Articles

Wall Street vs. Earth
By Dennis Goodenough
August 19, 2011
Madison.com 

I want gas to cost six bucks per gallon. On top of that I don’t think it will be a good thing for the U.S. to “create more jobs” and “grow the economy.” When gas is cheap people just burn more, and rekindling conventional “growth economics” will exacerbate the destruction of the natural world.

Anyone who can’t see the connection between “consumption” and the resulting loss of the biosphere hasn’t been paying attention. Record heat in the southern U.S., drought and famine in Somalia, loss of rain forest, etc. I could fill the page.

A civilized economy is not sustainable if the natural environment is not sustained. Further, the world’s current economic and political upheavals foreshadow a planet already at the environmental “tipping point.” Whether we wipe out the atmosphere, the oceans, or kill each other in “tribal warfare” over dwindling resources, it will matter little. When the carrying capacity of the planet is exceeded, economic collapse looks like a holiday compared to environmental collapse.

Multinational corporations and international bankers (the masters of the universe) scramble to sequester resources for their own personal enrichment and power. These guys have a worldview in which “biosphere dynamics” just don’t exist. The same goes for garden-variety economists. While raiding what remains of the U.S. and European economies, they simultaneously advance toward the 2 billion “new consumers” in China and India. As for the environment, if they succeed in selling an Asian version of the American dream to the people of those countries, the fat lady will have sung.

The current financial/political circumstances of the world should focus our attention on finding a solution to humankind’s most pressing dilemma: a fair and, most of all, sustainable way of allocating remaining resources to everyone. For Americans this would mean the lifestyle of the “middle class” is over. India’s and China’s economic assent will no longer let us wantonly consume the “trinkets” causing the “obesity” of the American dream. For the multinational tycoons who are swindling anyone and everyone in their quest for financial world domination, it means a number of them need to wind up in jail.

I have some ideas about navigating the future, although I doubt they would pass muster in today’s political climate. First the jobs. Currently, Citizen A works 60 hours a week while his neighbor, Citizen B, has no job. As long as there’s only so much work in this country, let’s spread it out evenly among everyone. Dropping the workweek from 40 to 32 hours would give the unemployed a job and the currently employed more time to have a beer.

Second, raise the minimum wage to, say, $12 per hour so Citizen B doesn’t have to go live under a bridge. Third, once a shorter workweek allows Citizens A and B to dump some of their respective stress, let’s all take a good look at why we need so much “stuff” in this country to be happy. Sociologists told us long ago that twice the property can’t make someone twice as happy.

Quality of life issues, rather than quantity of stuff, should head a new national discussion; and while we’re at it, let’s have a talk about “steady state, zero growth” economics before the biosphere teaches humans a nasty lesson.