[Fwd: Rachel #626: Sustainable Development, Part 3]
Fri, 27 Nov 1998 10:54:45 -0500
> . .
> . RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #626 .
> . ---November 26, 1998--- .
> . HEADLINES: .
> . SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, PART 3 .
> . ========== .
> . Environmental Research Foundation .
> . P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403 .
> . Fax (410) 263-8944; Internet: email@example.com .
> . ========== .
> . Back issues available by E-mail; to get instructions, send .
> . E-mail to INFO@rachel.org with the single word HELP .
> . in the message; back issues also available via ftp from .
> . ftp.std.com/periodicals/rachel and from gopher.std.com .
> . and from http://www.monitor.net/rachel/ .
> . Subscriptions are free. To subscribe, E-mail the words .
> . SUBSCRIBE RACHEL-WEEKLY YOUR NAME to: firstname.lastname@example.org. .
> SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, PART 3
> 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. 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.
> Increasingly, natural capital is scarce and human capital is
> ** Today there is no shortage of huge ships to sweep nets through
> the oceans to harvest fish --but the fish themselves are
> ** 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
> 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.
> 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."
> 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.
> 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."
> 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.)
> 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
> 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.
> --Peter Montague
> (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
>  Herman E. Daly, BEYOND GROWTH (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
> ISBN 0-8070-4708-2.
>  Joel E. Cohen, HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN THE EARTH SUPPORT? (New
> York: W.W. Norton, 1995), pg. 76. ISBN 0-393-31495-2.
>  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.
>  Daly, cited above in note 1, pg. 93.
> Descriptor terms: sustainable development; economics; herman
> daly; beyond growth;
> Environmental Research Foundation provides this electronic
> version of RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY free of charge
> even though it costs our organization considerable time and money
> to produce it. We would like to continue to provide this service
> free. You could help by making a tax-deductible contribution
> (anything you can afford, whether $5.00 or $500.00). Please send
> your tax-deductible contribution to: Environmental Research
> Foundation, P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403-7036. Please do
> not send credit card information via E-mail. For further
> information about making tax-deductible contributions to E.R.F.
> by credit card please phone us toll free at 1-888-2RACHEL, or at
> (410) 263-1584, or fax us at (410) 263-8944.
> --Peter Montague, Editor
We will be known by the tracks we leave behind... óDakota proverb
To Unsubscribe: Email email@example.com with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command