So, this series of posts have gotten a lot longer than I originally planned. Perhaps that is a good thing, perhaps not. Honestly, it just feels like I have a lot to say on this matter, because it is one of those things that are near and dear to my heart. I care about the environment, and I just wanted to say a few more things on this topic.
First off, I want to say that I am not anti-civilization in any way. It has its good points and its bad, for sure, but I don’t think we can just “do away” with it, nor do I think it is a practical or even a viable solution. Such an action would result in millions of lives, and likely environmental destruction by the remaining people. I cannot and will not advocate any “solution” that involves the deaths of millions of humans, and count non-humans beyond count.
Second, I will say that I am not strictly anti-markets or anti-industry. Both of these things, like civilization, are two-edged swords, and have their positive aspects as well as really terrible ones.
However, I want to be honest about one thing. I am a sci-fi nerd, and I have always dreamed of a future where humanity reaches for the stars. As much as I dreamer as I am, I also realize that such a world has certain implications.
1) I have no desire to go back to 19th century technology, or any century before that. I do not wish for a medieval world, anymore that I wish for a post-apocalyptic world. This is not to say I believe in “progress”, or that any so called future will be better or worse than today. That being said,
2) Having starships and anything “spacey”, implies a level of technology that is within reach. No matter how much we wish for it, a blacksmith’s guild will never be able to build a starship, at least not on any realistic timescale. We will need science and industry to accomplish such things. We will need computers, and metal, and many other things these things imply, mining and market economies. Trade and manufacturing will be needed.
That being said, there as some serious changes that need to be made. As the title implies, this post is about the environment, and making sure ecosystems and nature have a place in the future I envision. I admit, I am a big fan of forests and mountains, plants and animals, and I want to make sure these things are around in the future.
So, let’s talk about capitalism. Now, capitalism comes in a lot of forms, some are better, some are worse, but all with inherent flaws in the system.
As such, for a brief introduction; let’s turn to trusty ol’ Wikipedia:
“Capitalism is an economic system and a mode of production in which trade, industries, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned…. Central characteristics of capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labour and, in some situations, fully competitive markets.”
Okay, so just a few points here. Trade and industries, the “means of production” are mostly privately owned. That isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, but it can be. You get abuses such as; wealth inequality, where a small portion of individuals or small groups privately hold a vast majority of the means of production, or things such as land, water or other such basic needs.
Wealth itself is not necessarily a bad thing either. However, wealth inequality is a big part of the problem here, especially in America. I want to be clear here, I am talking mostly about the way America does capitalism. Generally, here in America we have a neoliberal leaning to many aspects of our economy. As such, Wikipedia says;
“Neoliberalism is a term whose usage and definition have changed over time.
“Since the 1980s, the term has been used primarily by scholars and critics in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, whose advocates support extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”
Privatization and deregulation are the big ones here, and led to many of the abuses that effect the environment. Our system encourages the growth of the private sector, and thus more privatization of the means of production. Deregulation is another big part, because it means that many private companies and industries are not accountable to anything but their profit-margin. That is also a big part of the problem.
I have always thought that the environment and humans are more important than profit. Or perhaps, the question should be “Whose Profit?” Does the private sector work to profit the very few, or the many?
As Spock once said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
I have wrote about the Nordic Model here in the past, and I think the Nordic countries are on the right track, or at very least, a model we can point to and say “they are doing things better than we are.”
The Nordic countries have gotten many things right; higher taxes to support large public sectors, environmental regulation, universal education and healthcare.
That being said, I do not not want to come across as if I am pro-capitalism. There are a lot of things I would like to see change, for the sake of our environment, and for the sake of the future. However, we need to be honest about where we are going, and what we will need to get there. The Nordic Model gives us a real world example we can point to, and emulate. We can say “what they are doing is working, and that would be a good next step.”
First off, we will still need markets, and industry and trade. I have made this point, so moving on. Next, I feel a “new balance” will need to be created. I want to be clear, I am no radical, and no revolutionary. I don’t want to see the whole system burn, or throw the baby out with the bath water. There are some things we can use, some things we can recycle, and more than a few things that must be replaced. I think systems like the Nordic model are a good place to look, and a way to at least begin “socializing” the capitalism we do have.
However, the Nordic model may not be the end goal, but perhaps just a step along a path to something else. For all the economic and material benefits that capitalism has brought, it still needs serious work and reform. I think people should come before profits.
As I have said before, we need to redistribute wealth in a massive way. Taxation for the wealthiest individuals would be a good start. Also, put this new revenue into social programs, such as Universal Healthcare and Education. However, we would need even more global solutions for environmental problems, and not just the piece-meal regulations of nation-states. But some kind of wide reaching regulation that is enforceable. Not just declarations, or statements, but something that says “this is how we will treat the environment, and if you don’t, well I do have this really big stick.”
Something like the UN, with a little more teeth.
We must also rethink how we meet our material demands, both the means of production as well as the means of extraction. Here too, I would like to see a “new balance” found. It is a trait of capitalism that the means of production are held privately, and this privatization is a growing trend in American culture. I say we slow that trend, and maybe in the long run even reverse it. This is not to say that I advocate the wholesale throwing out of private enterprise, or that even “for profit” production is something that should be done away with. However, I am saying that we need public, common, and “for use” production as well. Also, with the points above, even “for profit” production would be heavily taxed and regulated, and geared more towards the common good than individual gain.
There are several reasons why I do not advocate the wholesale elimination of private enterprise. First off, look at companies like SpaceX. Private enterprise can be a source of innovation, as well as efficiency. Nor do I see anything wrong with wealth per say, or individuals creating their own businesses and earning their own success.
That being said, I do not support such enterprises raping the environment, or exploiting their workers to create more money for themselves. This is the regulation I was talking about. Sure, I am alright with private enterprise, and even some folks earning wealth through this endeavor, but such an endeavor would have to work towards the common good. Environmental regulations as well as worker’s protections would be paramount. I would even add collective-bargaining (Unions) and Profit Sharing into the mix.
Nor am I opposed to things like wage labor, or working to earn your own pay. However, going back to the point above, such labor and wages must be fair. I support the idea of a Living Wage, not just a minimum wage. Also, we will need occupational specialization in the future. We will need scientists, engineers, and a whole host of other people to build the future I would like to see.
The question is, how can we do this responsibly, and with the good of the planet in mind?