¿Something's happening, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?
Great Change, when it is more than being driven by the brutal master of necessity, must begin in the mind, the heart, the soul of individuals. With time those beginnings turn into a force able to change the face of the Earth. This beginning can have two aspects. First, we can look around us and see a bit of what must change here and there. But there can also be a single real place where the change really gets underway, where people can later go and say here is where it all beganfor example, the tree under which the buddha meditated.
We desperately need a Great Change, now. For we have not yet found the wisdom to live in harmony with the planet, nor with one another. The wise earth is beginning to push against our ignorance, warning us that we are going to learn a new Way of living, or else. It is pushing harder and harder, and it is far stronger than the will of humankind. Like many of us, I have seen the people come in great waves from somewhere else, always somewhere else, bringing with them their buildings, the labyrinth of asphalt, and the destruction of what had given us life before they came. As a child I fought without success against their coming, against the destruction of what I could not then name as carrying capacity. There was no way to stop it, and it is only with the years that I begin to grasp what it all means, to understand behind the appearance, the reality.
What the people do in this valley where I was born is here argued to be among the stupidest in the United States, and therefore as good as any place to begin. It's easier to start a wave that might go around the world if what's going on is totally, blindly stupid, compared to when it's just an average everyday sort of stupid. Certain parts of the valley can be shown to look very beautiful, others seem so very American dreamish, but that does not in any degree lessen the stupidity, which can only be understood when the whole is considered. People take it for granted that this present Age of Exuberance shall continue forever and ever. They act as if the Earth were growing in size, year after year, century after century. They do not want to think about how fast things can be forced to change, and how unready we are for that changing.
The below is a graph of the amount of work that was done with fuel, animals, and humans, beginning in 1850.
Notes on Original Source
The blue part of the graph represents that portion of physical work which was done with fuels as of 1980, and that portion can only have increased since then. We do almost all of our work now with machinery, and without those fuels we are faced with either doing without many of the things now taken for granted, or doing them with the strength of animals or with human sweat.
If there were sources of energy available to replace the exhaustion of the fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and dinosaur blood, which take no more effort on the part of society to provide, and they were as versatile as the ones we now have, then nothing need change. But they are not known to now exist. There is no warp drive.
Bet is all on technology you fool.
We can bet that clever hands will come up with something. But how big a bet are we willing to make? Are we willing to bet the entire future of humankind? Either the scientific boys come up with a way to change water into gasoline or we have a huge die-off? Now that is a big bet. It is too large for me. But it does seem to be the one that we are wagering.
One can ask, "Well, what is mankind doing with the energies that are now available to him?" Destroying species faster than ever before in the history of humankind, changing the climate so that it becomes hotter and hotter ever year, maintaining armies at the ready, watching on television the starving far away who have perhaps seen the television fantasies of the rich once in their life. Covering the Earth with asphalt and cars, so that we can go faster and faster, acquire more money.
It is hard to conclude that we really know what we are doing as far as building a wise relationship with the Earth and with one another. The Earth is wiser than we are. It is greater and it is stronger, even if we think we are something just because we can explode powerful weapons. The Earth will force us to learn, to evolve, to become more worthy of being called human. It will do that by not growing, by being ever the same size, the same today as yesterday as tomorrow. It offers us only so much land to grow food upon, only so many seas in which to fish, and only so much dinosaur blood deep in the Earth, so much strength of the dinosaurs.
It may well be that someday we will discover our warp drive. But we are certainly not ready for it now. ¿Why should we deserve more energy when we can't handle well what we've got? We have to learn first to live more intelligently, where one's gain one does not mean loss to another, where we no longer multiply like a plague upon the land. We have to live our lives as if we were going to be born again upon this same planet, to reap what we have sown. Surely there could be no greater justice to be done by a Divine purpose. You go back to what you left behind, again and again. If you leave behind a trashed out world then you come back and search barefooted among the blackened Earth for your food. If it takes a hundred lifetimes of misery to make up for the wastefulness of one, then that's the way the crow caws because we're in this universe for the learning.
Here is a pretty picture of Green Valley. It is probably the least stupid part of the valley.
Here is the truth of what is happening in those green trees.
They are being torn out to build a road that will have houses on each side of it. Not just anybody can live there. Only retired people, no children allowed. How they ever finagled around the Fair Housing Act is one of those deals where when the money flows the law bends. Many of them will come in the winter to play golf and go away in the summer when it is hot. They don't want to live and work there. They just want to play. In case you didn't know it, this is the American Dream. Work hard, put your money in the stock market, then play with little white balls when you retire.
Almost everybody works for the Bank
The farmers hang onto their land until they get tired out or cannot pay back the money that they borrowed from the bank, and then they have to sell their land. Or, the real owners are not farmers, but profit seekers, who cannot tell the difference between good soil and a stack of bowling balls, just waiting until the market looks right to make a killing, by paying low agricultural taxes then selling it to the developers when they are drooling for it.
Now banks are a funny animal. They just stand on the corner of the streets in the city and make money. In fact, they are the only ones who make money, even if everybody talks like they are making it. What people really do is get it from someone else, who got it from somebody else, and on and on, until you get to the guy who borrowed it from the bank. What banks do is loan out more money than other people put in their bank, and, they charge interest for doing it. Because they are allowed by the Federal Reserve System to loan out many times what is deposited, they create money by increasing the amount of money in the hands of people, even if it is the government that prints the bills. And the interest that they collect on all that loaning out sure ain't peanuts. There is no social reason why private pockets should become so much fatter for managing an economic system that everyone is a part of. It is only because of history. Banks and their private owners, instead of society in general, are able to receive the interest on all this created money because those in the past who had money also had the power to design the system. Naturally, they designed it in their favor.
In Paraguay, I played bridge in the afternoons with Don Coco. One day he told me that banks were a way of stealing from the people, "Los bancos son robos." I couldn't believe he was saying it so I asked him to repeat it, and he did. It would not have meant much if just anybody had said that, but he had been a director of the World Bank, and was then a director of the National Bank of Paraguay.
¡Can't let that growth ball stop rolling! ¡Or else!
Almost everybody in the United States either owes money to somebody or is owed money by somebody. And most of that owing is with interest. That means that in the future there is going to be more money around that everything is supposed to be worth. Which means that if the value of money is going to remain the same, if you are going to be able buy something next year for the same as what you can today, then, the real wealth of the world has to increase by the same amount. For if you just had more money in the hands of people but the same amount of stuff, they would only be able to pay more for it. So, in order for that interest to be paid and money remain with the same power to purchase, there has to be growth. There has to be growth forever and ever, or at least for as long as you want the banking system to stay around.
Most people, particularly the economists, think that money makes the world go round. It's certainly an easier way to stack up what one has than keeping pigs in the back yard and it is the indispensable tool that governments use to build their towering structure upon the backs of the people. ¿But do we really know what's going on by using this instrument; this passing back and forth of crumpled and dirty paper bills; the computer bytes that race toward infinity? ¿Do we really understand the consequences upon the future, both near and distant?
One: [The price of a natural resource can signal that it is in ample supply, when in fact it is running out.] Monetary interpretations of the constant natural capital requirement may mask declining physical stocks. For example, some economists suggest that the constant capital stocks condition for sustainability might be satisfied if the money value of, or income from, capital is held more or less constant. According to neoclassical theory, the marginal price of increasingly scarce resource commodities should increase. If this premise holds true, rising prices (which should indicate increased scarcity) could hold the income from, or the total value of, a particular natural capital stock constant, while the physical stock is actually in decline. Thus, constant money income or stock value may foster the illusion of constant stocks while inventories shrink. In other cases, prices may fall (suggesting resource abundance) while the stock is depleted due to extra-market factors or improved extraction technology (as illustrated by mineral and fossil fuel prices in recent decades). In either case, market prices would mask the depletion of stocks.
Two: [Prices are worthless for indicating that ecosystems are being destroyed, one by one.] In any event, biophysical or eco-functional scarcity is poorly reflected in the marketplace. Market prices generally say nothing about the size of remaining natural capital stocks or whether there is some critical minimal stock size below which recovery is impossible. In short, prices do not monitor stock sizes or systems fragility, but only the commodity's short-term scarcity on the market. Even this is not quite true market prices are more influenced by short-term demand; the state of technology (extraction, processing and transaction costs); the intensity of competition; the availability of substitutes; etc., than by market scarcity. For example, subsidies, low fuel costs, and high-tech factory freezer-trawlers enabled industrial fishers to access previously unreachable stocks of North Atlantic groundfish. This maintained market supply (and relatively low prices) even as the stocks were being depleted. In any case, fish prices have to compete with those of pork and chicken (substitutes) and do not skyrocket even in the event of a fishery collapse.
Any remaining value of price as an indicator of scarcity of biophysical stocks is undermined by the behavior of complex systems. Conventional models assume smooth reversible change in supply and prices. In fact, natural systems are more likely to be characterized by times lags and sudden irreversible change (or very long recovery times), systems behaviors that cannot be detected in the market. [The money system assumes that there will be no big mistakes that might be made, that if a wrong road is taken, one can simply go back to the fork in the roads and choose the other.]
Three: [If an investment does not make a man richer while he is around to enjoy it, then there is little reason for him to do it. This is why nature is now trashed out for a dollar today, regardless of the consequences to the future.] Monetary analyses are systematically biased against the future by discounting. Consider that a discount rate of 5 percent, the present value of a dollar's worth of ecological service a life-span from now is only about 2.5 cents. In other words, 2.5 cents put in the bank today a 5% would grow to about one dollar in 76 years. Discounting makes nature appear less valuable the further into the future that we look. However, life depends on ecological continuity: for all we know, future generations will need the same amount of the same kinds of critical ecological goods and services per capita as we do today, whatever the discounted present (money) value of those goods. Nevertheless, we regularly sacrifice nature to development because the immediate short-term benefits exceed the (discounted) present value of foregone benefits or at least our estimate of what they will be. For example, paving over agricultural land for a shopping center today assumes that we know both the future value of the lost ecological productivity and that anticipated money profits will more than compensate for this loss. Both assumptions are increasingly risky in today's uncertain world. The value of human-made capital (the shopping center) today tells us less and less about its potential money income and nothing about the demand for food (natural income) tomorrow. The value of natural capital to human life will almost certainly increase more rapidly than that of manufactured capital over time as evidence of ecological breakdown becomes more compelling, whatever today's markets tell us. (For example, the effective price of the stratospheric ozone layer went from zero to near infinity in just a few years in the absence of any market.) In this light, standard approaches to discounting nature's services constitute a dangerous systematic bias toward the future.
Four: [Temporary price changes can cause the need to preserve natural capital to be ignored locally for example, farmland is destroyed because cheap oil allows imports to replace local production.] The utility of monetary indicators is further diminished by market fluctuations, which affect prices but not the ecological value or integrity of natural capital. For example, world price fluctuations are unrelated to local circumstances or inter-regional variations, yet affect the relative economic strength of different regions and with it the perceived values of local natural capital. Money values and markets may therefore seriously alter local conservation and management practices respecting agricultural land, for example, even though its inherent productivity and potential contribution of long-term food security remains unchanged.
Five: [Because different sources of money simply add up to a number on a bottom line, it cannot distinguish between what is a momentary silliness and what is important for the future of humankind.] Money values do not distinguish between substitutable goods and complimentary goods. Moreover, on monetary balance sheets, all prices are added or subtracted as if goods that are priced the same are of equal importance to human life money equivalency equates the essential with the trivial. In fact, of course, many goods and services of nature are virtual prerequisites to life and therefore are not truly commensurate with some human-made gadget of equal dollar value. While there certainly is substitutability between various industrial resource inputs (glass fibers are replacing copper cables in communications and data transmission), this functional equivalency does not apply to all potential natural and manufactured capital tradeoffs. In some cases, once nature has been overexploited, no amount of manufactured goods will compensate for the loss of natural capital. To put fish on our dinner plates, both a fish stock and fishing boats are needed. Thus, even though the fishing fleet and the canning factories may be worth as much in dollars as the fish stock, all the fishing equipment equipment and processing plants in the world will not generate a single fish if the natural stock is destroyed. In short, more often than not, natural capital is a prerequisite for human-made goods, while the opposite is not the case.
Six: [Money tries to grow without end, which means that what is taken from the Earth must grow as well, if the value of money is to remain the same.] The potential for the growth of money is theoretically unlimited, which obscures the possibility that there may be biophysical limits to economic growth. To use Herman Daly's metaphor, monetary analysis does not recognize the Plimsoll line, which indicates maximum load capacity of a ship. Overloading (excessive growth) may eventually sink the ship. Pareto efficiency the current criterion of macro-economic health ensures only that the load is distributed in such a way that the ship sinks optimally!
Seven: [It is impossible to include in the money system all the ecological functions that keep the Earth functioning, impossible to try to regulate our relation to them by putting a price on them because they are so global and belong to no one, or to everyone.] Perhaps the most serious objection is that there are no markets for many critical natural capital stocks and life-support processes (e.g., the ozone layer, nitrogen fixation, global heat distribution, climatic stability, etc.) Conventional approaches to conservation and sustainability focus mainly on the money values of marketable resource commodities (e.g., timber and wood fiber) and are insensitive to the intangible (but ultimately more valuable) non-market functions of the natural capital that produces them (e.g., the forest ecosystem). The latter functions are destroyed by resource harvesting. Not surprisingly, therefore, economists today are devoting much attention to ways of "putting a price on nature". However, there are severe limitations on the possibilities of establishing valid shadow prices even for familiar ecological goods and services, and no possibility at all for those many functions whose existence is unknown (and may be inherently unknowable) before some breakdown occurs. In these circumstances, prices fail absolutely as scarcity indicators.
In summary, monetary approaches are blind to the requirements for ecological sustainability because they do not adequately reflect biophysical scarcity, social equity, ecological continuity, incommensurability, structural and functional integrity, temporal discontinuity, and complex systems behavior. [Money does not now serve our need to create a sustainable world that will not crash through overshoot.]
Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth; Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees; pg. 42-7.
One of the commonly mentioned ideas within ecological economics is that of taxing what we do not want to be exhausted, such as natural resources, and not taxing that which we want more of, such as jobs. The only problem with taxing that which is taken from the Earth to constitute the foundation of our building and fabricating, is that it threatens to stop growth, if it is imposed enough to seriously reduce consumption, or throughput. That is something that would be completely contrary to the present economic system, to the real religion of the day.
Nitty Gritty: Next