Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two modest fixes for 2011

New Years is coming. As a believer in nonviolence and preserving the environment, I'd like to propose just two modest ways to fix the entire planet in 2011.
One, stop using, preparing to use, and threatening to use violence.

Two, start internalizing most costs into all manufactured items.

In order to accomplish the first one, we need to get much better at practicing and promoting nonviolence. After all, violence is used to solve problems, not usually just gratuitously. Nonviolent problem-solving methods are cheaper and more effective (unless someone is seeking domination, theft or other injustice, at which time violence is the only really possible method).
In order to accomplish the second goal of internalizing costs of manufactured items, we need better global governance over trade, which is part of what the global justice movement was trying to accomplish, before it succumbed to the rage and stupidity of using quasi-violent methods itself, which relegated it to the ineffectual margins.

As currently organized, the corporation doesn’t have to pay many of its bills. I know this sounds strange, but it doesn’t have to pay for much of what it uses in, for example, clear air or water; and it doesn’t have to clean up after itself. Economists call “externalities” these massive costs passed on from corporations to all of us” (Lappé, 2006, p. 82-83).

Lappé was writing about the US corporation but the same is true for the unique Chinese commiecapitalistcorporations too. Slave labor--or virtual slave labor in China--is a big part of the equation, but so is environmental unaccountability. Chinese standards are getting better about putting toxic and hazardous materials into consumer items, primarily due to our own EPA and other consumer protection agencies, as well as their analogs in other countries. They are still lousy at internalizing the costs of manufacturing that involve polluting their own workers and environment.

There are only a few European countries that worry about the carbon footprint of manufactured goods, which is just another externalized cost, especially when the US military is the primary security force for the world's oil. Is that ironic? We US taxpayers are making Exxon far more profitable by allowing them to externalize most of their security costs while at the same time making the oil more secure for corporations based in all other countries.

Gosh, that brings us back to the question of violence, doesn't it?

So this is yet another reason to reduce the carbon footprint, and thus the externalized costs, of the goods we trade. There are huge areas in which all of us can improve, all nations, all consumers, all corporations, all regulators. These might include (but are not limited to):
  • transport
  • refrigeration or heating
  • packaging
  • manufacturing
  • disposal
Of course each of these categories comprise many subcategories, and each one is logically divided between sales points--so, for example, the transport in a cellphone would only include the transportation costs of the components as they came from their own sources and the transport of the finished phones to stores. The transportation costs of the components of those cellphones would be incorporated into the prices of those components to the manufacturer of the finished phone. All these would work backward to the oil suppliers, who would themselves be paying all costs and in turn charging them on. Oil would rapidly become more expensive and the Adam Smith (1723-1790)/Milton Friedman (1912-2006) invisible hand of the market would work to make us all carbon-frugal instead of carbon-wastrel. This would lower our environmental impact greatly, make oil wars and oil spills a vastly reduced problem, and this mutually reinforcing dynamic (recycling swords into plowshares on a mass scale) would go a long way toward making our Global Humankindness Index increase.

Impossible? No, improbable. We will either make these changes or humankind will cease to exist, out with a nuclear bang or an environmental whimper. This is literally do or die. If that makes humanity an improbable species, then our evolutionary experiment will end. It is up to us. Do we think about the future of the children for the next decade or the next hundred years and the long evolutionary road ahead?
Do we have vision or are we so near-sighted we kick the can down the road, making it more likely our species will not be able to kick the can because we kick the bucket instead?
2011 is a great year to make some great changes.


Lappé, Frances Moore (2006), Democracy’s edge: Choosing to save our country by bringing democracy to life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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