Is Recession Good: A Discussion
Initial Cafaro query to the ISEE listserv –September 30 ‘08
I'm curious what environmental philosophers think about the current economic downturn.
It seems to me that given the facts that (1) our current environmental problems are primarily driven by human economic activity and (2) our societies seem incapable of reining in environmentally harmful economic activity, so that (3) our main environmental problems (particularly global warming and biodiversity loss) appear to be getting worse; therefore, (conclusion) any slowing of economic activity is a good thing, whether a slowing of economic growth, or an actual contraction of economic activity (recession).
When I run this by my fellow environmentalists, however, most of them demur.
Sometimes, they mention poor people in the developing world. Sometimes, they mention the Great Depression. (They don't mention the falling value of their own stock portfolios, but surely I'm not the only ISEE member who's checked in on them in the past few days...).
I'm willing to amend my conclusion to say that we might need economic growth in poor countries, to help people there get the basics; and we don't want a full-blown depression anywhere, because that could lead to genuine hardship even in wealthy countries.
But even given that amendment, there still seems to be lots of room for praiseworthy economic contraction in the wealthier countries of the world.
Couldn't 90% of Americans get by for a year without purchasing major consumer items, just making due with what we already have? Couldn't we forego most of the travelling and eating out we enjoy?
Such belt-tightening would be a tremendous boon to the environment. We've already seen this in a small way, as higher energy prices cause many pro-environment trends: less driving, driving at slower speeds, air travel down, people buying more fuel efficient cars, houses going unsold in distant exurbs, etc.
Further: Americans' belts are so loose these days, we're so over the top in our consumption, that it seems there is a lot of room to do with less, without seriously harming our quality of life.
So: hooray for the recession! Right?
The main problem with this line of reasoning seems to be that declines in consumption could throw a lot of people out of work! This could cause real hardship. All of a sudden, you're not asking someone to "do with less" in the realm of consumption; you're asking him to do with nothing, at least when the unemployment benefits run out. Not workable.
But then we seem faced with a situation where we are locked in to an endless growth economic model, which has proven to be ecologically disastrous. Damned if you grow and damned if you don't.
What is the answer? A "steady-state" economy? An economy where slowly, over time, we move people from jobs devoted to senseless consumption to jobs that genuinely further human development?
Responses, in order received
Thanks for the timely provocation, Philip Cafaro. Here you are my brief contribution:This is a propitious time to advance a more radical –solid, embedded, embodied as opposed to financial volatility— agenda in a coherent and step-at-a-time fashion.As a matter of fact, over the last fortnight, out of emailing lists, comments, research funding notices, etc., I have noticed a clear and much-needed radical turn in greenhouse politics. Ruth Thomas-PellicerUniversity of Surrey -UK
Because I now work in a government position, and no longer as faculty,
please accept my reply off list (and please don't forward to the list,
unless you remove identifiers).
Interesting thought, about how the current economic crisis may impact
I actually had a rather different reaction to it:
Premise: implementing environmentally sustainable technologies is more
expensive than business-as-usual (e.g., "scrubbers" to remove air
pollution, abatement for mining, sustainable logging practices, and
other practices for sustainable resource extraction, such as
sustainable fishing etc)
Premise: a global credit crisis causes firms and governments to have
fewer resources to implement the best environmental practices to
prevent environmental damage and recover/restore degraded environments
Premise: as a result of the credit crisis, the lower demand for goods
and services will cause people to further cut corners on safety and
sustainability just to underbid others -- because the pressure will be
greater to earn anything
Conclusion: a global crisis will further exacerbate environmental
degradation (because far from reducing use, it will actually just make
it harder or less cost-effective to engage in sustainable practices.)
I now work in a public health agency, and our agency has
responsibility for environmental health (I serve as an ethicist for
the Department, and also am involved in regulatory compliance).
Florida's economy has been in a slump for a couple of years, and it
doesn't look like it will get better. A consequence I can speak to
here is that the state's initiatives with developers to create more
walkable communities, with sidewalks etc is failing, because
developers are pulling out because they currently don't want to spend
money to do the right thing for the environment and for health.
Honestly, how much of a difference does having “walkable communities” make, compared to less
Thanks for sending this question to the list, and for understanding my
limited ability to comment publicly on anything!
Robert Hood, Ph.D., C.I.P.
Assistant Director, Office of Public Health Research
Ethics and Human Research Protections Program
Florida Department of Health
Phil, your sentence -- "An economy where slowly, over time, we move people from jobs devoted to senseless consumption to jobs that genuinely further human development?" -- is not just an answer ... it's the only answer. (Well, with a friendly amendment to read "genuinely further human development and respect for our fellow species and the Earth.") Classical economics focuses on only the crudest metrics -- growth or contraction -- without considering the quality of the economic activity. ISEE members know all the critiques. My simple point is that the US could have a hundred years of economic growth starting tomorrow (well, OK, not literally tomorrow) if we had a comprehensive and enduring "bailout" plan that re-orients major sectors of the economy toward repairing the environmental and social damage that has been wrought over decades and decades. Large-scale environmental restoration actions (problematic as they admittedly can be) alone would be enough to generate hundreds of thousands of meaningful, rewarding jobs. And Thomas L. Friedman has been beating the drum incessantly in his recent NYT columns for renewable energy.
There is at least 25 years of environmental thinking that illuminates all this. It's great that the T. Boone Pickenses of the world are on board the bandwagon, but none of this stuff is new wisdom.
Of course, before any of this can really happen folks like us have to be much more successful in convincing fellow citizens that environment- and social-justice-centered values are the only real hope for the future.
David Harmon, Executive Director
George Wright Society • P.O. Box 65
(ground deliveries: 49445 US Hwy 41)
Hancock, MI 49930-0065 USA
Yes please send me responses to your hooray for recession essay. I have been simultaneously studying economics while learning environmental philosophy from you and Professor Rolston, because I suspected a very strong similarity between humanity's tendency to recklessly borrow against the future via liquidation of ecosystems and natural resources as well as to assume impossible amounts of financial debt in the hope that some future miracle will make things right. In fact I now suspect that the latter and the desperation it causes is now accelerating the former at an increasing rate not only in developing countries but in the USA as well.
I tried to combine these concerns in a question to Conservation Biologist George Schaller at the electronic meeting we had with him at CSU last night. It was stated that he would try to answer all questions electronically eventually so I am awaiting a reply. See the question text that was e-messaged paster below.
FROM: Winthrop Staples
Wildlife Biologist and
Philosophy Graduate Student
Colorado State University
TO: George Schaller, Conservation Biologist
DATE: 29 September 2008 (5 PM)
SUBJECT: Question e-mailed during question and answer period of electronic meeting with renowned conservation biologist George Schaller
US Census Bureau projections indicate that the same leaders whose lack of foresight brought us the mortgage finance meltdown - plan to continue similar reckless policies that will at least double and perhaps quadruple American’s population by the year 2100. Endangered species biologists I know are discouraged, because major environmental groups will not question the US economic growth policy of adding 30 million more wildlife habitat consumers every decade. Do you have any suggestions about how we can make environmental leaders start a discussion about population increase in wealthy industrialized countries like the USA, Canada and Australia?
Hooray for the recession--yes! Or, perhaps, better for "the economy" to
tank than "the ecology"!
Maybe we will finally start to see a waking up to the ontological
difference between these two different kinds of reality--the difference
between "real estate" and real ecosystems. I generally always include some
excerpts from John Searle's _The Construction of Social Reality_ in my
environmental philosophy classes, because making this distinction can be
so fundamentally empowering when it comes to environmental
issues--recognizing that there are certain kinds of entities that we
humans created and can change by changing our conceptual framework, other
kinds that we didn't and can't, except at our own peril. (And yes, while
Ian Hacking says that "everybody knows" that economics is of the former
type, that's not at all reflected in the way we actually live our lives.)
I think it's really quite remarkable the degree to which most Americans
have come to live in a "world" that's almost entirely constructed out of
beliefs, desires, mathematical calculations, and the dead material stuff
that makes up our homes, offices and cars (and much of what's on the
Yes, a huge change!
We have really peeled away from real-time
interaction with other lifeforms over the last decades--dramatically so
since the "Great Depression" when most of us still lived on farms and
could at least feed ourselves from the turnips in our backyard gardens.
Searle gives a good recounting of the development of our monetary system,
from barter to precious metals to silver certificates to pieces of paper
that can now only be redeemed in the form of other pieces of paper, and I
think that progression to more and more abstract ideas of "wealth" and
"value" could bear some reflection upon right about now. What IS a
"derivative," anyway? Or how about this--what, exactly, is being created
by "compound interest," beyond an exponentially increasing mathematical
fiction? Perhaps it once was used to set up institutions that actually did
produce something of real value to human lives, but that connection has
now become tenuous in the extreme.
I'll propose a radical solution for this economic "crisis": let's just
cancel all "debt"--here as well as in the "developing" world--since it's
just a construct anyway, a fiction that is maintained only by the fact
that we all continue to believe in it and let it structure our behavior,
most of the time in ways that no one would freely choose to act and often
in ways that are harmful to the living systems of the Earth. (In honor of
Rosh Hashana, in fact, we might want to remember the precedent of the
"jubilee year" as somewhat similar in spirit.)
What we might then end up with is a kind of bioregionalism. People could
go on living in the same physical structures they inhabit now, but would
have to start relearning how to feed themselves within their local
ecosystems--cutting way down on the energy-wasteful translocation of
foodstuffs, among other benefits. Suburban homeownwers could forget about
tending their perfect green lawns and start growing cauliflowers. People
with real skills could still trade their labors for the essentials of
life. Teachers would still be needed to help children, and others, know
something about the real world and how to live within it. People who
allowed themselves to grow up knowing nothing except how to shuffle papers
and manipulate digits in computer banks in order to "grow the bottom
line," however, might find themselves out of luck. And I'll bet few
would miss them!
Of course, it may be just a little bit more difficult to support a
national population of 300 million, or a world population nearing 7
billion, by living within one's bioregion. Perhaps we should have thought
of that 40 years ago when, instead of listening to Paul Ehrlich, Arne
Naess, and other long-range thinkers, we who were fortunate enough to have
a choice about limiting our families and helping others to do so too
decided instead to just party on!
Hmmm, I'm skeptical.
An Earth friendly society has little or no growth from an economic
perspective. A society in recession has little or no growth from an
economic perspective. But a society in recession is not necessarily
I imagine the the Easter Islanders experienced economic turmoil when
they started running out of trees, but that didn't actually prevent
them from chopping the rest down. In fact, I bet a lot of societies
accelerate environmental damage in response to environmental stress.
If I had actually read Jared Diamond's *Collapse,* instead of just
hearing people talk about it, I might be able to speak more
It is easy to slip into thinking that economic growth is necessary and
sufficient for envrionmental damage, so whenever the economy grows,
nature shrinks and vice versa. But no one really thinks that things
are that simple. So a lot more needs to happen before we can turn an
economic downturn into environmental progress.
Environmentalists can be tempted to celebrate economic downturn for
the same reason Marxists are tempted to celebrate crackdowns by the
ruling class: it might spark a revolution. But not only do people
suffer in the process, the causal connection is weak.
If you're interested in a *really* pessimistic view about this kind of thing with respect to climate change, you might want to look at my 'Saved by Disaster? Abrupt Climate Change and the Possibility of an Intergenerational Arms Race'. A draft version is up at: http://faculty.washington.edu/smgard/
I might add that, when pressed in the first Presidential debate about what he might cut back on given the financial crisis, Senator Obama seemed to offer that he might be forced to proceed more slowly on energy policy reform.
Hi Phil et al,
I thought it was interesting that the govt. official's response you just forwarded echoes closely this news release that someone on the Environmental Communication Network (ECN) listserv posted earlier this afternoon. --Best, Brett
Economic Blues Leave No Room for Green
CMO Study Finds Focus on Environmentalism Waning in Tough Times By Jack Neff
Published: September 15, 2008
BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- The green-marketing movement is taking a hit from the economy.
According to a new study by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, chief marketing officers distracted by the downturn are placing less emphasis on cause-related and environmental issues. In fact, marketing that is "beneficial for society" or that minimizes the impact on the environment ranked at the bottom of five priorities listed by respondents for the next 12 months.
The shift seemed to reflect changing priorities on the part of their customers. "If [consumers] can't afford the product, or it's not the quality you want, [they're] not going to be focusing on its environmental friendliness," said Christine Moorman, the professor who led the project surveying top marketers at 72 companies culled from both the Fortune 1000 and Forbes' 200 top small firms.
Ms. Moorman said that CMOs who had the most pessimistic outlook on the economy and their own prospects for retaining customers assigned the lowest priority to cause and environmental efforts. Ranking ahead of those goals were developing customer insights, sharing marketing knowledge and preparing for marketing crises.
While marketers of consumer products in the survey gave cause marketing and environmental marketing higher priorities than marketers in other sectors, even they ranked those things below insight development and knowledge sharing.
The results don't come as a shock to Donna Goldfarb, VP-consumer and market insights for Unilever Americas. "There's a hierarchy of needs, and if people are struggling to buy food or put their kids through college, they're going to see [green or cause-related appeals] as a nice thing to do, but not essential." Unilever hasn't dropped its cause-related marketing for Dove, continuing to run ads and schedule events behind the "Campaign for Real Beauty" of late. But it's also focused more squarely on the product with its most recent campaign for the new Dove Go Fresh line.
In an e-mail, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble Co. said the company isn't moving away from its cause-related efforts, despite the recent announcement that Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel, a big backer of the approach, is leaving.
Seventh Generation, marketer of green household-products, is also still bullish, noting that its sales are up more than 50% year to date, despite the economy and well-funded competition from the likes of Clorox GreenWorks. "We're still thinking [this market] is expandable for us and others," said Carter Elenz, exec VP-sales and marketing, noting that the brand is increasing its spending to its highest levels ever (albeit to a relatively modest $1 million in the fourth quarter).
But at the same time, some backers of sustainability efforts or "marketing with meaning" appear to be soft-pedaling their efforts or girding for a time when such messages pack less punch.
For example, Wal-Mart Stores, which made sustainability a central feature of its communications strategy in recent years, is talking about it less often lately. An analysis of news stories on LexisNexis shows an average of 73 stories monthly featuring Wal-Mart and "sustainability" in the past year but only 37 in the past month. Environmental or sustainability themes had found their way into only 12 Wal-Mart press releases through Sept. 11 of this year (and none since June), compared with 29 during the same period last year.
And when Wal-Mart launched a new campaign targeting opinion leaders around the political conventions last month, the message was about how the company is stimulating the economy by saving people money, with none of the sustainability themes that have been common in such ads in years past.
Wal-Mart executives haven't lost all their interest in sustainability, said one supplier rep, "but I'm not hearing about it nearly as often."
WPP Group's digital and relationship-marketing shop Bridge Worldwide, Cincinnati, which has made "marketing with meaning" its mantra in recent years, isn't seeing clients or prospects back off from marketing that adds value to people's lives just yet. "But logically, I can see how that would be a gut reaction," said Chief Marketing Strategist Bob Gilbreath. "If you lose your job, you're not volunteering for things.
You've got to find a new job."
The "meaning" could start to shift, he said, as more marketers add value to their messages the old-fashioned way: through discounts.
Mr. Gilbreath said in the early 1990s, green marketing peaked for the last time when the economy turned south, which could happen again now.
My gut-level reaction: while crisis may precipitate an end result that has some features of a better balance between ecosystem health and economic behavior, crisis is not the best or desired path by which to get there. To me, this is analogous to saying that New Orleans should never have been built below sea-level, and therefore Katrina was ultimately a good thing. It may be true that nothing short of Katrina could lever the city of New Orleans into taking a look at the pragmatics of building in the bayou, but the path to that realization was way too painful.
I'm afraid that it won't be only the lending institutions who fall in this economic crisis. The unfortunate reality is that a deep economic crisis will be painfully and far-reachingly felt in many places and by many interests in no way directly related to the lenders fiasco. This may and probably will include environmental beneficiaries of assorted philanthropic largess, along with nations and peoples who look to the U.S. for constructive assistance with debilitating social problems - not to mention the average individual who relies on our economic structure to put food on the family table.
Since the situation is upon us, I suppose we should capitalize on whatever pieces of it we can, but I cannot hear myself saying "hooray for the recession."
I second Rob's reservations about celebrating the onset of a recession (or, as we've started to hear, the prospect an economic calamity beyond even the Great Depression).
I see how someone might be inclined to celebrate. If ecological values (however conceived) are paramount, and the vast socio-technical juggernaut of industrial/post-industrial capitalism systematically destroys ecological value, then any malfunction that slows down the juggernaut or, better still, stops it in its tracks, must be a good thing. We would then no longer need to find wrenches of our own to throw into the gears of the Machine; instead, to mix metaphors, the Machine and its Engineers are now hoist on their own petard.
One problem, of course, is that the machine isn't just a machine. It's a complex social system of which we ourselves are a part, on which we are dependent for our cushy academic jobs and the expense accounts we use to go to environmental philosophy conferences . . . not to mention the food, water, and fuel we need to participate in modern civic life.
In an economic calamity, there will be pain for us and for the people we care about. Calling for a celebration seems callous, at best.
Even setting that aside, I'm troubled by two implications of the very idea that we might celebrate recession (or worse).
First, a worldwide crisis may be an opportunity for change, but that change will be benign only if people can be counted on to act reasonably, or at least rationally, in the face of the crisis.
Otherwise, any crisis profound enough to spur a transformation in our entire conception of economic life would just be an occasion for panic, conflict, and all manner of destructive behavior.
Consider the analogy with oil depletion. We might welcome declining supplies of oil as a strong incentive to rethink how we organize our lives in the world. But, depending on how fast the decline happens, it will almost certainly generate economic displacement, political turmoil, and armed conflict, none of which are necessarily ecologically benign.
Then consider what people would do when facing a cold winter in modern suburban houses without reliable supplies of fuel for heating and cooking. What are they to do? Well, there are an awful lot of trees out there . . . (James Kunstler paints an especially grim picture of the effects of oil depletion in his book, The Long Emergency; he foresees, among other things, the deforestation of North America.)
Second, even if we were to assume, for the sake of argument, that a worldwide financial calamity would have environmentally benign consequences in the long term, whatever its human costs in the short term, the calamity hasn't happened yet and might yet be averted. What should we wish for? Do we really want to be in a position of hoping for the worst, wishing for the failure of any efforts to prevent or contain such an instructive calamity? This would put us on a par with fundamentalist Christians waiting, hoping, praying fervently for the Apocalypse, to finally teach us heathen sinners a lesson.
I, for one, don't think we should put ourselves in that position.
Phil, Here is a "non-philosophical view": Recession is never any good for the common man.
Why? Because he can lose his job, lose his house, standard of living falls, can't send his kid to a good school or college, can't pay for decent health care, can't save for his retirement, his pay is stagnant, his pension and 401k loses value, etc., etc.
I don't see environmentalism and decent capitalism(I stress decent) incompatible or mutually exclusive .Capitalism must find a way to preserve and protect the environment. Some steps have been taken, but we must do more. One good way to preserve capitalism and prevent a recession would be to facilitate anad finance the search for alternative fuels that are less dangerous to the environment. This would create a whole new technology and jobs for thousands , while improving the atmosphere, improving our balance of payments, lessening the influence of the middle eastern oligarchs, and even helping the global warming problem.
So, Phil I don't see it as an either/or problem. Each has to claim our attention for the good of all concerned. And if you want to know how we got into all this financial mess and are failing as an "empire", read a book called Swimming with Sharks.
Basta for now. Write if you get work, Love, Dad
I'm wondering how to characterize my true feelings about whatever is going on with "the economy" (if anything, the skeptic might say in the face of today's market rally), considering some of the posts I'm reading here. Is a house-of-cards collapse something I "wish" for, or want to celebrate?
Well, not exactly--I see whatever this is, if it's an event at all, is very probably going to make my own life and those of people around me very much tougher in the time ahead, surely not a cause for celebration. But there is a kind of welcome relief to it--FINALLY, some cracks in the wall, some glimmer of honesty about the predicaments we humans have got ourselves in. And if we talk about it now, maybe we can stave off some of the worst of it.
It's not surprising that it was Phil who brought this up, because Phil is someone who's had the courage to talk about population issues all along.
I've not always agreed with his take on certain things, but what I've continued to find disappointing is how reluctant so many academics are about facing our situation _as a species_--and it's not a pretty one. You don't have to "wish" for a calamity when you've been watching the potential for cascading disasters building up all around you over a number of decades. And on the other hand, I think our increasing electronic connectedness may be upping our conscious awareness of the precariousness of our situation, and this may even prove sufficient to stave off some of the worst possibilities if it brings about a truly deep change in perception--one that leads to intelligent action.
I truly do feel bad for the many, many people that I think are likely to suffer, and die, when push really comes to shove (lovely metaphor!)--the knife of natural selection is going to act on us too, and why did we ever think it would not? In fact, I see no reason to think that I won't be among the first to go (good thing existentialism is one of my favorite courses!). But I also feel compelled to speak the truth as I see it. I think we humans have most likely already far overshot the number that can be sustained over any significant length of time on this planet. We're "living on borrowed time" in a very real sense ecologically--and that's a natural "debt" that we can't cancel like we can its constructed counterpart.
We could _certainly_ cut way down on the circulation of material "stuff"
in industrial societies like the U.S., and if everyone who could rebooted and started at least attempting to grow food instead of lawns, use bikes instead of cars, eat vegetarian, and lots of other obvious things, it would surely help. But I see two "engines" of destruction in the picture, not just one:
(1) Industrial society itself is furiously attacking the living systems of the planet, destabilizing the global climate, taking over more and more of the Earth's lands and seas--and this one NEEDS to grind to a halt, not just be "greened up" in little ways. This one MIGHT be taken out, or greatly disabled, by an economic collapse--I say good riddance. All the "regulation" in the world isn't going to change the direction of its present trajectory--this needs to STOP, and money is what circulates in its veins.
But there will still remain (2), the biological hunger of the great collective beast that we have allowed our species to swell up into. We are, of course, not just "consumers" in an economic sense, we are consumers in the ecological sense--we consume the bodies of other living beings for our sustenance, and are ultimately dependent on the energy trapped by the ecological "producers"--not peasants or the proletariat, but green plants. And that hunger can only be stoked by real things, not fictional entities like "commercial paper."
We've created some monstrous urban areas, many of them already lacking in adequate public health measures, many others completely dependent upon the functionality of the larger social systems for their necessities of life, and, short of some vary rapid restructuring, I agree with Kunstler that the prognosis for these concentrations of excessive scale is likely to be quite grim. But enough of us live outside of them, or will find a way out, to do lots of damage trying to "live off the land" any way we can. (And that's not even taking into account all the medium-sized carnivores--dogs and cats--that we have seen fit to bring into existence and are currently maintaining on what gets swept up off the floor of the industrial meat
machine.) No, I think the biosphere is in for a big hit however you figure it. However, we can at least voluntarily turn off engine #1, or radically redirect parts of it to reverse the present full-throttle destruction that's under way.
So, I will thank the "recession"--if there finally is one--for making more honest planetary citizens out of us (if it really does).
Unless everything stops, which won't happen, some things will stop and others won't.
Probably environmental protection will be one of the first things to stop.
Roger S. Gottlieb
>Unless everything stops, which won't happen, some things will stop and
>Probably environmental protection will be one of the first things to stop.
It has already happened: the lapsing of the off-shore bans. Isn't environmentalism an uphill battle against selfishness (or rather, PERCEIVED self-interest)?
Since I've recently been teaching Nietzsche, I will give my position on the economic scene a Nietzschean twist: In his rants against Christianity, e.g., "It makes no sense whatever to tell fables about 'another world'
than this one," to "look down upon life" on this Earth, I would substitute the dollar and the global economic game for God and an immaterial world to come. What we have constructed, the kind of entity that the backers of this financial bailout are trying to protect, is just about as divorced from the real earth as the heaven of angels and eternal bliss. Every time I get on one of the high-speed beltways around Orlando--which I try to avoid as much as possible out of the sheer unpleasantness of the experience--I see what must be several hundred acres newly bulldozed since the last time I traversed the road This kind of unnecessary destruction (and it IS unnecessary--these houses are not being built to serve real "needs" of people who have no place to live, they are being to serve the fantasy god of "profit") can only be justified by substituting some sort of conceptual mathematical fictions in the place of what is blatantly obvious to the senses. Can we reinterpret "be faithful to the earth" to mean, instead of the death of God--on a patriarchal understanding, many of us have already passed that stage--the death of the dollar and the end of our Life-destroying culture?
Yes, I know--many on this list may talk a good game in wtheir classes and their writings, but "the ego" is still tightly bound up with the herd and its fantasies. What about global warming? As long as industrial civilization is still going full steam ahead, so will the production of greenhouse gasses. Make no mistake, this bailout, and every other effort being made to keep "the economy" rolling, is only stoking those fires.
Might we at least ask what is the GOAL of our present frenzied human action? This is something that never gets talked about. What is the size of the human population that we are aiming to achieve? What is the condition of specific areas of the biosphere that we intend to bring about? No, none of these realities are in the picture at all--only the circulation of an expanding quantity of--what? It's a pipe-dream that someday this will bring about prosperity and happiness to millions of poor people, for example. And what do the rich do with all their "wealth"? They play golf! No wonder Nietzsche looked at what he saw over a hundred years ago and cried "Disgust, disgust, disgust!" That's what I feel every time I pass a dead animal on the road, just one more crushed in the advance of "civilization"--just another reality that goes unseen while dollar signs dance in front of everyone's eyes. Disgust!!!
What kind of a goal _might_ we set for ourselves? Well, we could start with a goal of getting our population back down to no more than 1 or 2 billion--humanely over several hundred years, as Naess advocated, or not so humanely, which will be the upshot if we do nothing to change course.
With a much smaller number, prosperity and happiness for everyone could be a reasonable goal, along witha culture of humans coevolving with other forms of life, creating something not only new but REAL. Perhps that's what "the overman" was supposed to be about. Instead we got Nazism and multiple other forms of fascism, with conceptual fantasies to soothe the masses--in heaven or on the balance sheet.
No doubt sooner or later some sort of "bailout" will be arranged, and the "crisis" staved off just a little longer. But the the conceptual framework that supports the present economic system is badly flawed, and eventually it's going down. A new paradigm is needed, and people with the courage to conceive it. But we'll never get there if we just look to our right and our left, taking the pulse of "the herd," and then decide on the basis of the lack of inspiration we find there that "It'll never happen," and so give up. That's not "being faithful to the Earth," my friends.
I think that as a species we tend to pursue self-preservation as individuals as a first priority. (Even sacrifice for children or other relatives can be viewed as the protection of (some part of) one's
genome.) We are an adaptable species and so there are grounds for hope that we can transcend our initial self-regarding biases. However, when our individual survival is threated, we likely retreat to our self-regarding biases. Unfortunately, we are capable of expanding our conception of what we require to survive to include stupidly wasteful products and services. I fear that we will treat this current challenge to our conception of our survival needs as a justification for the further expression of self-regarding biases.
Stephen Gardiner wrote: <http://faculty.washington.edu/smgard/>
> I might add that, when pressed in the first Presidential debate about
> what he might cut back on given the financial crisis, Senator Obama's
> one specific claim was that he might be forced to proceed more slowly
> on energy policy reform.
It's a bit more complicated than that. At about 3:18 in this part of the debate, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN6f_5d62xI&feature=related, Obama does say that there may be "individual components [of an energy plan] which we cannot do" now because of the financial crisis. But he does start the discussion of what he might have to cut (last minute of this segment, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aM923sttcs&feature=related) by saying first that energy reform cannot be cut, and then goes on to mention other policies which he says are also priorities.
Also Obama did say in the context of this line of questioning that we should pull out of Iraq, given, among other things, the high cost of the occupation. To be fair, that's a specific claim.
As for McCain he suggests as a specific cut a spending freeze on everything other than "defense, veteran affairs and entitlements."
I care to offer a slightly rosier outlook—if not an expeditious one—on the fallout of a slowing or stalled economy than what some of have suggested in this thread. Let me first concede that the regulatory outlook in the short term does look fairly grim. The lapsing of the offshore drilling regulations (as mentioned earlier in this thread) stands out alarmingly, and there would be less reason than at present to think that the legal landscape that has stifled progress in environmental justice (for instance) would be modified to protect communities anytime soon. I also agree with Sandy that the hardship-induced retreat to self-interest would be widespread. But I promised rosier, so here goes:
One thing that strikes me as unique about this economic situation—harkening back to Phil’s original post—is that this event (whatever it turns out to be) occurs during a historical period when there is indeed an extant environmental ethic. No, it’s not the land ethic, or perhaps even anything that could be adequately circumscribed in tidy ethical paradigms. Nor is it universal. But I believe that there is a ubiquitous conscientiousness about the need to adjust the way one lives to fit the challenges of living on a resource-deficient, ecologically deteriorated, aesthetically impoverished, and overly humanized planet. Are people confused about how to follow through on such motives?
Absolutely (I know I am). Do most people know how to integrate their green-ish values with their other intentions, beliefs, and ideals? Does anyone? It’s easy to be pessimistic about environmental (ethical) progress in a time of economic hardship, but the fact that so many people today think that their environment has to matter as part of their horizon of concern strikes me as a cause for optimism in the face of a potentially significant transformation of economic quality of life. However entrenched it has become, an environmental conscientiousness has worked itself into many people’s moral mindset—having it is part of what it is to be a good neighbor, a friend, an interesting person, a good citizen (if not a good voter!), etc. I see little reason to doubt that environmental concern, even if it cannot meet the standards of ethical coherence we hold on this list, will continue to contribute to our collective efforts of worldmaking.
It’s possible that a severe cultural and economic crisis could bring out the worst in us—perhaps that’s what warrants it being called a crisis. But—historians on this list can correct me—it seems that the outcomes of many (not all!) crises in history have borne out the nascent moral progress in the times that preceded them. People want to be safe and to prosper for themselves, but they also want to live in a good world and to be part of its making. Moreover, whatever that goodness means, it must be informed in part by lived and emergent values available to people in a given time and place. I don’t know enough about its recent history to confidently assert it, but today’s Rwanda appears to exemplify a moral and political transformation unthinkable fifteen years ago. Yet the values embodied by this transformation must have been lurking there (and admittedly beyond its borders as part of a wider moral discourse) even as the nation was violently torn apart by fear and hate. While I urgently hope that no such episode would be part of making a greener economy, I remain optimistic that much of the moral imagination required for its development is already in place.
I agree with your macro point, but I think the way to get there is intellectual persuasion of consumers and fair regulation of markets and a concerted effort to curtail growth. Disasters are disasters and the economic/military elite will invariably feather their nests at the expense of everyone else.
There is a new book with the word 'Shock' in the title that you should check out. Basically saying that these catastrophes always work for the Powers that be who use them as excuses to further fuck things up.
Meanwhile, I think this bailout is a farce and should be rejected. The yahoos are right. "Credit crunch' what a load of shit. Most folks live paycheck to paycheck and are in debt besides. Meanwhile, our white knight Obama comes up with the revolutionary idea of going from 100k to 250 k in FDIC insurance? Talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!
Pails said: "it seems that the outcomes of many (not all!) crises in history have borne out the nascent moral progress in the times that preceded them."
I like this point a lot, and we can see it at work in the current crisis. The crisis reveals the bankruptcy of free market ideology. In Paul's Rwanda example, what was revealed was moral bankruptcy. A lot of what has been revealed here is more of bankruptcy of empirical ideas. Unfettered markets don't lead to prosperity for all, they lead to out of control boom and bust cycles. Honestly, you'd think after a crash like this the Cato Institute would just close up shop.
While in the short term people may sacrifice environmental regulation, in the long term we are going to see more coordinated efforts to bring the beast of capitalism under control. The new era of regulation will come when environmental consciousness is more deeply embedded than in FDRs time and backed by richer knowledge of natural systems. In the long run this could lead to the interests of the more than human world to be better accounted for in our decision making.
I am afraid that, unfortunately, he (Rob) is right. Insecurity breeds fear and interferes with clear thinking. Or ecological ethics.
I thought you might be interested in my question and Dr. Schaller's response regarding the electronic interview we had at CSU last Monday night. As you can see he used the "We consume too much" reason that is supposed to explain most of our environmental degradation. And then he uses the Ghandi story metaphor which is the other half of the politically safe language that most major enviro figures use.
As I have have been struggling to some how accurately describe in response to this argument, this commits a fallacy by using as an implicit premise that there is no Rawlsian social minimum which people have an "economic right" to and I believe most reasonable person's do not object to. The Ghandi reference implies that it is moral to move toward a state of affairs in which average person's are living in a loin cloth just barely alive in order to 'make room' for billions of more people and perhaps save some of the environment as well. But this is not the real belief of most humans who do not object to Chinese and Indian citizens increasing their living standards to perhaps half to that of average Americans. What we are left with of course is that the number of humans on earth does matter. What crudely proves this is that plugging very green life style answers in environmental footprint programs indicates that a footprint half the size of the average American's would require 2 earth's if everyone of the current 6 billion humans lived at this very green social minimum.
I am however heartened that as a fellow carnivore biologist that Schaller has similarly arrived at the conclusion that we need to have at the national level very public dialogue about long term social goals and arrive at long term end or steady state national land use plans. This approximately accords with the underlying assumptions of my other species landrights thesis.
I am thinking about how I might respond if that is possible. I don't want to be too confrontational because Schaller is one of my heroes and he has done a lot of good with his present rhetorical strategy. And well I've not worked with jaguars yet.
land use plans.
> From: hgrisham@INDYZOO.com
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Date: Mon, 6 Oct 2008 11:20:17 -0400
> Subject: RE: Question for Dr. Schaller
> Hi Winthrop,
> Sorry for the delay, but after the program Dr. Schaller had to complete a speaking tour and now he is in Brazil working with jaguars, but he personally wrote a response that he wanted me to pass on to you:
> This is an intriguing and difficult question. Two points here are relevant:
> 1. Much of the increase in countries you mention is due to immigration.
> 2. The population growth curve is much more moderate than the steep rise in consumption of resources where almost everyone buys more, whether needed or not, and wastes horrendous amounts. People forget that everything they do is an ecological act with an impact on resources, whether you flip on a light or drink a cup of coffee.
> Countries need a land-use plan and we need a land ethic. To use Aldo Leopold's term - Every community needs to protect and preserve its landscape upon which it, as well as animals and plants depend. To do this should be the minimum obligation of every community, morally and legally. A goal is to locate a culture that accommodates the natural world, one that treats nature with respect and responsibility, not with greed and apathy. In short, each country - and the world - needs a collective vision. That's the dream. If everyone contributes with ever-lasting commitment, we can retain a healthy environment.
> Gandhi - "There is enough in the world for everyone's need, not enough for everyone's greed."
> Best regards,
> George Schaller
> Heather Grisham
> Outreach Specialist
> Indianapolis Zoo
> 1200 West Washington Street
> Indianapolis, IN 46222-0309
> 317-630-5114 Fax
> Indianapolis Zoo 1988-2008
> Celebrating 20 Extraordinary Years in White River State Park Before
> printing this e-mail, think green and conserve paper.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
> Sent: Monday, September 29, 2008 7:16 PM
> To: Heather Grisham; email@example.com
> Subject: Question for Dr. Schaller
> Winthrop Staples has submitted the the following question from the 'A Life in the Wild Webcast Site':
> US CENSUS Bureau Projections indicate that the same leaders whose lack of foresight brought us the mortgage finance meltdown - plan to continue similar reckless policies that will at least double and perhaps quadruple America's population by year 2100.
> Endangered species biologists I know are discouraged, because major environmental groups will not question the US economic growth policy of adding 30 million more wildlife habitat consumers every decade.
> Do you have any suggestions about how we can make environmental leaders start a discussion about population increase in wealthy industrialized countries - like the USA, Canada, and Australia.
> Winthrop Staples - Univ of Alaska - Fairbanks graduate
Thanks for the comments!
I don't think the environmentalist cheering for a recession is in quite the same position as the fundamentalist Christian waiting for the apocalypse. The latter believes in a bogus fantasy, with no basis in reality. The former notes the reality that economic growth destroys nature, and cheers accordingly.
You use words like "callous" in your comments. But isn't it callous for humans to destroy wild nature? Or has someone proven the truth of anthropocentrism: human inconvenience and suffering is a terrible thing; the destruction or disappearance of wild nature is unimportant?
From: Robert Kirkman [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
> I don't think the environmentalist cheering for a recession is in quite the same position as the fundamentalist Christian waiting for the apocalypse. The latter believes in a bogus fantasy, with no basis in reality. The former notes the reality that economic growth destroys nature, and cheers accordingly.
I think the analogy is sound, at least based on my memory of what it was like to be an evangelical Christian way back in my wasted youth. The common thread is that we, the believers, are frustrated by those who don't believe. We look forward to the Big Bad Event that will finally teach those non-believers who's right. It will be our vindication and our revenge, all at once.
> You use words like "callous" in your comments. But isn't it callous for humans to destroy wild nature? Or has someone proven the truth of anthropocentrism: human inconvenience and suffering is a terrible thing; the destruction or disappearance of wild nature is unimportant?
Even setting aside the question of anthropocentrism, I think it is callous to celebrate an event that will cause suffering and the waste of human potential. Even if we were convinced intellectually that the only way for the human species or the project of civilization to continue is at a reduced level of population, it seems to me we should regard that as fundamentally tragic, something to be faced with solemnity and real care for those who must inevitably suffer (including, very likely, ourselves).
Whatever the status of the anthropocentrism/non-anthropocentrism debate, any celebration of events that bring about real human suffering simply invites the charge of ecofascism, a charge that could well stick.
Robert Kirkman, Ph.D.
Georgia Institute of Technology
You can't set aside the question of anthropocentrism: it is central to the debate.
Two people look at economic growth in Georgia post-WWII. To one person, it is a great increase in human wealth, resources to help people live better lives. Sure, there are some "environmental problems," and we should deal with them. But these are relatively trivial; certainly unimportant, compared to the great opportunities that have been created.
To a second person, perhaps a biologist or an artist, ugly sprawl has swallowed up a good part of the Georgia landscape, irretrievably. The state has lost a lot of biodiversity, and a lot of what made it unique and interesting. Sure, there are certain opportunities that exist now that didn't a few decades ago, because wealth brings new opportunities (the Atlanta ballet, new programs at University of Georgia, etc.). But most of this economic growth is pointless: bigger houses, bigger freeways, more people consuming more stuff.
I assume, for purposes of argument, that both people can agree that the change in status for African-Americans is unalloyed progress. That is not what is at issue. The issue is the value of all this increased wealth and economic activity. And how we answer this, in turn, will depend importantly on whether or not we are anthropocentrists.
You seem to be a skeptic about nonanthropocentric value, but credulous about the benefits of economic activity in improving people's lives. Do you know that a recession would cause great suffering and waste of human potential in America? Do you know that economic growth makes us happier and more successful at maximizing our human potential? Do you know that the benefits of growth to people (who after all are the ones who are meant to benefit from all this growth) are worth more than the costs to nonhumans beings (who, I repeat, are harmed by all this economic growth)?
If you know all these things, how do you know them? If you don't know these things, why are you so sure that it is bad to cheer for a recession?
Now, I am with you when you speak of a "tragic dimension" to these questions: which I parse as the idea that there may be unavoidable trade-offs here of very important things: human opportunities vs. the existence of other species, for example. And perhaps your main point is just that it would be bad form to cheer an economic downturn which harms vulnerable people. Whatever the environmental benefits, we shouldn't be happy about human misfortune. Furthermore, it ain't the big-shot developers who will take it on the chin the most in a recession: it is construction workers or day laborers. They're the ones who could really suffer.
I'm with you on this. But I hope you can also find some sympathy for all those nonhuman beings we're driving off the face of the earth, in good times and in bad. We need to find our way to a position that upholds limits to the human economic project and protections for the nonhuman beings who still exist. I'm coming to believe that in order to do this, we will need to rethink our economic philosophies from the ground up. Because our civilization's default position is that limitless economic growth is not just a good, but the good.
My guess is that anyone putting forth a robust alternative to mainstream economic dogma will be called either an "ecofascist" or a "green socialist." Maybe both at once! But I hope that doesn't discourage people from working away at the project.
To put it simply: you're right and Schaller is wrong. Congratulations!
Of course, you are helped by the fact that a significant part of Schaller's message is gibberish.
"People forget that everything they do is an ecological act with an impact on resources, whether you flip on a light or drink a cup of coffee." Yeah, that stuff is REAL important, compared to how many children we have.
"we need a land ethic. To use Aldo Leopold's term": but that does not mean, apparently, that we need to have fewer children than Leopold and his wife (4).
"Gandhi - "There is enough in the world for everyone's need, not enough for everyone's greed."" Was Schaller wearing a loincloth during the transmission, by any chance?
Where did Gandhi get his Ph.D. in ecology, by the way? And hasn't the population of India increased over 3X since he was assassinated at the end of WWII?
"If everyone contributes with ever-lasting commitment . . .". Absolute gibberish. Not the kind of hard thinking we need in putting together a land ethic.
Thanks for all your comments on this listserv following my original posting, "hooray for the recession?" I've collected them all in a single tidy document; if anyone would like to have it, just email me.
Reading all the postings over in succession, the diversity of intuitions about this is striking.
My own views on the growth issue are colored by having lived in some of the fastest growing areas of the United States, including northeast Georgia in the 1980s and Colorado's front range since 1999. I've known a lot of good people working hard to buy up habitat and create "smart growth" and otherwise mitigate the impacts of economic growth on the environment; even helped out their efforts. We've had our little successes, but our efforts seem mighty puny compared to the landscape-changing growth that has washed over these areas during this time.
A number of us are trying to keep a dam from being built that would take half the water out of the beautiful river running through Fort Collins and turn it into a sluggish algae-filled ditch. We've put together a really impressive effort; great alternatives analyses, using the services of dozens of scientists and economists; big public relations efforts; energetically lobbying various government officials and agencies . . . All the usual stuff. But what might actually stop this terrible project is the downturn in the housing market, the slowing of growth. The communities putting up money for the dam are worried about paying for it, without sufficient growth, so some of them are thinking about pulling out.
In the end, I have no faith that a society so strongly in the grip of the "mo' is mo' betta' " mentality will do right by the environment. The polls might continue to say that a majority of Americans call themselves environmentalists or want to protect the environment--but when gas hits $4, let's put those drilling rigs in off the coasts, on Colorado's Roan Plateau, in ANWR, and anywhere else there's oil and gas, by God.
In any case, thanks again for all your responses. I hope your candidates win on November 4th!
I see this morning you sent out a summary of the good discussion you started. I wrote this last night but hadn't quite finished my thought before I went to bed. So here it is now. Thanks for forwarding your exchange with Kirkman to the ISEE listserv.
I'm sympathetic with your premise that a down turn in the activities of an industrial society means a reduction of the damage it does to the non-human world. And many, but not all, of us in the rich countries can certainly take the hit to our consumptive lifestyles that accompanies any slowing of economic growth.
But on the other hand, it seems to me that a lot of human people will suffer unjustly and this is not something to root for. I take it on your view the thing to be cheered is the refuge that nature gets from the damage it otherwise suffers under our extractive and industrial practices. You do not cheer the hurt some humans suffer. This is a fair distinction, I think. But that's the whole issue, isn't it, if these two things can be meaningfully separated? Does being a friend of Earth commit one as an enemy of human people?
I mean, which environmental ethicist could not cheer for nature getting a break (full stop)? But this seems different still from cheering for the recession because I don't think that this recession is going to stop growth-oriented capitalist economies from destroying nature (not the wild - on my view - but nature as humans first found it.) It's just temporary - the markets will bounce back. Consider one analogy: in an important game, when the other team is winning. An injury to a player on the other team advances your goal as a team to win, but an injured player on the other team is not really something a good person would cheer for.
A slowdown in the economy temporarily reduces the pace at which nature is losing, but it won't change the end result. How can we play something besides a zero-sum game?
these are very helpful comments, getting to the meat of the issue, I think.
Let me interlineate a few comments below.
From: Allen Thompson [athomp6@CLEMSON.EDU]
I see this morning you sent out a summary of the good discussion you started. I wrote this last night but hadn't quite finished my thought before I went to bed. So here it is now. Thanks for forwarding your exchange with Kirkman to the ISEE listserv.
I'm sympathetic with your premise that a down turn in the activities of an industrial society means a reduction of the damage it does to the non-human world. And many, but not all, of us in the rich countries can certainly take the hit to our consumptive lifestyles that accompanies any slowing of economic growth.
But on the other hand, it seems to me that a lot of human people will suffer unjustly and this is not something to root for. Yes, definitely. As my dad said, "recession is not good for the little guy." It's also true though that some of our growth-induced environmental damage will be bad for the little guy, above all with global warming, possibly really hammering the poorest of the poor in Africa and Asia..
I take it on your view the thing to be cheered is the refuge that nature gets from the damage it otherwise suffers under our extractive and industrial practices. You do not cheer the hurt some humans suffer. This is a fair distinction, I think. But that's the whole issue, isn't it, if these two things can be meaningfully separated?
Does being a friend of Earth commit one as an enemy of human people? Maybe this is the crux of the issue. As an ethicist, I'd like to articulate a position where we do right by both. Even more, I'd like to see us create societies that do right by both.
Is this possible? I don't think you can even articulate a theory that does right by both, without embracing economic limits. Otherwise, you can't do right by nature.
Furthermore, I think it is an open question whether people are up to the task of creating societies that do right by both. I see a lot of room for skepticism that we're up to the challenge.
If I can advocate for limiting the number of people (first ending population growth, then humanely reducing our numbers) and advocate for reducing our per capita consumption substantially, then I think I can be a friend to people and to wild nature. But if I can't advocate those things, then the two are just not compatible.
I mean, which environmental ethicist could not cheer for nature getting a break (full stop)? But this seems different still from cheering for the recession because I don't think that this recession is going to stop growth-oriented capitalist economies from destroying nature I think you're right about that
(not the wild - on my view - but nature as humans first found it.) It's just temporary - the markets will bounce back. Consider one analogy: in an important game, when the other team is winning. An injury to a player on the other team advances your goal as a team to win, but an injured player on the other team is not really something a good person would cheer for. Yes, and I share your intuitions about that: in the context of "games." But protecting nature isn't a game, but a matter of life or extinction. In my opinion, it is a matter of genocide: the destruction of whole other "tribes" and ways of life.
It all comes down, I think, to whether we can see our way forward to a different kind of economy. Wasn't it you who suggested I read Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy"? Or was that Jeremy? Good book! I 'm teaching it this semester. I think we need more of this sort of imagination and vision applied to economics. The mainstream media is a desert on the topic: just an endless repetition of "growth is good" filtered through the latest news.
A slowdown in the economy temporarily reduces the pace at which nature is losing, but it won't change the end result. How can we play something besides a zero-sum game? That's the question! My tentative answer: change the counters. Instead of maximizing wealth, maximize human arete, which does not depend on maximizing wealth. Maximize that sum on our end. On the end of wild nature, maximize the resources needed for it to flourish. And make our economic decisions accordingly!
Is this possible?
Of course what we are saying is that although what ecologists call negative feedback for example caused by less vegetation per deer in a population over long term K reflected
in single as opposed to twin births or increased morality is some pain or suffering, it is to the long
term advantage of the human population to get these signals in order to motivate behavior change
that can prevent much larger future suffering. So a recession and the pain it caused would be equivalent
to a good for a population 'tight linkage' in a nonhuman population.
Well anyway the rearing to the ecofascism charge indicates as I am increasingly realizing that it
is necessary to innoculate oneself from it by bringing in the suffering that will be caused to common
people by enviro degradation, and also the increased probability of human extinction if current
perpetual growth policies continue. As you suggest it could be very fortuitous for the human species
if the current monetary debt fueled crisis caused industrial societies to realize that they are also destroying
natural capital and incurring massive ecological debt that can not be easily recovered due to current
perpetual growth policies. Win
Published on Tuesday, October 7, 2008 by Inter Press Service
Environment: Twisted As Unnaturally as the Banks
by Julio Godoy
BARCELONA - The financial meltdown in most of the industrialised world presents an opportunity for a new economic model that would end short-sighted search for high returns, according to leading economists attending the IUCN World Conservation Congress here.
Grameen Bank director and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus speaks during the inauguration of the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona October 5, 2008.(REUTERS/Albert Gea - Spain)
"Right now, the most conservative leaders in the industrialised world, such as George W. Bush of the U.S. and Angela Merkel of Germany are allocating public money to save the banks from bankruptcy," Alejandro Nadal, a Mexican economist attending the congress told IPS.
"This rediscovery of the role of the state as a major actor in economic affairs, and the perspective of a new regulation of international financial transactions opens a window of opportunity to rethink neoliberalism in the developing world," Nadal said.
"This is not only an academic question, it is an extreme political matter," he said. And it can have an environmental dimension, he said. Nadal urged the IUCN to coordinate a global effort among civil society organisations to rethink the role of the state in linking macro-economic and environmental policies.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), organiser of the Barcelona congress that continues until Oct. 15, is the oldest and largest global environmental network, with a membership of more than 1,000 governments and NGOs, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.
"It is time for civil society and environmental organisations to take the world," Pavan Sukhdev, an Indian economist and co-author of 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Sustainability' told IPS.
Unlike earlier crises such as the stock exchange crash of 1987, or the currency crisis of the 1990s in Latin America, South East Asia and Russia, the present crisis has come amidst a new awareness of the dramatic environmental costs of neo-liberalism, Sukhdev said.
"Back then, most of us had no idea of the environmental crisis lurking in nature. But now we are aware that we cannot go on with this economic model based on the destruction of biodiversity and the abuse of most of humankind.
"Now we have the wind on our backs. And when you have wind in your sails, you sail. Let's sail towards a new economic model, one that respects both nature and humanity, instead of this one that destroys them."
Joan Martínez Alier, professor of economics and economic history at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said the present economic crisis "will mean a welcome change to the totally unsustainable increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the last few years."
Carbon dioxide is considered by scientists to be the principal greenhouse gas arising from the combustion of fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases are thought to cause global warming, and consequently climate change and the decimation of biodiversity.
Alier believes the economic crisis, by reducing industrial and transport activities, offers an opportunity to put the economy on a different trajectory regarding material and energy consumption, and could therefore help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"The crisis might also offer an opportunity for restructuring social institutions in industrialised countries, with the objective of living well without the imperative of economic growth," Alier said. "Happiness is not necessarily a function of economic growth, above a certain level of income."
But in developing countries, the economic crisis could damage the environment for the converse reason. Since below a certain income level wellbeing is dependent on economic growth, governments may push economic activity regardless of its environmental costs in order to overcome the economic crisis.
"The global economy could suffer a deep and protracted recession as a consequence of the financial crisis," Argentine economist Alain Cibils told IPS. "As the crisis unfolds, priorities will be put on recovery for growth and employment, and controlling inflation, instead of forestalling climate change. Protecting biodiversity, aquifers and soil erosion may be seen as non-priorities."
Cibils said that the neoliberal economic model applied in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and other Latin American countries since the late 1980s has given priority to macroeconomic policies aimed at reducing inflation and fiscal deficits, and increasing export, regardless of social and environmental costs.
"These policies are epitomised in Argentina by intensive year-round agriculture concentrated on a couple of crops such as soybean and maize, and priority to short-term high-returns, very much as in financial globalisation," Cibils said.
The land area cultivated with soybean has more than doubled in Argentina from seven million hectares in 1997 to 16 million hectares in 2008. The land for wheat cultivation has remained constant.
"Soybean growing has taken place in Argentina at the expense of native forests," Cibils said. "Year-round agriculture has produced severe soil nutrient depletion and soil degradation, and a substantial loss of biodiversity."
I enjoyed the exchange and your ideas. I think that one of the biggest probems environmentalism faces is explaining what kind of an economy envrionmentalism envisions. We need an economy that allows us to get better, not bigger. A steady state economy is the wrong word because it suggest no improvement. Economic activity should improve people's (and non-people's lives) and growth is an entirely different goal.
I'd like a copy of the exchange.