Capitalism and Environmental Policy: Ultimate Reality Show

The clear mandate of future administrations is to bring the truth and reality home. Economic growth, as measured by the super pundit economists, has neither been truthful nor helpful in the real world of the life of the average American citizen. Countries all over the world have in one form or another realized that “the pursuit of happiness was fundamental to the founding of this Country and adopted by people as a global imperative.

The tendency of humans to allow themselves to overindulge and to stray from our own dignity and holiness is nowhere more apparent than in our stewardship of the Earth — Al Gore’s moral imperative in an “Inconvenient Truth.” For the last 250 years mankind has embarked on an experiment to use the world and control its resources in manner that strikes down our dignity and deprives us of access to holiness. 

Despite the cost to our current health and happiness, we continue to rely on “economic indicators” to tell us we are happy and content when we are not. It is neither truthful nor real to tell someone that employment conditions are good when they have dropped out of the marketplace in despair, or taken a job far below their potential or have recently been fired, only to be told that they lack skills and education  to perform in the new marketplace. For them a decline in unemployment figures or jobless claims is meaningless and reinforces their isolation, unhappiness and depression in a society that is supposedly founded on hope.

Despite our desire to see our children grow up to be productive good citizens we continue to value monetary transactions that economists use to measure economic activity without reference to the contribution  made by a good parent who successfully instills morality, good sense, and motivation in her/his children. It may not be PC to say it, but the lack of educational motivation of students, teachers, administrators and government can be traced in part to the fact that as a society, we treat a good mother as an underground activity that doesn’t matter and isn’t measured in our reporting of economic/societal activity. So we end up with under-educated children who resort to bullying rather than reason. 

And most importantly, despite the obvious costs to our health and the current condition of our planet in peril, we continue to consume things we don’t need or want or need, spend money we don’t have, and from all this “activity” produce an effluent of indifference to civil liberties, loss of species (including our own), and worship of “money” in lieu of worship of a higher  power or source that could give context to the meaning of our lives. Affluence has become Effluence for most people.

Government’s job is to catch up with people who are unhappy, and yes even bitter about the the stonewalling of government caused by money reaching into the halls of congress and state legislatures.

We can give up and let them have their way, leaving future generations to deal with the disastrous consequences of mortgage meltdown, war, drug overdoses with even worse side effects and doubtful benefit, distrust, environmental costs that are piling up without even abated much less reduced, and huge deficits caused by the deficiencies in our policies that have been funded and controlled by corporate America.

Or we can mobilize the population, elect responsible officials, and with zero tolerance, insist on a paradigm shift in our life styles, government, and perception of the world This is what the following article is about. I recommend it and the book.  

Book Examines Clash of Capitalism and the Environment

Contact: Dave DeFusco, Director of Communications, 203-436-4842

April 1, 2008

New Haven, Conn. —The environment will continue to deteriorate so long as capitalism continues to be the modern world’s economic engine, argues Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, in his new book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.

Seeing an “emerging environmental tragedy of unprecedented proportions,” Speth says the book’s aim is to describe a non-socialist alternative to capitalism. That alternative includes moving to a post-growth society and environmentally honest prices, curbing consumerism with a new ethic of sufficiency, rolling back growing corporate control of American political life, and addressing the enormous economic insecurity of the average person.

“My point of departure is the momentous environmental challenge we face,” Speth says. “But today’s environmental reality is linked powerfully with other realities, including growing social inequality and neglect and the erosion of democratic governance and popular control.” Speth examines how these seemingly separate areas of public concern are intertwined and calls upon citizens to mobilize spiritual and political resources for transformative change on all three fronts. Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, calls Speth’s book, “A powerful and ambitious attempt to characterize the changed strategies that environmental organizations need to adopt to become more effective. This book challenges many things that would seem to have political immunity of a sort—among others, corporate capitalism, the environmental movement itself and the forces of globalization.”

Co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute and former White House advisor, Speth has been called “the ultimate insider” by TIME magazine. But now, faced with evidence of galloping degradation of the planet, Speth has concluded that “all in all, today’s environmentalism has not been succeeding.” He calls on environmentalists to “step outside the system and develop a deeper critique of what is going on.”

Speth argues that aggregate economic growth is no longer improving the lives of most Americans and suggests that in some ways it is making individuals worse off—environmentally, socially and psychologically. “It is said that growth is good—so good that it is worth all the costs, that somehow we’ll be better off,” says Speth, “We are substituting economic growth and more consumption for dealing with the real issues—for doing things that would truly make us better off.”

The book calls for measures that provide for universal health care and alleviate the devastating effects of mental illness; guarantee good, well-paying jobs and increase employee satisfaction, minimize layoffs and job insecurity and provide for adequate retirement incomes; introduce more family-friendly policies at work, including flextime and easy access to quality child care; and provide individuals with more leisure time for connecting with their families, communities and nature.

“My hope is that all Americans who care about the environment will come to embrace these measures—these hallmarks of a caring community and a good society—as necessary to moving us beyond money to sustainability and community,” he says. “Sustaining people, sustaining nature—they are just one cause, inseparable.”

Speth writes that Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the dollar value of all goods and services produced by the economy, is a poor gauge of human well-being or welfare. The book cites studies showing that throughout the entire period following World War II, as incomes skyrocketed in the United States and other advanced economies, reported life satisfaction and happiness levels stagnated or even declined slightly.

Speth says that these studies suggest the need for a radical rethinking and reordering of society’s priorities. Obsession with consumption and GDP growth has now causes more harm—to the environment, social fabric and world security—than good.

It took all of history, Speth notes, to build the $7 trillion world economy of 1950; today, economic activity grows by that amount every decade. At current rates of growth, the world economy will double in size in less than two decades. “Society is facing the possibility of an enormous increase in environmental deterioration, just when we need to move strongly in the opposite direction.”

The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability is published by Yale University Press (yalebooks.com). See the Bridge at the Edge of the World website for more information.

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