing climate change flooding or overheating vast areas will do the same sorts of things... people will stupidly keep doing what they are used to doing, what is "Normal" for a particular point in time since most whether the followers or the leaders can only understand the world they grew up in and cannot see the ephemeral temporary elements that underpin it... the fragile ones dependent on ignored or discounted "externalities"... change is always imposed in the end by reality after the foot-draggers and delayers and deniers who ensured the problems would continue until collapse become irrelevant, brushed aside by the failures of what used to be their power... and solutions are found by dealing with crises either direct and obvious or more diffuse ones... and in both cases there is a lot of needless suffering and clumsy attempts to solve things by doing more of what caused the problems in the first place... at least for a while until the crash by date arrives.

    We do not live long enough, stay effective long enough and do not educate our successors enough to make up for that failure to learn from mistakes. We rebuild on flood plains, coastal barrier islands and earthquake zones... we reward the same shortsighted greed again and again and the old quote by Santayana is as true as ever...

    those who do not learn the lessons of history... etc. etc...
    we condemn ourselves or those who follow us to repeat the same mistakes and each succeeding era will lead to a bigger collapse unless we can actually understand what we do.

    Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

    by IreGyre on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 05:07:21 AM PST

    •  That can be addressed (0+ / 0-)

      by another “economic externality” - quality, well rounded, education.
      Those who don't know history see nothing unique in their present and have no vision of their future.

      "If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them. Isaac Asimov (8.25 / -5.64}

      by carver on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:13:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Meanwhile in Brasil (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the forest disappears to make a profit on soybeans to replace the soybeans that fried in the Midwest this summer.

      There are alarming signs that the Amazon is caught in a vicious circle and the more this great climate regulator is cleared, the less predictable global weather systems will become. That increases the risk of droughts and floods, ruining crops across the world. This in turn, adds to the pressure to clear the forest.

      "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

      by northsylvania on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 09:05:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yeah... the whole planet is Easter Island... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the more we change things we destabilize things and the more we are driven to change more things to compensate and keep doing that until we can no longer compensate in any meaningful way... unless we get ahead of the curve, understand what we have been doing and find ways to stop doing as much harm and compensate in more balanced ways.

        Be interesting to do a study of Easter Island again, Make a theoretical lab out of their experiences, challenges and declines..... reexamine the things they were doing and try to see if they could have stopped or modified what they were doing before they made all the large tree species extinct among other things... theoretically speaking only since the closed system would have demanded severe sustainability limits... (of course if they had maintained their seagoing capacity via still having trees to make boats from the could have had a somewhat more open human ecology... escape, migration of surplus population...)

        Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

        by IreGyre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 09:45:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I've been coy about this... (7+ / 0-)

    But in mid July I resigned my heavy-commute job in the financial services sector to focus on writing a book draft and series outline.

    I had saved up enough money to 'go into business for myself' for a few years, based on feedback from readers that this idea had legs... so I'm all in now.

    I have a budget. I have schedule. I have adjusted the heck out of that schedule to accommodate more significant family involvement (a good, good thing), coaching a cross country team (another dream), the limits of my own energy level (sigh, I'm too young to be this, no it's all good) and the realities of research, organization, writing, re-writing of crafting such a huge project.

    Oh, the ecological things: One, I never realized how much of my time and stress and budget were being poured into my commute. Not just the obvious costs of gasoline but wear and tear on the vehicle and all the attendant costs of being away from home base for 12-14 hours a day. The health costs, too, from loss of control over food (Yes, I ate out a ton, bad me) and the carbon footprint implications of that alone. And once you are in a car-intensive working life you are in a car-intensive life, period.

    Nowadays, I still drive, oh, perhaps 3-4 times a week... but not 15-20 times. And here in suburban Charlotte the minimum drive for any purpose I might have is one mile, and usually five and often 15 miles. One way.

    So, now a tank of gas that might last 10 days lasts 35 to 50. A food and incidentals budget that was once $120 a week for myself alone is now $40...and I very often don't spend it at all.

    The downside is having to pay $900 a month out of pocket to add myself and the boys to my wife's insurance but most of that amount is offset by all of the expenses, get this, of going to work downtown.

    None of this is possible without some safety margin, I know. I put in a long time in the salt mines to buy a couple of years to do this. I work very hard on my writing, and the payoff is uncertain and yet a ways off.

    But if it's taught me one thing it's that I was blithely wasting a lot of time, energy an money in my now-former life. I might work again for The Man. That might even be the likely final outcome. But I won't Live that life in the same way if I do.

  •  The logic of economics ... (0+ / 0-)

    If the discount rate is right, the cappuccino from Starbucks today is worth more than all of humanity 200 years from now.

    Essentially all of the economic studies re climate change mitigation and impacts are wrong -- they do not take systems-of-systems looks at benefits from action (e.g., understate benefits) and do even worse w/risks & damages (e.g., seriously understate the damage).  Thus, we have a huge failure to understand the value that will derive from action -- which further undermines political will for action.

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 07:28:25 AM PST

  •  I think it is a matter of accounting rules (0+ / 0-)

    Which we could require as a matter of law. Resource use should be impacting the "bottom line" of all companies. So if you use air or water as a dumping ground, that imposes a cost to your product. If you have a "hazardous waste" problem with your products after their life is over, that hits the bottom line (this one would really hit nuclear power as well as computers and such). It could be phased in over a 10 year period, but it would require a greater rethinking about how things are made and their life cycle.

    American Television is a vast sea of stupid. -xxdr zombiexx

    by glitterscale on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 07:29:13 AM PST

  •  I am not going to argue about the basic idea (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    veritas curat

    of this article, but the assertion that the average wedding ring requires the production of 32 tons of mine waste is absurd.  No mine operating at such a poor recovery rate would be feasible.  If you use polymetallic mines, where several elements like copper, silver, zinc, lead, etc. are being mined and use the incidental recovery of gold as a secondary material rates, then maybe you are accurate, but it is disengenuous to use this as a true reflection of the cost of producing a wedding ring. Surely you can serve truth and use accurate data at the same time???

  •  Major criticisms (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    veritas curat, ImpactAv

    I have two major criticisms with this essay. My first is that it is disjointed; there's no clear thesis other than "we're screwing up", and even that is meandering. This is a feeling-essay, not a thinking-essay; the author is upset about policy but has no idea what to do about it, offering the reader a pile of random complaints. Perhaps that's acceptable to some readers; it's not acceptable to me. I would prefer to see some logical development in this essay.

    My second criticism is even stronger: the author's criticism of the concept of pricing as an expression of value is way, way wrong. He argues that we cannot set a price on some things; I would counter that our biggest problem is that we fail to set a price on what we value.

    The author succumbs to the common temptation to contrast a priced desirable with an unpriced undesirable (wedding rings versus mining waste, for example). I suggest that we compare two unpriced desirables. Suppose that we have a tract of forest land inhabited by a rare bird species threatened with extinction. Suppose further that this tract of forest land has also become infested with an invasive destructive species, say, an insect that slowly destroys trees. If we do nothing, the insect will spread into surrounding forest land and, ultimately, destroy millions of acres of forest. On the other hand, we could destroy the infected area, eliminating the pest, but that would kill the threatened rare bird species. What should we do?

    In the absence of pricing, we have no way of resolving the problem. We want to save the bird, and we want to save the forest land, but we can't have both; we must sacrifice one of the two. Which is the greater sacrifice? A pricing system allows us to quantify our values. It would allow us to come up with two numbers, one reflecting the overall value of the bird species, and another reflecting the overall value of the forest land.

    I'm sure that this approach raises the gorge of many readers. Quantifying our values strikes many people as heresy. Yet the fundamental logic is unassailable: if we must choose between two options, we must decide which option is more valuable to us. As soon as we say "more valuable", we have gotten ourselves into a quantitative situation. We need numbers to handle that situation.

    Or we could all just yell and scream at each other inchoately, gesticulating wildly.

    •  False dichotomy (0+ / 0-)

      Moreover, if the bug is destroying the forest, and destroying the forest destroys the rare bird, then there's no saving the bird anyway, so you might as well save the forest.

      In reality, when faced with that situation, there's always more than two stark options.  Pesticides targeted at the bug in question, capture, breeding and re-introduction of the rare bird, and probably many more.

      The fundamental problem with pricing as a method for determining relative value is that, as a process, it's statistical in nature.  It requires large volumes of independent transactions in the same kind of thing in order to settle down to a price that's accurately reflective of that kind of thing's relative value.  The more unique a thing is, the harder it is to accurately price.  Your scenario above, where there's a rare invasive tree-killing bug vs a rare bird, is an extraordinarily rare situation, so accurately pricing the various options in that situation is virtually impossible.

      There's a further problem with quantifying our values insofar as actually doing so violates our values.  How do you value a human life?  Is it their potential to contribute to the ongoing creation of value, or is it the ongoing expected costs of maintaining that life at that creative potential for its expected lifespan?  The mere sum of the value of those things they may create?

      The idea that everything can and should be priced is basically equivalent to the idea that everything should be able to be bought or sold, at some price.  That's not the idea we need to move forward from this oligarchic plutocracy we call the USA.

      From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

      by Nellebracht on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:58:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Alternatives cost, too (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        OK, sure, we could try other options, as you suggest. What do THEY cost? We could use pesticides to target the bug, but then what effects would the pesticides have on other species? There are no free lunches; everything has costs and benefits. In order to make a decision, you need a way to quantify those costs and benefits.

        You observe that rare situations are difficult to price. That's true; but does that mean we should flip a coin in such situations? Throw dice? Consult an astrologer? How do we make a rational decision?

        Yep, valuing a human life is philosophically difficult, but that doesn't mean that we can shirk our responsibility to address the problem. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping a brain-dead person alive, but deny simple preventative care to poor children. Is that rational?

        Moreover, we ALREADY make decisions about the value of a life, only we do so in an indirect fashion. We could make our highways safer if we spent more money on safety measures, but how much should we spend? How much is a human life worth? Nothing? Everything? How do we make a rational decision?

        Money is "frozen values"; it's a way to rationally handle problems of allocation of resources. It's all based on values. Our problem as environmentalists is that we have been so adamant about refusing to consider economics that we have established that, in effect, environmental values are worth zero -- which is what enables the trampling of the environment.

        The solution is not to eliminate economics; the solution is to apply economics in its fullest sense.

    •  In a disjointed (0+ / 0-)

      feeling sort of heart-based non-thinking sort of way, as a lover of rare birds, with tears and gesticulations of grief for the woods, I'd say the trees must go to save the priceless birdie.

      •  What if somebody disagrees with you? (0+ / 0-)

        Scarvegas, suppose that somebody else places higher value on the trees. How do you resolve your difference of opinion? Fight it out to the death? Have an election resulting in a simple black-and-white choice between two extreme options?

        If we could set prices on both the trees and the bird, then we could arrive at the best compromise.

    •  Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 09:19:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  spoken like an economist defending economics (0+ / 0-)

      And I disagree with your premise than any evaluative exercise results in a "quantitative situation,"  as if values were about quantity only, eliminating quality as a value.

      "It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change." John Steinbeck

      by Snarky McAngus on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 02:58:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  OK, so how should we decide? (0+ / 0-)

        You argue that values should not be quantified. How then do we make decisions about values? Should we look for omens? Cut open animals and interpret their internal organs? Flips coins? Play videogames and let the winner decide?

        Do you reject rationalism?

        •  of course not. That's a straw man fallacy (0+ / 0-)

          by the way.  It bears no resemblance to what I said.

          I contested your premise that value was only quantitative, and that quality had nothing to do with value, and still do.

          You speak a language of utilitarian individualism, that all values are self interested and commodifiable.

          "It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change." John Steinbeck

          by Snarky McAngus on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 10:02:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You didn't answer my question (0+ / 0-)

            You're welcome to disagree on the philosophical points, but there remains the problem: what are we going to do? How will we decide what to do? We could do it democratically, with everybody voting for the best option, but that resolution avoids any reference to rational solutions. In other words, everybody just votes their gut. That's OK, but where do you draw the line? Should everything be decided by gut feelings? Should climate change or evolution be decided by gut feelings instead of science? Should we ignore budget calculations and just decide on the fiscal cliff by gut feelings?

            Again I ask, do you reject rationalism?

            •  Oh but I did answer. (0+ / 0-)

              The first phrase, "of course not" was in reply to your question.

              If you look back at the thread, I've said nothing resembling any of the statements or positions you've seemed to ascribe to me.

              "It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change." John Steinbeck

              by Snarky McAngus on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 02:21:26 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  There are other ways to resolve the problem (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Pricing is not the only way.

      We could ask god.

      Or we could ask a Dear Leader.

      Given those choices, prices look the best.  Particularly if they are tweaked by democratically elected representatives of the people.

  •  Excellent Piece of Work (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    veritas curat, DBunn

    May I add, that if we truly accounted for all the costs (No "Externals") in each form of energy production, Solar, Wind and Hyro, would be the cheapest by far since their only costs lie in start up, there are no fuel consumption or waste disposal costs involved.

    Which is why the huge energy corporations hate these energy forms, because after set up, there is no money to be made.

    "Some men see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and ask, 'Why not?"

    by Doctor Who on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 10:23:59 AM PST

  •  The Most IMPORTANT Video You'll Ever See (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Dr. Albert Bartlett explains math as it relates to growth and our economy. This video is well worth watching all eight parts:

    "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to its culture" -- Thomas Jefferson

    by tommurphy on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 12:42:56 PM PST

  •  No way around it. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    veritas curat, DBunn

       Billions of people trying to just get through today are not going to make sacrifices altruistically for the benefit of future generations. I think the best we can hope for is a collapse that stops economic progress in its tracks. When it stops people are going to have to look for ways to use the stuff they have to survive. Our whole system is really pretty fragile and it wouldn't take much of a jolt to have it happen. And when it does stop there it won't be an easy job to get an economy started again.
        For instance, if a nasty Persian Gulf war stopped the oil flow the first thing the major powers would do is secure as much oil as they could, an absolutely critical move for national security purposes. Just like on the morning after 9-11 the gas stations would be out of gas next morning due to everybody trying to top off their tank except this time there wouldn't be any more fuel trucks to deliver more gas. If nobody can go out to buy anything then there is no point in having any employees. Once there are no jobs then there is no money to buy anything anyway. After a few weeks of world wide stoppage how do you get it started again?  

    •  Couple of thoughts about this (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn, Erasmussimo

      1. Our whole system is fragile. Yes. Like the Red Queen, running as fast as we can to stay in one place to support an ever increasing population on an ever degrading land base. If collapse is the best we can hope for - which it may be - then we should work to make it as gradual and voluntary as possible. Like a controlled retreat rather than being in denial and pulling out all the stops to postpone the inevitable until drastic collapse cannot be avoided.

      2. Given the possibility of a nasty Persian Gulf war it seems completely nuts not to practice the idea of saving for the future. If oil is in short supply doesn't it make sense to use the oil on the world market first while we can buy it and keep our reserves in the ground? Then we'll be independent when we still have our "savings account" to draw from in the future. Why so anxious to burn up our savings account right now? ... Or does it have nothing to do with "energy independence" and everything to do with short term profits?

      Oil is useful in so many ways that burning it like we do just doesn't make sense.

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 02:47:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hope for the best, prepare for the worst (0+ / 0-)

           There are many examples of civilizations collapsing when resources ran out but I don't think any of them slowed down before they had to. Externalities don't figure into the economic equation because there is no immediate penalty for ignoring them. I really did mean that economic collapse, and soon, is probably the best we can hope for. I don't see people changing their behavior until confronting reality makes them do so.

      •  "gradual and voluntary" (0+ / 0-)

        Great diary.

        This is interesting:

        If collapse is the best we can hope for - which it may be - then we should work to make it as gradual and voluntary as possible.
        First, a quibble-- if it's gradual and voluntary then it's not a collapse (in the sense of a chaotic, uncontrolled crash). That aside, I do agree that if we're going to crash, it is better to do so from a modest altitude than from a great height.

        My real question is, what is the thing that we most need to gradually and voluntarily reduce. Many material answers suggest themselves, starting with reduction of fossil fuel consumption. But what motivates the absurd increase in material consumption in the first place? Again there are many answers we could propose, but the one I wish to highlight is social competition.

        It is relatively easy to arrive at a point of material sufficiency if we consider only our physical needs plus reasonable comfort and security. But if we add social competition into the picture, suddenly there is no upper limit on what people feel they "need". The greater the prevailing system of rewards/penalties for success/failure in social competition, the more insatiable the drive for greater consumption must be.

        This is why an individualistic winner-take-all economic ideology, such as the Republicans claim to favor, is ultimately unsustainable. We need a system in which personal wealth accumulation beyond a reasonable, sustainable point is both more and more difficult to achieve, and less and less important to personal well-being. Repubilcans unfortunately favor the exact opposite of that dynamic: the richer you are, the easier it is to become even richer, while the poorer you are, the more devastating the consequences.

        In this context, I suggest that a policy like single payer health care reform would be an important step towards addressing the climate crisis.  Not because it directly reduces CO2 generation, obviously, but because it begins to reset social and economic incentives in a direction away from frantic acquisition and over-consumption.

        •  Admirable but impractical (0+ / 0-)

          DBunn, I think you're proposing a policy that flies into the teeth of human nature. People have been engaging in conspicuous consumption from time immemorial, and society has been trying to stop it from earliest times via what's called "sumptuary laws". I can't recall any examples from the Greeks, but the Romans definitely had them. Renaissance Italy had lots of them, and by the sixteenth century they were almost universal in Europe. They never worked; showing off is fundamental to human nature.

          I agree with your end goal but urge you to curb your idealism with a healthy dose of realism about human behavior. We are, after all, Pleistocene hunter-gatherers pretending to be civilized (and doing a rather bad job of it). It is possible to modify social mores regarding conspicuous consumption, but that modification must come from the ground up, not the top down.

          For example, public execution was considered a form of public entertainment for millennia. The Romans positively reveled in gory killings. Over time, however, as death became less arbitrary, people developed an aversion to such spectacles. First we dispensed with cruel executions like drawing and quartering and burning, replacing them with the tidier hangings in which no blood was shed. Then we began making executions private, inside the walls of prisons. Now we regard such things with distaste.

          But nobody ever set out to instill such values in the public. The change in values arose naturally from other developments. The same thing has to happen with conspicuous consumption; we need to establish that such behavior is gauche. We need to tut-tut those who drive huge cars and SUVs. Not condemn them; just cluck our tongues.

          We can't stop conspicuous consumption, but we can divert it in less destructive directions. For example, we could reserve our admiration for those who collect old books or art. We could emphasize good taste over extravagance.

          Of course, imposing a carbon tax would have an even stronger effect.

          •  I acknowledge the difficulties (0+ / 0-)

            However, since we are seeking a solution, I am disinclined to reject a necessary approach merely because it is difficult :)

            I ... urge you to curb your idealism with a healthy dose of realism about human behavior.
            Good, but let's not be so realistic that we become fatalistically resigned to drifting over the cliff edge.

            Tut-tutting over big SUVs is good. All I'm saying is, let's also take some other, entirely achievable steps (such as a more progressive income and inheritance tax structure) that reduce the rewards/penalites associated with individual wealth accumulation beyond a reasonable, sustainable level.

            Notice I say reduce, not eliminate. I recognize that competition will still occur, and I don't mind that or expect different. But let's develop a framework so that social competition does not become the thing that kills us all.

            •  Agreed (0+ / 0-)

              I certainly don't want to elide realism with cynicism. Yes, people are enamored of their excessive consumption of fossil fuels, but we can, with effort, slowly wean them of that self-destructive lust.

              Your suggestion of more progressive income and inheritance taxes garners my enthusiastic agreement. I reject the notion that wealthy people will abandon this country for some primitive hellhole where no laws constrain their behavior. Wealthy people did not flee this country in the 1950s when income tax rates were 90% at the highest level.

    •  Bye bye billions (0+ / 0-)

      An economic collapse would lead to the deaths of billions of people. That's the best you can hope for?

  •  Good post (0+ / 0-)

    and kudos for the Schumacher reference.

    "It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change." John Steinbeck

    by Snarky McAngus on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 03:00:56 PM PST

    •  Second that kudo (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Snarky McAngus

         I read Small is Beautiful around the same time as Limits to Growth: formative books that have colored my thinking ever since.

      •  Turned out to be wrong (0+ / 0-)

        Limits to Growth turned out to be wrong; they did a second edition that dialed back the pessimism, but even that is turning out badly. I'm certainly no fan of wild growth, but I'd like to see enough growth to bring billions out of abject poverty. I don't think that we can support the American lifestyle for all seven billion of us, so I suspect that Americans will have to accept a lower standard of living. But economic processes will handle this smoothly and properly if we permit them to function rationally.

  •  Thanks Veritas.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Incredibly great Kos diary, thank you.  Enclosed below is a link to photographer Edward Burtynsky's images of the oil extraction process.

    How can we have a third party when we don't even have a second party?

    by Eagleye on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 09:19:28 PM PST

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