Flimsy Sanity: Who Among Them Will Challenge Capitalism? |

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, June 17, 2013

Who Among Them Will Challenge Capitalism? |

Who Among Them Will Challenge Capitalism? | Red State Rebels
The message from all this is clear: any alternative to growth remains
unthinkable, even 40 years after the American ecologists Paul Ehrlich
and John Holdren made some blindingly obvious points about the
arithmetic of relentless consumption.

The Ehrlich equation, I = PAT, says simply that the impact (I) of
human activity on the planet is the product of three factors: the size
of the population (P), its level of affluence (A) expressed as income
per person, and a technology factor (T), which is a measure of the
impact on the planet associated with each dollar we spend.
With today’s global income, achieving the necessary carbon footprint
would mean getting the T factor for CO2 down to 0.1 tonnes of CO2 per
thousand US dollars — a fivefold improvement. While that is no walk
in the park, it is probably doable with state-of-the-art technology
and a robust policy commitment. There is one big thing missing from
this picture, however: economic growth. Factor it in, and the idea
that technological ingenuity can save us from climate disaster looks
an awful lot more challenging.
Instead, they bombard us with adverts [advertisements] cajoling us to
insulate our homes, turn down our thermostats, drive a little less,
walk a little more. The one piece of advice you will not see on a
government list is “buy less stuff”. Buying an energy-efficient TV is
to be applauded; not buying one at all is a crime against society.
Agreeing reluctantly to advertising standards is the sign of a mature
society; banning advertising altogether (even to children) is
condemned as “culture jamming”. Consuming less may be the single
biggest thing you can do to save carbon emissions, and yet no one
dares to mention it. Because if we did, it would threaten economic
growth, the very thing that is causing the problem in the first place.

Visceral fear is not without foundation. If we do not go out shopping,
then factories stop producing, and if factories stop producing then
people get laid off. If people get laid off, then they do not have any
money. And if they don’t have any money they cannot go shopping. A
falling economy has no money in the public purse and no way to service
public debt. It struggles to maintain competitiveness and it puts
people’s jobs at risk. A government that fails to respond
appropriately will soon find itself out of office.

This is the logic of free-market capitalism: the economy must grow
continuously or face an unpalatable collapse. With the environmental
situation reaching crisis point, however, it is time to stop
pretending that mindlessly chasing economic growth is compatible with
sustainability. We need something more robust than a comfort blanket
to protect us from the damage we are wreaking on the planet. Figuring
out an alternative to this doomed model is now a priority before a
global recession, an unstable climate, or a combination of the two
forces itself upon us.


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