The global market isn’t the solution, the global market is the problem

Posted September 28th, 2012 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on The global market isn’t the solution, the global market is the problem

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Watching, listening, to people attempting to offer solutions to our many and varied crises – political upheavals, climate change, hunger, energy challenges, etc. – within the logic of the market is listening to a real exercise in futility. The market, based in the logic of global capitalism where everything is already or is becoming commodified, is accelerating virtually every driver of our planetary crisis right now. The more we are driven to privatize everything we need for life – food, water, financial security, education, etc. – the more vulnerable we become, the more people fall off the edges of the economy, and the ability to survive at all becomes a challenge for increasing hundreds of millions.

Let me offer an example of what I mean: economists and politicians all say we have to increase economic growth in order to create the jobs that pay people enough to afford housing, food, education, and health care – basic well-being. Now almost everything we do or don’t do is some measure of economic activity that contributes to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by which the health of the economy is measured. So, why in the world would be want a health system based in prevention of illness and far less use of our inefficient, bloated, unreasonably expensive health care system?

Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis

If we did that, the GDP would plummet – because we would not be using our private, corporate-run health care system as much as we do now, wouldn’t need all those expensive procedures with state-of-the-art medical technologies, nor would we need all that anti-cancer treatment, or insulin or heart disease treatments and surgeries, and joint replacements, etc., etc. If we did more yoga and mindfulness meditation, ate healthier foods, got synthetic chemicals out of our bodies, exercised more, dealt with our stresses by dealing with the stresses instead of drugging them – we would cause one of the fastest-growing, largest portions of our economy to take a big plunge, and so would corporate profits and the financial markets.

That is precisely how stupid this system is.

Why is it hard to convince people to switch to clean, renewable energy sources? Because we have yet to figure out how to measure a unit of sun, wind, or tides the way we can a gallon of gasoline or fuel oil, or a ton of coal, or a gallon of liquified natural gas. A solar panel on your roof will take you off the grid; a really sunny day may even provide more energy than you need, meaning you would return some of your solar energy to the grid. How would your local utility company fare then? What would its stockholders have to say about it? And what happens to the fossil fuel markets worldwide?

But here is what the market can do within its current construction and logic – waste the planet with greater and greater speed and vaster destruction. Examples are beyond counting and appear in our newspapers, esp business sections, every day.

The New York Times saw fit to put a deeply troubling exposé of the waste of power and energy, and the vast amounts of pollution, created by internet service providers on its front pages for two days. Rather than explain, I inserted the links below. Read for yourselves how the logic of profit, competition, and our demands for instantaneous data has created this earth-wasting monster.

Or check out these articles, which are examples of something occurring globally now – the mining industry is getting ready to ramp up the destruction of vast swaths of our planet to dig out the iron ore, copper, rare earth minerals, gold and other precious metals, and on and on to feed this voracious global demand for industrial consumer goods – from iPhones to fighter jets, from automobiles (including the batteries in electric cars) to bigger, brighter HD screens, from gigantic football stadiums with gigantic video screens to the room air conditioning unit that is on 24 hrs a day next door to me even when the temps dip into the 40s, from the pesticides people are spraying on their lawns for the winter to the gas-guzzling snowmobiles and snowblowers that are now considered necessities for the home-owner.

A Mining Rush in the Upper Peninsula

The two articles about energy demands of the internet: Data Barns in a Farm Town, Goggling Power and Flexing Muscle; Power, Pollution and the Internet.

m.kenosian howard - EOG mine 6-15-2012. Source: Save the Hills Alliance, Inc.

In Wisconsin, our fearless pro-corporate governor, Scott Walker, is preparing to reopen debate on a proposal to allow a vast open pit iron ore mine in our north woods. Most of the ore would be shipped to China. Meanwhile, since our state is cursed with having vast amounts of the sand required for fracking, our western counties are being ecologically and geologically destroyed.

And then there are the tar sands, scraping off hundreds of thousands of acres of forests and magnificent ecosystems created over millions of years, and toxifying vast swaths of these industrial sites – forever – for the sake of, what? What could possibly be of greater value than what is being destroyed?

And last spring, the NY Times had a special section on energy with a lead article, Fuel to Burn: Now What?, showing how the US has entered an energy boom time. We all know this, of course. Fracking for oil and natural gas, drilling in the Arctic, expanding leases for exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, off shore, and on public lands — all of this is in anticipation of fueling industrial growth as population grows and therefore the demands for stuff, but also for food, buildings, military defenses, and more.

This is the logic of the market going its merry way. And as we see in this woeful election year, and in the degradation of our political system as it becomes more and more a servant of corporate interests, even to mention the role of government to put restraints on that market can bring you a world of disdain, ridicule, and political shunning.

Our future up in fossil fueled smoke

Controls on toxic pollution in our environment? You put constraints on the growth of the chemical industry. Regulations to ban GMO crops and fish and animals? You put constraints on the growth of the biotech industry. Address our nation’s addiction to and abuse of prescription drugs, an intentional strategy of BigPharma? You put contraints on the growth of the pharmaceutical industry. Government programs to develop sustainable, renewable, truly clean energy sources? Yea, right, fossil fuel industry shrinks. The result of policies like these? GDP plummets, the economy collapses, unemployment goes up, and we descend into recession or depression.

You get the point. That is how the system functions. We all become dependent upon it. And then we feel helpless to change it.

And if we can’t even do this much, try to put some constraints on industry for the sake of the planet’s well-being (and therefore, ours), imagine trying to shift a culture away from the unsustainable extraction, production, and consumption of goods – all of which have to come from somewhere, have to be sourced in some original material taken out of the planet somewhere, and resulting always in some large portion of waste that has to go somewhere (since there is no such thing as throwing something ‘away’), whether that waste is CO2, methane, toxic chemicals, or material for overstuffed landfills.

Which is why we cannot avoid this fundamental reality of our way of life and the global economy that supports it – it is not sustainable. And it is not only unsustainable in the future, it is unsustainable now and has been for decades already.

It is also why we cannot avoid this fundamental challenge if we really want to offer future generations a better option than the one in store for us now on this planet if we don’t do a major course and values correction – we have to stop consuming stuff, we have to work now to change the market logic of human economies, we have to be willing to face the wrenching changes and challenges that will come with bringing down the global market as it currently functions.

There is a positive function for markets when at the service of the human community, rather than at the service of stockholders who want quarterly profit reports. But human survival, ecological survival, the fate of the threatened ecocommunities of the planet, ought not to be subject to the logic of private profit and the stock portfolios of financial investors. By doing that, we have already brought our planet to the brink – the brink of collapse of tens of millions of years of planetary evolution that made the human possible at all.

In the spaces where the market still has a role to play, we need to create the incentives that move us in a radically new direction – not for more private wealth concentration, not for the sake of financial markets, but for increasing well-being within ecologically sustainable communities, creating a new moral vision for what we mean by “the good life.” Hundreds of millions of people staring into tiny hi-tech screens downloading more apps and hardly noticing the beauty of a crisp autumn day is hardly a sign of a good life, but rather just how empty our lives have become. Five million people buying the new Apple iPhone5 on its first release day is not a sign of human well-being but rather how alienated and slavish we have become to an economy that sees no more value in the human than how much profit it can make off our consumer habits.

Our evolution into economic beings living an illusion that we are somehow above and beyond, independent of, superior to and isolated from the very planetary processes that gave birth to us, in which we live and move and have our being, is one of the deepest pathologies of our time. And it sure hasn’t made the world a nicer place to live, or the human a happier being within it.

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