Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Look Deeper, Mr. Moyers

We came across the following article at Counterpunch and were so impressed by its importance at this critical juncture in the setting of this country's environmental policies that we contacted the author for permission to repost it here.


Bush, Cheney, and apocalyptic crackpots are scary, but . . .

Stan Cox

It's enough to make your hair stand on end and your eyes bug out. Not only is the Earth in peril, but some people who hold sway over the fate of the planet believe that soon the whole place is going to go up in a blaze of brimstone anyway -- and they can't wait to watch it happen!

Bill Moyers, in the March 24 issue of the New York Review of Books, paints a scary picture indeed. With a greeting of "Welcome to the Rapture!", Moyers writes about the vast numbers of Americans who believe that an imminent end of the world is predicted in the Book of Revelation and about their energetic support for the Bush administration. He draws this conclusion:

"A powerful current connects the administration's multinational corporate cronies who regard the environment as ripe for the picking and a hard-core constituency of fundamentalists who regard the environment as fuel for the fire that is coming. Once again, populist religion winds up serving the interests of economic elites."

Moyers is right: It "sends a shiver down the spine." But the Earth was headed down a highway to hell long before Bush was elected or the Armageddon Clock started up. Triumphant capitalism, performing precisely to specifications, is showing itself fully capable of pulling off an ecological apocalypse, with or without the help of superstitious scripture-twisters.

When it comes to shining a light on some of the most alarming outgrowths of capitalism, Moyers is a master. But in going after the Bush administration's scorched-Earth environmental policies, its "multinational corporate cronies", and those hallucinatory crackpots brandishing their biblical licenses to plunder, he missed the root cause of the problem: capitalism's addiction to perpetual growth.

Growth: the sacred bull in the china shop

While there are not enough members of Congress willing to oppose the building of roads in wilderness areas or the gutting of the Clean Air Act, many do take those positions. Such issues are OK to discuss in polite society. On the other hand, when did you last hear a national politician say, "This economy's growing too fast, and if elected, I'll work to cut growth!"?

They never say that, because they would be admitting that capitalism is unsustainable. There is no such thing as capitalism without growth. Capitalists -- a class of folks whose income is "unearned" (a term devised and used, with uncharacteristic clarity, by the IRS) -- have a well-understood role in society: to take a pile of money and turn it into a bigger pile of money.

But a bigger pile of money, once achieved, is not an end but another beginning. To the capitalist, that pile is useless unless it can be turned into an even bigger pile. As a result, more resources are used and wastes expelled this year than last, and even more next year.

Now, if you're a politician or, say, a liberal pundit, you can't very well tell working people, "I'm afraid that our capitalist class is going to be needing an increasingly bigger share of our national income for a while -- well, um, actually forever -- and it's all going to have to come out of your paychecks."

Instead, you talk about economic growth and its seemingly miraculous ability to keep boosting the capitalist's return on investment while not completely wiping out the workers who generated it. No problem: Money's imaginary, so bigger piles of it are always possible, and there is no biggest pile.

But, of course, we do have a problem. We have no infinite piles of the stuff (even the renewable stuff) that's needed to turn money into more money. There's a rule that no species can increase its resource exploitation infinitely, and Homo sapiens has not been granted a waiver . Fossil fuels, soil, salmon, and healthy ecosystems are real, and the rules that apply to money -- which is no more real than 'Monopoly' money -- don't apply on planet Earth.

Where good capitalists go bad

Whatever the issue, nasty villains in plush corner offices make an easy target. But they are no more to blame for the state of the planet than are the prophets of Armageddon. All capitalists, big and small, have individual views but a common role in society.

The chief concern of one Captain of Industry might be global warming; of another, the tax deduction on his corporate jet; of another, the Beast with seven heads and ten horns. It doesn't matter because they are all playing by the same rules. The one who doesn't accumulate capital at the requisite pace might well end up punching a clock for one of the others, or worse.

Those who want to square the circle, to have infinite economic growth on a finite planet, generally invoke greater efficiency. Technology is supposed to let businesses generate more monetary wealth while using and abusing less of the material world.

Now, nobody -- no CEO, no environmentalist, not even the Antichrist -- is going to argue against efficiency. But capitalism has a way of turning good things inside out.

If you're a business owner, and you find you can produce the same number of lawn chairs or helicopters while spending less on energy, materials, labor, or waste disposal, that's efficiency, and that means money in the bank for you. But it's your job as a good capitalist to get that money out of the bank, ASAP, and invest it in the real world, where you can turn more stuff into more money. (No matter if demand is down -- buy advertising!)

In a growth-dependent economic order, efficiency simply provides more opportunities for production and consumption. Relying on efficiency to make growth less destructive is like trying to run up a "Down" escalator that never stops accelerating.

What's really scary

Ecological economics, a heretical branch of the discipline, has demonstrated conclusively that if we're to live within our material means, planet-wide, we must (1) limit our species' rate of reproduction, (2) hold our "throughput" of resources and wastes down to a sustainable level, and (3) set upper and lower limits on monetary wealth and income. These policies make up a package; following only one or two of them won't do the job.

While most ecological economists are not explicitly anti-capitalist -- that is, they do not advocate taking society's most important investment decisions out of the hands of an unelected capitalist class and putting them into democratic institutions -- it is difficult to see how capitalists or capitalism could flourish in the kind of world they envision.

And there are ways of making investment decisions democratic. For example, in his book After Capitalism, David Schweikart outlines a vision of the future that we all would find familiar, with private property, buying, selling, profits, and entrepreneurs - but without capitalists! Letting all of society, not just a tiny sliver, decide how to invest would not by itself stop the cancerous growth that's killing the ecosphere. But it's the necessary step.

In his article, Bill Moyers runs through a checklist of the Republicans' environmental sins, from their attacks on the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts to their enthusiasm for oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But we can't stop there. As I'm sure he knows, we could win every one of those legislative battles and still see the planet's degradation proceed at an accelerating pace.

I sympathize with Moyers. Motivating people is a tricky business. End-times zealots like Gary Frazier and corporate bugaboos like Dick Cheney are just scary enough to shock thoughtful people into action on a few high-profile issues. But talk about root causes of the ecological crisis, particularly capitalism's dependence on unchecked growth, and most of your audience runs, screaming, for the exits.

I don't pretend to have a solution to that dilemma. But we have to start asking these deeper questions, and soon. The Armageddon Clock may be a fantasy, but real clocks are really ticking.


--

Stan Cox(t.stan@cox.net)is a full-time crop geneticist and part-time writer in Salina, Kansas. His op-ed columns and other articles have appeared in The Denver Post, The Kansas City Star, and Cleveland's Plain Dealer and regularly on AlterNet.org and Counterpunch.org.

7 Comments:

Blogger cheryl said...

Hey Peg!
Sorry to go OT. I got this email this morning and promised to pass it on to you.

Dear Fellow Brad Blog Enthusiasts-

I hope you don’t mind my e-mailing you directly. Part of the reason I asked for the open-thread on the Brad Blog this weekend and posted the topic of the Brad Blog Fundraiser/Blogathon AND the issue of appropriateness of direct e-mails to responders was to get an idea/consensus as to whether you regular responders would take offense to my communicating to
you in this way. I hope my impression, based on those
who responded, that it is not inappropriate, was a correct reading on my part. My sole purpose in e-mailing you is to try to further flesh out and get
your invaluable thoughts/suggestions about how we
might set-up such a blogathon/fundraiser and the
direction it would take. If you are not in favor of the idea, you obviously don’t have to respond (or, if you wish, you can respond and tell me so!). I am not
asking anything from you but your ideas and suggestions. Anyone who wants to help, especially
with efforts to get their local media involved, or by
contributing their own artwork, would do so at their pleasure and with my great appreciation.

I would propose the event occur on a weekend, possibly in June if I/we can get it together. We could call it the “1st Annual Brad Blog Fundraiser/Blogathon”. Brad
would, more-or-less, let us take over the Brad Blog for those two days, although he would, of course, be able to post any very important or breaking stories
that he felt compelled to get out. I think Brad would be willing to do this if it was set up the right way and done for a “greater good”, beyond just fundraising for him (more on this in a minute). We would have to
have a “moderator”/coordinator to “run things” that weekend. Hopefully, Winter Patriot would be willing to perform that function. We could set-up an e-mail
address/free account (eg- on Yahoo) as a central registry for people to e-mail their pledges to. This would provide a measure of anonymity and allow the
moderator (who would have the password to the e-mail account) to add and intermittently post the total of pledges to date. People could, of course, voluntarily
post their pledges on the Blog site, esp. any big pledges, but would, preferably, also post them to the e-mail address. Actual contributions would be sent
(hopefully, immediately) to Brad’s PayPal or snail-mail links/addresses.

I have communicated briefly with Brad and I think he would actually be flattered and willing if we don’t make him feel like he is the one driving this or doing
the main promoting. Even the
announcements/advertising of the Blogathon/Fundraiser in the preceding days and weeks could be guest blogged.

In regards to using the event for a “greater good” than just the immediate fundraiser for Brad, I will refer you to my suggestion #2) below and to suggestion
#5) which could also be used as a way for those who donate to advertise their artwork to the audience. I would especially appreciate any
thoughts/suggestions/alternatives regarding this aspect of the proposed blogathon.

I would greatly appreciate your passing this e-mail along to any Brad Blog responder who I didn’t include in the mailing and who you think should receive it.
You might ask that person to respond to me, if they are interested, so that I can include them in any future e-mails on this issue. I would especially
appreciate it if anyone can pass this on to Peggy, Peg C, Teresa or KestrelBrighteyes since none of them provide an e-mail link I can send to. I would like
to present a detailed proposal to Brad in the next 7-10 days.

Below are a few suggestions/ideas that I thought might be some part of the event. If you have any criticism about any of these ideas, please let me know. They
are just suggestions. More importantly, if you have
any additional or better ideas, or ideas about how to implement my suggestions, I would be very grateful for them. I would like to try to keep my suggestion #1)
secret from Brad until the time of the event (if it were to occur) as a special surprise to him.

I think that what Brad and some others in the Blogosphere are trying to do to save our democracy is incredibly important. They should not have to do this
with their own resources and without compensation from
those of us who are benefiting from their efforts.
Hopefully, a better way of compensating them will evolve as they gain credibility and become more of a force. Perhaps, efforts like the one I am proposing
can help move things in that direction. I know by reading your wonderful and remarkably intelligent responses on the Brad Blog that you are all passionate
and dedicated to the cause of getting our country and our broken democracy back on the right track. Not all of us could run a blog (although I was surprised at
how many of you do when clicking on your links) and far fewer could do it as well as Brad or fight the
good fight as well as he does. But, we can contribute in concrete ways and, with your help, I hope this could turn into one of those ways.

THANKS!
Steve Viele


Some suggestions for proposed Brad Blog Blogathon/Fundraiser:

1)Before event, solicit John Conyers, other important
leaders/figures in the “Revolution” (and possibly
people like Clint Curtis and even the editor from the Florida paper/weekly? that Brad had the blog battle with) to send in congrats/thanks/tributes for Brad’s
efforts on behalf of our fragile democracy. These e-mails/letters could be posted intermittently during the weekend of the blogathon.

2)Send a group e-mail to Soros, Buffet, other wealthy/influential liberals or progressives (and
corporations?) encouraging them to set up or help fund our attempt to set up some kind of foundation to make financial awards to worthy Bloggers/Blog sites (perhaps to be nominated by readers and investigated and awarded by the foundations board). Most of us
realize that the MSM is no longer the people’s media and the more financial support (with no strings
attached) and credibility given to legitimate bloggers, who are taking up the role that the MSM has
abandoned, the better for our democracy.

3)Brad Blog readers respond with personal thank you’s to Brad for his work, perhaps tell how they first found out about or came to Brad Blog, perhaps cite or
link to (?vote for?) a favorite Brad Blog topic/post,perhaps vote for top 3 regular responders, perhaps vote for most hopeless troll, etc.

4)During blogathon weekend, try to e-mail at least one person who doesn’t know about the BradBlog and
provide a link for them to the site and/or, possibly to a BradBlog topic you think they might be interested in (also provide link to VR)

5)An auction of donated art (drawings, paintings,
literature, etc) presumably displayed on the site, with proceeds to BradBlog

6)If willing, send digital pictures of yourself, your family, something from your town or neighborhood so we can get to know each other better (unless there is
some consensus that such an activity would hurt anonymity or remove some important mystery about
responders, etc. It would, of course be entirely voluntary)

7)Post a suggestion about something that’s important
to you, eg- what Brad should investigate, what activity VR might support, ways to improve BradBlog or VR, etc.

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