Open Future NZ "Be the change you want to see in the World"

We are all children of the environment

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The primacy of the environment is a basic principle ignored by economic theory. The environment is agnostic about human purposes, but people cannot continue to be agnostic about the environment. The natural environment provided by the earth itself, and the circular process by which life is sustained on earth, are a more universal set than the economy. External LinkThe economy is a subset of the environment. You can't build a wonderful economy and use that to "buy" a better environment. The environment is unknowing about prices and unresponsive to price changes. We need to care for the environment and use that productivity to renew and improve the economy.  We need to build an "Open Future©" for ourselves.  

To successfully use the environment we have to understand how to act with knowledge and concern for environmental sustainability. Here in New Zealand, farms have polluted the ground water with fertilizer run-off, which is now feeding our rivers with excessive nitrogen. Scientist believe it will take up to 100 years to undo that damage. Making polluted waters clean again isn't necessarily easy to do, even after you've tackled the problem.

At the root of the human problem lies human nature and faulty economic theory.  It's one thing to intuitively understand that the system is not sensible, but it's entirely another problem to appreciate why and how to fix it.  
I start with two key ideas:
The economic system operates inside the environment and must be secondary to the environment.
The money we use is fraudulent. It's a rubber measure, that distorts our decision making and destroys real value.


Denis Meadows and I share an age. In our lifetime 96% of all the petroleum every used was sold.  In the next 20 years oil production may fall to 50% of current output.  But industrial output is predicted to double.  Something is wrong here.  What will that do to a society that's dependent on oil?  There are big, unpleasant economic changes coming.  We can avoid the worst of that if we act now.  

Denis Meadows talks about the need to make the necessary transition to a different sort of non-growing economy possible, without "collapse".  We need to take difficult social decisions today, if that is to be possible.  

Join the "fouryears.go." programme.

I've been "green" for many years, but I've always had a weak view of what we can do about promoting better environmental policies and actions. I'm a child of my time. I studied economics and I picked up the misguided principles of economics. Although I "knew" intuitively that those principles were wrong, I had no ability understand where the fault lay. I was a member of the Values Party of NZ, in the early 1970's. One of our principles was "Zero Economic Growth". That is I believe a valid ideal. If we are going to save the planet that is the critical key to success. We need new economic principles to support that objective.

There is a simple formula for predicting the increased size of our cities or the increased resource use caused by External Linkany degree of growth you think is "sustainable". The key number is "70". (To find the doubling period at any annual growth rate, simply divide 70 by that growth rate.) Hence 1% annual growth doubles size of a community or resource use, every 70 Years. In New Zealand we have been achieving 3% growth on an annual basis for the last 12 years. The business community claims that our growth is too LOW. 3% growth doubles our resource use in 23 years. That's a problem for our children. In 46 years, finding FOUR times as many resources, and 3% "growth" creates a problem for our grandchildren.

The essential problems of environmental degradation were well understood by science and were reported to US President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Since then we've pretended not to know. 70% of the oceans are over fished and we can't stop the fishing. We are actively destroying our world. We are so focused on increasing the GDP, that we choose not to see the destruction we are causing. When people talk about green issues, they usually do so in a way that fails to inspire me. The work they are doing is important, but their targets are small. The objectives, to save a few trees here, or to protect an endangered bird there, don't get at the core of the issue. Zero Economic Growth does.

With zero economic growth as our objective we need to make changes on many fronts. We'll need to be sure that those who represent us in government really are our representatives. Social justice will become a key issue. We can't any longer anticipate that "growth" will solve that problem in time. We have to find other ways. We'll need to develop a new information commons. We'll need to imagine and build new forms of common which allow community resources to be better used. New forms of business ownership that recognize all the stakeholders in the business might be devised.

Cities properly developed can be one way to protect the environment. But the cities we have actually built don't do that. Restricting population growth is highly desirable, over time a clear necessity. I'm sorry to be so gloomy, but I expect External Linka die-off event. We have every incentive to try and avoid that, but the attitudes of governments and the lack of knowledge across the community doesn't sit well with the chances of being successful.


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