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Rev04/2000
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Sustainable Development
A Crash Course
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RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY

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the following is taken directly from issues
#624 - Part 1
#625 - Part 2
 #626 - Part 3
of RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY
please read the notice

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SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT--PART 1

The phrase "sustainable development" was coined by the World
Commission on Environment and Development (the "Bruntland
Commission") in 1987. The Commission defined "sustainable
development" as material improvement to meet the needs of the
present generation without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs.[1]  This definition
emphasizes an important aspect of our ethical relationship to the
unborn, yet it remains too vague to be truly useful as a guide
for human activity because we cannot agree on the meaning of
"needs."  We can't really know what the "needs" of future
generations will be, and we can't even agree on what we ourselves
"need" vs. what we merely want.

Fortunately, more useful definitions of "sustainable development"
are coming into focus.  By "more useful" I mean definitions that
will allow us to reach agreement, thus giving us a common basis
for action. In his book BEYOND GROWTH,[2] economist Herman Daly
defines "sustainable development" as "development without growth
--without growth in throughput beyond environmental regenerative
and absorptive capacity."[2,pg.69]  This is an important
definition, worth examining.  Top of Page

First, let's look at "throughput."  Throughput is the flow of
materials and energy through the human economy.  It includes
everything we make and do.  When we speak of "growth" we are
talking about growth in throughput --people making (and throwing
away) more stuff and using more energy to do it.  The totality of
the human economy is throughput. It is calculated as the total
number of people multiplied by their consumption.

The "regenerative and absorptive capacity of the environment"
refers to the ability of the environment to provide (a) materials
for our use, and (b) places where we can throw our wastes.  This
gets a little more complicated.  It refers to two things --(1)
the ability of the environment to provide us with the
high-quality raw materials we need to make things, and (2) the
ability of the environment to break down our wastes and turn them
back into raw materials, an essential service.

Let's take waste first.  When we throw things away, nature begins
to take them apart and recycle them.  For example, when we throw
away wood, natural agents (called "decomposers"), such as
termites, begin to eat our wood waste and break it down into raw
materials --carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and so
forth.  Creatures such as earth worms use the termites' wastes as
raw materials for soil, which provides nutrients for new trees to
grow.  This is called the "detritus food chain" and it is
essential to life on earth, though largely invisible from a human
perspective.  The detritus food chain is made up of insects,
bacteria, funguses, and other creatures that most of us know
little about.  But without their workings, the world would become
overloaded with wastes and biological processes would become
clogged and stop working.[3]  If you've ever visited a modern hog
farm, you have an idea of what it means to exceed the capacity of
the local environment to absorb waste.  It is unpleasant and
hazardous.  Top of Page

A second major benefit that nature provides for us is
high-quality raw materials that we can use.  Herman Daly calls
these "natural capital," of which there are two kinds.  The first
kind of natural capital takes the form of a stock, a fixed
quantity, such as oil or coal or rich deposits of copper.  We can
use these stocks of natural capital at any rate we choose, but
when they are used up (dispersed into the environment as wastes),
they will no longer be available for our use, or for the use of
future generations.  (The second law of thermodynamics guarantees
that we can never take highly-dispersed atoms of, say, copper and
gather them back into a highly-concentrated copper deposit.  The
energy requirements of such an operation are simply too great. If
the second law didn't hold true, as Herman Daly says, we could
make windmills out of beach sand and use them to power machines
to extract gold from seawater.  Unfortunately, the second law
DOES hold true, and once we disperse highly-concentrated ores, we
cannot afford to reconcentrate them.)

The second kind of natural capital takes the form of a flow.  In
general these flows are continuous (though human bungling can
interrupt some of them).  Examples include sunlight, the capacity
of green plants to create carbohydrates by photosynthesis,
rainfall, and the production of fish in the oceans.  These forms
of natural capital are endlessly renewable but can only be used
at a certain rate --the rate at which nature provides them.
Example: So long as we cut trees at a certain rate, and no
faster, then nature will produce new trees fast enough to
maintain a constant supply of cuttable trees.  If we cut trees
faster than that, nature will not be able to keep up with us and
then people in the future will have fewer trees to meet their
needs.  The capacity of the Earth to support life will have been
diminished.  This is an example of exceeding the capacity of the
ecosystem to regenerate itself.

Growth, then, means quantitative increase in physical size.
Development, on the other hand, means qualitative change,
realization of potentialities, transition to a fuller or better
state.  On a planet such as Earth, which is finite and not
growing, there can be no such thing as "sustainable growth"
because growth will inevitably hit physical limits.  Because of
physical limits, growth of throughput is simply not sustainable
indefinitely.  But development CAN continue endlessly as we seek
to improve the quality of life for humans and for the other
creatures with which we share the planet.  Top of Page

To repeat, then, sustainable development means development
without growth in throughpout that exceeds the regenerative and
absorptive capacity of the environment.  Sustainable development
and the standard ideology of growth stand in contrast to each
other and, in fact, are incompatible with each other.

Thus to be sustainable, the human economy (our throughput) must
not exceed a certain size in relation to the global ecosystem
because it will start to diminish the capacity of the planet to
support humans (and other creatures).  If the human economy grows
too large, it begins to interfere with the natural services that
support all life --services such as photosynthesis, pollination,
purification of air and water, maintenance of climate, filtering
of excessive ultraviolet radiation, recycling of wastes, and so
forth.  Growth beyond that point will produce negative
consequences that exceed the benefits of increased throughput.

There is considerable evidence that the throughput of some parts
of the human economy has already exceeded the regenerative and
absorptive capacity of the environment.  The problem of climate
change and global warming is an example; it provides evidence
that we have exceeded the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb
our carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxide wastes.  Many of
the fresh water fish of the world now contain dangerously
elevated levels of toxic mercury because we humans have doubled
the amount of mercury normally present in the atmosphere
--evidence that we have exceeded earth's capacity to absorb our
mercury wastes.[4]   Depletion of the ozone layer is evidence
that we have exceeded the atmosphere's capacity to absorb our
chlorinated fluorocarbon (CFC) wastes.  This list can readily be
extended.

There is also considerable evidence that we have already
diminished several important stocks and flows of natural capital.
The U.S. economy, for example, is now dependent upon oil
imported from the Middle East because we have depleted our own
stocks of oil.  Most of the world's seventeen marine fisheries
are badly depleted --a flow of natural capital that we have
overharvested, in some cases nearly to the point of extinction.
(See REHW #587.)  This list, too, can readily be extended. Top of Page

One particular limit seems worth noting at this point.  In 1986,
a group of biologists at Stanford University analyzed the total
amount of photosynthetic activity on all the available land on
Earth, and asked what proportion of it have humans now
appropriated for their own use (mainly through agriculture)?[5]
The answer is 40%.  This leaves 60% for the use of non-humans.
But the human population is presently doubling every 35 or 40
years.  After one more doubling, humans will be using 80% of all
the products of sunlight, and shortly after that, 100%.  Don't
get me wrong --humans are important.  But I don't know very many
people who think it would be smart to deny every wild creature
access to the basic food and habitat resources of the planet just
to keep the human economy expanding.  Even if we thought we had
the right to use 100% of the green products of sunlight for our
own purposes, the human population would have to stop growing at
that point because there wouldn't be any more sunlight to
appropriate.  That time is less than one human lifetime (70
years) away.

Thus we soon will reach --or more likely have already reached
--the point at which growth of the human economy does more harm
than good. What is needed under these circumstances is to
stabilize total consumption, total throughput.

There are two basic rationales for doing this, one based in
science and one in religion.  Herman Daly offers both.  We have
heard the scientific argument, above, which says that the
capacity of the Earth to support life is being --or soon will be
--diminished by growth of throughput and that sooner or later we
can only hurt ourselves and our children if we persistt on this
path of unsustainability.  The religious argument goes like this:

"I believe that God the Creator exists now, as well as in the
past and future, and is the source of our obligation to Creation,
including other creatures, and especially including members of
our own species who are suffering.  Our ability and inclination
to enrich the present at the expense of the future, and of other
species, is as real and as sinful as our tendency to further
enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor.  To hand back to
God the gift of Creation in a degraded state capable of
supporting less life, less abundantly, and for a shorter future,
is surely a sin.  If it is a sin to kill and to steal, then
surely it is a sin to destroy carrying capacity --the capacity of
the earth to support life now and in the future.  Sometimes we
find ourselves in an impasse in which sins are unavoidable.  We
may sometimes have to sacrifice future life in order to preserve
present life --but to sacrifice future life to protect present
luxury and extravagance is a very different
matter."[2,pgs.222-223.]
                                                --Peter Montague
(National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO

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SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, PART 2 Top of Page

In his excellent short book, BEYOND GROWTH,[1] economist Herman
Daly says that every economy faces 3 problems: allocation,
distribution, and scale.[2]  What do these terms mean?

Allocation refers to the apportioning of resources among
different products --in other words, deciding whether we should
produce more corn, more cars, more bicycles, more jelly beans, or
more hospitals. Because resources are limited, we can't have
everything, so we must allocate our resources in some way to
provide the goods that people want and can afford to pay for.
The way we do this is "the market" which sets relative prices for
goods.[3]  Prices act as signals that cause people to put more
(or fewer) resources into creating particular products that other
people are willing and able to buy.

The second problem faced by every economy is distribution
--apportioning goods (and the resources they embody) among
different people, not among different products.  Nearly everyone
agrees that goods should be distributed in a way that is fair
(though we may disagree on the precise meaning of "fair").  If
you don't believe this statement is true, think of an extreme
case.  If one person received 99% of all the benefits provided by
the U.S. economy, and all other citizens had to divvy up the
remaining 1%, almost everyone would agree that this was an
"unfair" or unsatisfactory distribution of benefits. The vast
majority of people would say, "There is something wrong with this
picture."  This extreme example is intended to show that nearly
everyone agrees that there are "fair" and "unfair" distributions
of goods.  What is a "fair" distribution --and how we should
achieve it --are the main questions that give rise to "politics." Top of Page

Unfortunately the market cannot solve the problem of fair
distribution. Left alone, a market economy tends to create
inequalities that grow larger as time passes.  Both the economic
successes and failures of individuals tend to be cumulative --the
successful tend to succeed again and again while the unsuccessful
tend to remain unsuccessful. Marriages tend to result in further
concentration of wealth. Furthermore, as Daly says, dishonesty
and exploitation are not necessary to explain inequality but they
certainly contribute to it.[4] None of these statements is
absolute --you can point to many individual exceptions to each of
them --but the tendencies that they describe are well-recognized.

No, the market cannot solve the problem of unfair distribution.
This problem must be solved by people deciding what is fair, then
making public policies intended to achieve a fair distribution.
After those decisions have been made, then the market can
allocate resources efficiently[3] within the
politically-established framework of fairness.

The third economic problem is the problem of scale --how large
can an economy become before it begins to harm the ecosystem that
undergirds and sustains it?  Here again, the market does not
--cannot --provide any answer.  The market offers no mechanism
for deciding what is a desirable scale or for achieving that
scale.  You can have an efficient allocation of resources[3] and
a just distribution of benefits, yet still have an economy that
grows too large and consequently damages the ecosystem.  (Each of
the three problems --allocation, distribution, and scale --is
separate and each must be solved separately.)

The ecosystem provides us with two major services --it provides
resources that we can use (such as air, trees, copper deposits)
and it provides a place to discard our wastes.  Within limits,
the ecosystem can regenerate certain resources (air and trees,
for example), and it can absorb a certain amount of wastes,
recycling them via the services of the detritus food chain.  (See
REHW #624.)  Unfortunately, it is quite possible for the economy
to grow so large that it exceeds the capacity of the ecosystem to
regenerate itself and/or to absorb our wastes.  At that point,
the economy has grown unsustainably large and further growth will
diminish the carrying capacity of the planet --the capacity to
support life, including human life.  Top of Page

As we saw last week (REHW #624), there is abundant evidence that
the human economy, worldwide, has already grown so large that it
has exceeded some of the ecosystem's capacity to regenerate
itself, and has already grown so large that it has exceeded part
of the ecosystem's capacity to absorb our wastes.  These problems
first appear on a local scale (the U.S. has nearly exhausted its
reserves of tin, nickel, chromium, petroleum, and many other
mineral resources,[5] and many U.S. cities are presently unable
to provide their inhabitants with healthful air because of waste
gases from automobiles).  Eventually economic growth reaches a
point at which local problems become global.  For example, in
recent years we discovered that we had inadvertently damaged the
Earth's stratospheric ozone layer with our CFC wastes, and that
most of the world's marine fisheries have been severely degraded
by overfishing.  We are now making similar unhappy discoveries at
a steady (or perhaps accelerating) pace.

Economists, and business and political leaders, acknowledge only
two of the three economic problems outlined above --the problems
of allocation and distribution.  The problem of scale --caused by
growing quantities of materials and energy flowing through the
economy (see REHW #624) --the problem of scale has still not been
acknowledged by most economists, business people, or politicians.
To them, continued growth can only be good.  The vast majority
of them deny that the scale of the economy must be kept
comfortably within the regenerative and absorptive limits of
the ecosystem (if they have thought about it at all).

There is a deep and abiding reason for their denial.  For the
past 400 years, growth has been the central organizing principle
of all European societies, and especially of American society.
Economic growth has substituted for politics, deflecting
attention away from the contentious problem of fair distribution:
even a small slice of the pie will grow larger each year if the
total pie keeps growing larger. Thus growth has allowed us to
avoid confronting difficult ethical questions about the fair
distribution of income and wealth.[6]  So long as the pie kept
growing we could accommodate the rising demands of slaves,
farmers, immigrants, industrial workers, women, and so forth. Top of Page

As William Ophuls has said, "We have justified large differences
in income and wealth on the grounds that they promote growth and
that all would receive future advantage from current inequality
as the benefits of development 'trickled down' to the poor.  (On
a more personal level," Ophuls says, "economic growth also
ratifies the ethics of individual self-seeking: you can get on
without concern for the fate of others, for they are presumably
getting on too, even if not so well as you.)  But if growth in
production is no longer of overriding importance the rationale
for differential rewards gets thinner, and with a cessation of
growth it virtually disappears.... Since people's demands for
economic betterment are not likely to disappear, once the pie
stops growing fast enough to accommodate their demands, they will
begin making demands for redistribution," Ophuls says.[6]

The end of growth will change American (and European) politics
fundamentally, forcing us to confront basic ethical questions of
economic fairness.  For this reason, the environmental dangers of
growth are ignored by those who think they have the most to lose
--our business and political leaders (and their academic support
staff, the mainstream economists).

Now stay with me as we probe a little deeper into growth. This
may seem obscure, but it is important.

Growth --the central organizing principle of our society (we
could also call it the main ideology of our society) has been
grounded in an ethical principle developed by the English
philosopher Jeremy Bentham and elaborated by John Stuart Mill in
the 1830s.  Bentham argued that the goal of public action was
"the greatest good for the greatest number" --a goal that most
people would probably embrace today without thinking about it
very carefully.  Top of Page

Now that the end of growth is in sight (because we have begun to
hit nature's limits), we can no longer pretend that we can
achieve the greatest good for the greatest number.[7]
Confronting the limits of the planetary ecosystem, we are forced
to ask, how much good can we achieve for how many people for how
long?  As Daly says, we can have "the greatest good for a
sufficient number" or we can have "sufficient good for the
greatest number" but the "greatest good for the greatest number"
we cannot have.[8]  Daly favors seeking "sufficient good for the
greatest number" --meaning the greatest number of humans that can
be supported year after year into the indefinite future.  If your
goal is to maximize human welfare, this is the formula that does
it.  If we live sustainably, without exceeding the planet's
capacity for regeneration and the absorption of waste, billions
or trillions of humans will ultimately be able to enjoy the good
life on planet Earth, world without end.  The alternative (which
is the path we are presently on) is to load up the planet with 12
to 20 billion people in the next century until the ecosystem
collapses, thus diminishing the carrying capacity of the planet
and greatly reducing the total number of humans who can ever
enjoy a good life on Earth.  If you want to maximize human
enjoyment of the good life, the choice is clear.

An essential step toward sustainable development --offering the
greatest number of people a sufficiency of resources for the good
life --will be policies explicitly aimed at reducing huge
economic inequalities.  Growth will no longer substitute for
ethical public policies.

One of the main features of the modern world that creates and
sustains inequality is the high human birth rate.  An abundance
of people provides a pool of cheap labor to do the world's work.
A high birth rate creates steady pressure driving wages down.  In
ancient Rome the word "proletariat" meant "those with many
children" and the main role of the proletariat in Roman society
was to procreate to serve the patricians.  Failure to help people
control their own numbers --then as now --is a implicit cheap
labor policy.  A high birth rate tends to maintain inequality,
and a reduced birth rate has the opposite effect, tending to
equalize incomes and wealth.

Small wonder, then, that so many of the world's people are denied
the knowledge and the means for voluntarily eliminating unwanted
fertility. In too many societies (including our own) the
knowledge and means for voluntarily controlling fertility are as
inequitably distributed as income and wealth.  The wealthy have
little difficulty controlling their numbers; the technologies are
readily available to them.  The poor find it not so easy.  There
is a reason for this.

More next week.
                                                --Peter Montague  Top of Page
                (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
===============
[1] Herman Daly, BEYOND GROWTH (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
ISBN 0-8070-4708-2.  Hereafter cited as Daly.

[2] Daly, pg. 159

[3] Relative prices measure marginal opportunity costs; see Daly
pg. 222.  Efficient allocation is an allocation that corresponds
to effective demand, i.e., the relative preferences of citizens
as weighted by their relative incomes.  An inefficient allocation
is one that uses resources to produce items that people will not
or cannot buy, and it fails to produce items that people want,
can afford to buy, and would buy if they could find them.  See
Daly pgs. 159-160.

[4] Daly, pg. 207.

[5] U.S. Bureau of Mines, MINERAL FACTS AND PROBLEMS [Bureau of
Mines Bulletin 675] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1985).

[6] William Ophuls, ECOLOGY AND THE POLITICS OF SCARCITY (San
Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1977), chapter 6.

[7] As a matter of logic and mathematics, we never could achieve
the greatest good for the greatest number because it is
impossible to maximize two variables in a function.

[8] Daly, pg. 220.

Descriptor terms:  growth; sustainable development; economics;
herman daly; beyond growth; population; human poipulation;
prices; markets; allocation of resources; distribution of
resources; scale of the economy;

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SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, PART 3 Top of Page

When Adam Smith published THE WEALTH OF NATIONS in 1776, the
world was essentially empty from a human perspective, with fewer
than one billion human inhabitants.[1]  At that time, the planet
had abundant "natural capital" of all kinds --for example,
highly-concentrated metallic ores, oceans full of fish,
continents covered with trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere, and mysterious substances like petroleum oozing out
of the ground spontaneously.  The world of 1776 was short of
HUMAN capital --techniques for extracting minerals from the deep
earth, ships to catch fish efficiently, and machines to turn
trees into lumber, for example.

Now, says economist Herman Daly, the situation is reversed.[2]
Increasingly, natural capital is scarce and human capital is
abundant.

** Today there is no shortage of huge ships to sweep nets through
the oceans to harvest fish --but the fish themselves are
disappearing.

** Chemical factories are abundant, producing a cornucopia of
useful chlorinated chemicals, but there is a shortage of natural
mechanisms to detoxify and recycle such chemicals.  As a result,
the entire planet is experiencing a buildup of chlorinated
toxicants and scientists are discovering new harmful effects in
wildlife and humans each year.

** Only recently, scientists concluded that the ecosystem's
capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been
exceeded because of human activity.  As a result, they believe,
CO2 is building up in the air, pushing up the temperature of the
planet.  We are waiting now to learn the real consequences, but
more droughts, floods, and major storms must be expected, we are
told.

In sum, natural capital --both sources and sinks --are becoming
scarce on a global scale for the first time ever.  The Earth is
no longer empty.  It is full, or nearly so.  Top of Page

Mainstream economists do not worry about shortages of natural
capital because neoclassical economic theory assumes that human
capital can substitute for natural capital.  To a certain limited
extent, this is true.  When copper becomes too expensive for
making telephone wires, we substitute glass in the form of fiber
optic cables (which we make by manipulating sand with large
quantities of energy and accumulated know-how).  However, Daly
argues, traditional economists have ignored the extent to which
the usefulness of human capital depends upon the availability of
natural capital.  Daly asks, quite sensibly, what good is a
sawmill without a forest, a fishing boat without fish and an oil
refinery without oil?  In truth, says Daly, natural and human
capital complement each other --we need them both to sustain our
economy and the natural systems that support us and the other
creatures.  This may seem obvious to most people, but to many
traditional economists it still seems like heresy.

As we have seen (REHW #624), there are two kinds of natural
capital --those that renew themselves (e.g., fish, trees) and
those that don't, at least not on a human time scale (e.g.,
copper deposits and petroleum).

How do you "improve" natural capital?  Renewable natural capital
can be replenished by not using it and by waiting patiently.
Fish stocks will replenish themselves if we refrain from
overfishing.  The same is true of forests.  In this new economic
perspective, frugality, efficiency, and patience once again
become prime virtues.  As Daly says, for ecological economists,
laissez faire takes on new, deeper meaning.

Somewhere in between natural capital and human capital is
"cultivated capital" --fish ponds, tree farms, and herds of
cattle, for example. Recent attempts to cultivate natural capital
may provide some limited benefits.  Tree plantations provide one
of the services of a real forest --trees to cut --but they do not
replace forest habitat or biodiversity.  Fish farms do produce
fish but they also require high-protein fish food, antibiotics to
fend against disease, and some means of handling concentrated
wastes.  Clearly, cultivated capital has severe limitations, and
it relies on natural capital for its limited successes.

The ultimate experiment in cultivated natural capital --or
ecosystem management, as many modern engineers and scientists
like to call it --took place between 1991 and 1993 in the desert
25 miles north of Tucson, Arizona.  Here, a group of scientists
built a complex ecosystem covering 3.15 acres under an airtight
glass cover and 8 of them tried to live in it for two years.  The
materially-closed system --nothing was supposed to go in or out
during the two years --was intended to replicate a tiny Earth,
complete with ocean, desert, grasslands, and woodlands.  The
experiment was called Biosphere 2 (the Earth is biosphere 1), and
it was a stunning failure.  From the beginning the Biospherians
encountered "numerous unexpected problems and surprises."[3]

Fifty tons of oxygen disappeared mysteriously from the closed
system, reducing oxygen levels to those typically encountered at
an altitude of 17,500 feet --barely sufficient to maintain human
consciousness. Carbon dioxide skyrocketed to levels that
threatened to poison the humans as well.  Levels of nitrous oxide
--laughing gas --rose high enough to interfere with vitamin B12
synthesis, threatening the humans with brain damage.  Finally,
oxygen had to be pumped in from the outside to keep the
Biospherians from suffocating.  Top of Page

Tropical birds disappeared after the first freeze.  A native
species of Arizona ant somehow found its way into the enclosure
and soon killed off all other soft-bodied insects.  As the ants
proliferated, creatures as large as snakes had to hide from them
or be eaten alive.  All seven species of frogs went extinct.  All
together, 19 of 25 vertebrate species went extinct.  Before the
two years was up, all pollinators went extinct, so none of the
plants could reproduce themselves. Despite unlimited energy and
technology available from the outside to keep the system
functioning, it was a colossal $200 million failure. The
scientists concluded, "No one yet knows how to engineer systems
that provide humans with the life-supporting services that
natural ecosystems produce for free.  Dismembering major biomes
[ecosystems] into small pieces, a consequence of widespread human
activities, must be regarded with caution.... the initial work in
Biosphere 2 has already provided insights for ecologists--and
perhaps an important lesson for humanity."[3]

Thus we know that cultivated natural capital has an exceedingly
limited capacity to provide the benefits that nature's own
natural capital provides.  We would be fools to count on
replacing nature's bounty with something of our own invention.
The Earth is our only home and we must protect it.

Non-renewable capital cannot be "improved" --it can only be
preserved. Thus to the extent feasible, our economy should shift
over to renewable resources, to be used at a rate set by nature's
rate of renewal. Non-renewable resources should be left alone, or
they should be liquidated thoughtfully to provide future humans
with a stream of income.  For example, arguably, dwindling
petroleum supplies should be invested in "solar breeder"
facilities --factories that make photovoltaic solar cells.  The
product of such a factory could be used to power the construction
and operation of more factories to manufacture more photovoltaic
cells, to make more factories to make more photovoltaics, and so
on, providing the next generation with a legacy that allows them
to tap into the endless flow of the sun's energy.

What public policies might help us make the shift to using
renewable resources at sustainable rates?

1) Stop counting the consumption of natural capital as income.
(See REHW #516.)  Depletion should never be treated as income.
It would be like burning the furniture to heat the house,
congratulating ourselves on the resulting warmth.  It will be
short-lived.  As preposterous as it may sound, most nations,
including the U.S., presently treat depletion of their natural
capital as if it were income, so far as national accounts are
concerned --a major accounting error.  Depletion is a cost, not a
benefit.  (The same is true of pollution --in calculating Gross
Domestic Product [GDP] we count pollution, pollution illnesses,
and anti-pollution expenditures as benefits, not costs. This is
clearly wrong and wrongheaded but the nation's economists still
endorse such a system --a sad commentary on the state of economic
"science" today.) Top of Page

2) Tax labor and income less, and tax throughput more.  We will
always need governments to

** protect the weak from the strong and tyrannical;

** provide a safety net for those plagued by bad luck;

** protect the commons (such as the atmosphere) from thoughtless
or predatory individuals and businesses;

** level the playing field for individuals and businesses (making
sure, to the extent possible, that people start life with equal
opportunity, and that the competitive envi-ronment for businesses
is preserved against monopolies and oligopolies).

The present tax structure encourages businesses to substitute
capital and throughput (energy and materials) for workers.
Throughput depletes resources and creates pollution, so our tax
structure discourages what we want (jobs and income) and
encourages what we don't want (depletion and pollution).  This is
backwards.

After we shift over to "green taxes" --which encourage jobs and
income and discourage depletion and pollution --we will still
need an income tax but not primarily to provide revenue for
government.  We will need an income tax chiefly to reduce
inequalities in income and wealth because huge inequalities
undermine the main goals of a democracy: equal opportunity, a
real voice in the decisions that affect your life, and a sense of
shared ownership (a "stake") in the community.

3) Move away from the ideology of global economic integration by
free trade, free capital mobility, and export-led growth.
Instead, move toward a more nationalist orientation that seeks to
develop domestic production for internal markets as the first
option, embracing international trade only in those instances
where it is clearly more efficient.

Herman Daly emphasizes this point again and again: free trade as
conceived by the current generation of political and economic
leaders will be disastrous because it is destroying the power of
national governments to control the destiny of their people.  "To
globalize the economy by erasure of national economic boundaries
through free trade, free capital mobility, and free, or at least
uncontrolled, migration is to wound fatally the major unit of
community capable of carrying out any policies for the common
good," Daly writes.[4]
                                                --Peter Montague Top of Page
                (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

===============
[1] Herman E. Daly, BEYOND GROWTH (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
ISBN 0-8070-4708-2.

[2] Joel E. Cohen, HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN THE EARTH SUPPORT? (New
York: W.W. Norton, 1995), pg. 76.  ISBN 0-393-31495-2.

[3] Joel E. Cohen and David Tilman, "Biosphere 2 and
Biodiversity: The Lessons So Far," SCIENCE Vol. 274 (November 15,
1996), pgs. 1150-1151. And see William J. Broad, "Paradise Lost;
Biosphere Retooled as Atmospheric Nightmare," NEW YORK TIMES
November 19, 1996, pg. C1.  See also Peter Warshall, "Lessons
>From Biosphere 2: Ecodesign, Surprises, and the Humility of Gaian
Thought," WHOLE EARTH REVIEW (Spring 1996), pgs. 22-27.

[4] Daly, cited above in note 1, pg. 93.

Descriptor terms:  sustainable development; economics; herman
daly; beyond growth;

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