Post No.: 0055
Market prices for goods usually seriously undervalue the true costs of things to nature e.g. a barrel of Brent crude oil could be valued at around, say, $75, but really – how do we price something that took millions of years and millions of organisms’ lives to create, and how do we pay this back to nature?! Many people in the ‘developed world’ earn more than $75 per day – but can one human person’s day of work really pay for more than what took millions of years and thousands or millions of other complex or multi-cellular animal and plant lives to create? In addition, what we often give back to nature isn’t compensation but pollution too.
The price of things should really be the price it takes to completely replace it 1:1. As we can therefore work out, market prices give a false impression of how much things actually fully cost – markets far undervalue what nature puts in (from fertile land, tropical timber, minerals, potable water, etc.) to create what we consume from nature. We virtually assume it all comes for free when something comes from nature, but there is no free lunch, hence a tragedy of the commons (when an unregulated, individualistic, self-interested usage or consumption of a common resource results in a collective spoiling or depletion of that resource e.g. fish stocks) and an accumulating long-term resource depletion and damage to our natural environments. This is due to our unrelenting capitalist consumption and short-term-only planning for species-survival (or civilisation-prolongation) because individualistic nations and individualistic people are being individually self-interested and unsustainably greedy and aren’t looking after future generations or other life on this planet (its biodiversity, for which biodiversity keeps an ecosystem robust to changes i.e. diversity is the opposite of putting all your eggs in one basket).
The human species seems so ‘successful’ today and is generally arrogant about it, but this ‘success’ is somewhat built upon using up so much that is non-renewable (or would take millions of years to renew). It’s akin to all our animal ancestors saving up lots of resources (locking up dense carbon stores of high order/low entropy energy in the ground) and hence didn’t seem to have much fun, ‘progress’ or ‘success’ themselves, and then humans coming along and spending as much of these saved resources as possible, as fast as possible, and boastfully saying ‘hey, aren’t we superior for having so much fun and making so much progress compared to those stupid ancestor animals before us and other contemporary animals around us!’ Whilst other historical and contemporary life has overall lived sustainably and overall collectively saved up a lot of useful high order/low entropy energy in the form of fossil fuels, pristine resources and balanced yet vibrant, biodiverse ecosystems – humans, as a species overall, are spending far more than they’re giving back to nature.
It’s metaphorically like your parents saving up lots of money, and then when you inherited it you just blew it on parties, working up a debt, and all the while smugly proclaiming ‘I’m so much more successful than my parents because look at these possessions and parties that I’m having that my parents never had’(!) It’s myopic and hubristic.
We’re increasing entropy rapidly – energy is never technically lost if a system is closed (but Earth isn’t a closed system – it’s open to outer space) but we’re decreasing useful energy e.g. compared to a tree, a pile of ash contains energy but not really useful energy for us as it is (it’ll take a lot of external energy just to make it useful again); or metaphorically, a just-deceased body holds about the same amount of energy as it had a minute ago when it was still alive but we wouldn’t count both states as equally desirable. The Earth does receive external energy from the Sun but the net balance between what goes in and what goes out was already reasonably balanced before humans even existed (i.e. the Earth (not just around the surface where life lives) wasn’t generally getting hotter and hotter or more massive, for which mass and energy are two sides of the same coin) so there was not much, or any, stored surplus on Earth for humans to freely exploit without costs. It’d therefore make logical sense that solar energy from the Sun should be somehow more directly and more greatly utilised instead of fossil fuels right now (e.g. photovoltaic, thermal, wind (the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface by the Sun causes winds)). Our Sun is the key.
Something should cost what it’d take to replace it like-for-like, amount-for-amount. So how do e.g. three planted seeds or saplings replace a fallen fully-grown tree?! (This doesn’t even account for economic discounting, where a fully-grown tree taken in the future is worth less than a fully-grown tree taken today.) It’d be like compensating a murdered adult with a bit of sperm and a few eggs, planted into some wombs(!) Well maybe not exactly because we care about the specific identity of a person and not a tree, but the net result regardless is that trees are still being cut faster than they’re growing back across the world, mass-for-mass.
Nature doesn’t want our money in cash too – the only way it can be compensated is by leaving/returning things as they were originally found or at least by allowing nature enough time to replenish on its own before any more demands are placed on it. Many things are far more important than money, profits or GDP (after all, this planet of life had been running fine for billions of years (apart from a few temporary blips) before the recent human invention of money in only the last few thousand years – so no, money doesn’t technically make the world go around at all! It was going around fine before its invention). As some experts claim, we will need the equivalent of several Earths to continue living the way we are today, especially like people in the ‘developed’ world.
So the markets and nations need to look at their own mounting environmental debts and ever-growing unsustainable costs that are more life-threatening to the human specie’s existence (or at least civilisation) in the long-term, as well as for many other innocent species of life too, than even their economic debts.
Unless sustainable fusion energy generation is mastered (and more), the human specie’s scorecard is actually deep in the negative/red, but most people alive today are in denial, don’t care, or the sentiments and words don’t match the actions, because it’s really more of a problem for future generations after when one will be already dead having lived a full life anyway. (We’ll likely need to do more than recreate sustainable stars on Earth in the form of fusion energy and helium by-products – we’ll need to recreate supernova explosions or greater cosmic events because we’re also demanding more element materials, including some very rare ones, to make all these modern gadgets we replace every year or so (but this isn’t going to happen on or near Earth!) Recycling some of these elements is difficult, and space/asteroid mining is a long ways off.) And it’s not just about what we take from nature that is in limited supply but what we add that’s harmful i.e. pollution (e.g. too much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere) – which may be more the point no matter how much resources (e.g. oil or gas) we can manage to get hold of.
Our instincts never evolved to care about that far into the future (thousands, hundreds or even sometimes tens of years into the future), especially if it means giving up something desirable and more certain in the present i.e. our current, carefree, consumptive lifestyles that believes ‘I’ve paid for it so I can do whatever I want with it’ – but nature hasn’t been sufficiently compensated by what you’ve paid at all. It’s not about ditching capitalism (or partying!) but the way we are currently going is not sustainable and must change.
Woof. I hope you can do your furry bit by following the mantra of ‘reduce, refuse (any excessive or single-use packaging), reuse, repair, re-purpose, recycle, restore and replenish’. I particularly like to reuse, repair and re-purpose things because I like crafting things anyway. We have a chance if we think about our children’s children’s children’s children and if we all do our bit, especially us in the ‘developed’ world. We can do this!