Monday, July 11, 2005

When we commit to moral principle in politics and economics, we create a sustainable and just civilization

We will learn to make a civilization that will last, or we will once again develop more varied and more intensive means of extracting resources, over-exploit our resource base and grow our population beyond what is sustainable--to the point of catastrophic collapse.

What is different now is that collapse in the past has been a localized event. Not a global catastrophe.

The defects that have caused civilizations to collapse in the past are still with us today. When civilizations collapsed in the past, there was always an elsewhere that the people could flee to when things started to fall apart. And there were other civilizations in other places. We no longer have an elsewhere to go to. When the system breaks, it will be a global failure.

We need to make our civilization a sustainable phenomenon.

We need to limit the taking and degradation of natural resource wealth so that our environmental impacts are sustainable. If we continue to uglify and despoil the planet, and if we continue to allow abject poverty to exist, some people may perpetrate violent and destructive acts in hopes of eliminating what they see as an evil system or a cancer on the Earth. These destructive impulses served a purpose when societies were small-scale phenomena and neighboring tribes offered examples of better ways for how to live on the Earth. Now, all the neighboring societies are all one society. They are part of one large, intertwined global system. No healthy nearby society is going to come to supplant this dysfunctional one when it falls. The neighboring societies suffer the same ills that we see closer to home.

An impulse to destruction may not have been such a bad thing in the distant past, when there were neighboring societies that could move into the landscape occupied by the society in decline. In that context, acts of destruction could serve to hasten the transition from an unsustainable, dysfunctional society to a sustainable one. But within the current context of a global civilization, catastrophic collapse would mean widespread famine and an ecological disaster. For the sake of our offspring and the larger community of life, we must correct our system's defects without allowing complete collapse of our institutions and descent into chaos.

Extremists can and will exploit discontent to further their agenda. We can best enhance our security not so much through combating and apprehending people who would do harm but rather by making a healthy, sustainable and more just society that the vast majority of people will want to be a part of and that very few will want to subvert.

If we bring a respect of basic principles regarding political rights and property rights to our participation in political and economic systems, we will NOT allow levels of pollution to exceed what most people agree are acceptable. We will NOT allow rates of taking of limited natural resources to exceed what most people say is appropriate.

Natural resource wealth can be thought of as belonging to all. Natural resource wealth is the Commons. It should be recognized as belonging to all, to the extent that it can be said to belong to anyone. If we were to truly respect property rights, polluting industries would be paying us money when they put their unwanted stuff into our air and water. The most efficient and fair way to manage the use or degradation of natural wealth, to keep within sustainable limits, is to charge a fee in proportion to value taken or damage done. Respecting public as well as private property rights means that industries pay the people when they take or degrade that which belongs to all.

We could end abject poverty AND reduce the harmful effects of our economic system (and achieve a truly democratic society) by recognizing the people at large as the owners of Earth's natural resource wealth and as the ultimate authority in defining limits to environmental impacts.

Attaching fees to actions that foul the Earth, deplete limited resources or push ecosystems out of balance would produce something akin to a sensory or autonomic nervous system for Earth. Injury or harm to ecosystems would be reduced. Ecological balance could be maintained. We would transform ourselves from cancer cell to brain cell of Earth--if we bring our economics and politics into accord with our basic principles.

This proposal is consistent with a marriage of libertarian and green political philosophies. It is a synthesis of capitalist and communist economic paradigms.

Is there any other path to a secure and sustainable society? Where are the proposals for how to make sustainable business models the normal pursuit of industry, and how to end poverty throughout the world?

I say, let's get on with it.

Biological Model for Politics and Economics