Integration of Ecology and Economy: Compensating the Public for use of public property; i.e., natural resources

John C. Champagne jchampag at
Wed Nov 27 17:55:41 EST 1996

Gaia Brain:  Integration of Human Society and the Biosphere

  The History of Life

An obvious trend throughout the history of life on earth is the nearly
continual, albeit unsteady progression from simpler, small-scale
organization to more complex and large-scale organization.  Simple
entities elaborate themselves into more complex forms in response to
changes in the environment; changes that are often brought about by the
very life processes of those simpler entities.  They accomplish this
transformation by integrating elements of their environment into
themselves.  [Alberts, et al]

Mitochondria were once free-living cells in symbiotic relationship with
one another, (much as animals and plants are in symbiosis), which, over
time, developed such intimate connections with one another that the
relationship evolved from that of separate, interdependent organisms to
that of interdependent entities within a larger organism.  This transition
appears to have been triggered by the accumulation of oxygen in the
atmosphere.  Oxygen is a highly reactive gas, and would have been
poisonous to most of the early life on the planet.  This accumulation was,
of course, caused by living things.  They changed their environment, and
so were compelled to change themselves, or die.  [Ibid] What were at one
time separate organisms have integrated to form the eucaryotic cell.  This
transformation represents an early example of a meta-system transition
wherein interacting systems become subordinate to and come under the
control of a larger scale emergent system.  [Turchin]

Multi-cellular organisms, or meta-organisms, continue the progression
toward higher levels of complexity by extending the function of a
prototypical eucaryotic cell, (e.g.: protozoa), to a community of cells,
in communication with and cooperation with one another.  Each cell
receives products and benefits from its neighbors and, likewise, provides
products and benefits to its neighbors. 

  Development of Societies

Members of societies share information about themselves and their
environment with one another, and through this sharing are able to 
act as an integrated entity, cooperating in the exploitation of their
environment, as if the society itself were a single organism.  The social
insects, (ants, termites, bees), are a classic example of this phenomenon. 
Howler monkeys, (or any primate), also illustrate this point, as a call
from a single individual can cause the whole troupe to move in a
particular direction, either toward food, or away from danger. 

  Development of Culture

Human society and culture represent yet another level of this phenomenon
of entities organizing themselves into communities to form entities of a
higher order.  Culture is the product of humans' language and tool-making
abilities.  It represents a quantum leap in the ability of hominid society
to share information among its members, and to transmit that information
through time, and so it greatly expands humans' ability to organize as a
single entity and exploit their environment.  The Tribe became the newest
form of the meta-organism. 

  The Word Allows Elaboration of Mental Models 
    and Social Structure

Language allows naming things; and it allows elaborate mental models of
the environment and of social relations to develop.  Bringing information
about an environment into an entity, a human being or human society, in
the form of mental models or social structure, is a step toward
integrating that environment with that entity.  Integrations of
interacting systems always involve the transfer of information between
those systems.  [Turchin]

  Development of Culture Allows Living Beyond Means

Culture has enabled human society to expand into virtually every ecosystem
on the planet.  As we expand into an environment and change it by
interacting with it, we adapt our methods, so that our ability to extract
wealth persists, even as we exceed the carrying capacity of the
environment.  This habit of living beyond what is sustainable--with
innovations in culture and technology driven by the challenge of adapting
to a degrading environment, even as our numbers increase--points to the
need for new feedback mechanisms that will enable the human supra-organism
and its members to exist within the limits of the biosphere at large. 

An ancient city can be seen as a multi-organism organism:  City walls are
the skin, the grain stores are the stomach, the systems of commerce, roads
and sewers are the circulatory and digestive systems, the soldiers are the
immune system, and the protocols of behavior that mediate interactions
among the various citizens-- the records of grain ownership and tax
liability, the mythology, the beliefs about the intentions of the gods and
what the citizens ought to do--make up the nervous system.  Civilizations
rise and fall because they lack the feedback mechanisms that would enable
them to moderate their growth and achieve a dynamic equilibrium with their
environment.  The supra-organism consumes its resource base, and either
dies, or finds a new resource base to exploit in another location. 

The most complex entity that has yet to arise on the planet--the global
human society, civilization--is utterly transforming the environment which
sustains it.  There is now an urgent need to integrate the entity with the
environment, the economy with the ecology--to prevent the one from
destroying the other.  We need to learn how to live, how to interact with
our environment in a way that promotes our well-being while also
preserving the health of the larger living community.  The health of the
ecosystem, economic health and personal health are all inextricably

Money, in combination with other inventions, such as agriculture, pottery,
road systems, writing, etc., makes cities possible.  When combined with
certain bookkeeping tools and economic and governmental institutions,
money makes capitalism possible.  Money makes it possible, too, for
economic actors to exert pressures that may harm the environment.  Such
pressures can be felt even half way around the world.  When people buy
hamburgers, they exert economic pressure that induces ranchers to cut
forests.  Soil erodes and biodiversity is lost forever.  We now have a
world full of people who are spending money in ways that are exerting
unsustainable pressures on the natural systems that are the very basis of
our survival [Brown]; but there is not a mechanism whereby purchasers can
get information, feedback, at the time of purchase, about the ecological
consequences of their actions.  A system of feedback that provides
pertinent information at the moment of decision and in a form that all
will pay heed to would be most effective. 

  Developing Mechanisms for Taking Account 
    of Environmental Impacts

Our challenge, possibly the greatest challenge that human beings have
faced since we learned to stand and walk and talk, is to reconcile our
ability to extend ourselves into the environment--with ever increasing
impact on the environment--with the inherent limits of that environment to
withstand such impact; to learn to interact with our environment without
destroying it.  We face a choice either to allow our actions to continue
to produce ecologically destructive pressures across the globe, until we
experience catastrophic collapse, or remedy this problem with our economic
system.  We can solve this problem by incorporating a measure of the
ecological pressures of human activities into the price of those
activities, with an aim to reducing them to acceptable levels. 

  Ecology and Economy are Integrated: 
    Creating a Sensory Nervous System for Earth

We can show ecological costs in the price of goods and services by
attaching fees to the use of natural resources.  This would cause the
price of things to reflect the ecological pressures or cost associated
with their production.  We would be deterred from doing certain things
which are harmful to the biosphere by the fact that these things would
cost more. 

Frederick Jackson Turner, a historian writing more than a hundred years
ago, described the movement of civilization across the continent as a
nervous system in the process of growth and development.  If we follow
this analogy, we see that Turner's nervous system is a nervous system of
the earth, and that, as of yet, it lacks some essential aspects of a
healthy nervous system in a healthy organism.  The proposed fees on
resource use and pollution would correct this defect by causing
information about injury to earth, or stress to the biosphere, to be
conveyed to economic actors, through the prices of goods and services in
the marketplace.  Thus, the resource fees would constitute an autonomic or
sensory nervous system for the earth, conveying information about injury
or imbalance in the earth organism to society, (the neural network), and
causing a change in society and in the behavior of individuals that would
tend to reduce the injury and restore balance. 

Any corporate entity can be seen as subordinate to the larger planet
organism, just as mitochondria are subordinate to the cell.  Part of the
function of a healthy cell is to monitor the productions of its
mitochondria, and ration resources according to the needs of the larger
organism for those products.  From the perspective of the cell, or the
larger earth, what goes into and what comes out of the subordinate entity 
must be closely monitored, while what actually goes on in the sub-entity 
is of lessor concern. 

  Implementation Strategies Invite Democratization 
    in Economics and Politics

We must decide how much the earth's ecosystems can sustainably take from
us in the form of wastes, and what they can provide to us as resource. 
But we do not know the answer to this question. No one does.  So we begin
by recognizing that we cannot be certain of the numbers.  Let us resolve
to err on the side of caution; that is, to be conservative and err on the
side of preserving and restoring ecosystems for the benefit of our
grandchildren and future generations. 

We could issue permits for various pollutants, according to how much of
each pollutant we would allow, and auction them in the free market. 
Likewise for the taking of valuable resources.  Thus, those industries
which are most successful at conserving resources and cleaning up
processes will have an advantage in the market, while those industries
which continue to emit large amounts of waste and/or extract large amounts
of natural resources will have to include the costs to ecosystems in the
price of their products.  [Sharp, et al]

Because nearly everyone will have a different opinion regarding the levels
of pollutants that would be safe and sustainable, and because we are
committed to democratic principles that allow all voices to be heard, the
actual amount that we decide on will be a summary of the opinions of all
the world's people.  And, because many of us are not able to make an
informed decision about appropriate levels of some or all pollutants, we
may choose to delegate our vote to someone whose opinion we respect.  For
example, if I believed that it is safe to release 100 million tons of
fossil fuel carbon dioxide into the environment, and that no level of
chlorinated hydrocarbon emissions (e.g.: CFC's, Heptachlor, DDT) can be
called safe or sustainable, but I had no opinion or knowledge about safe
levels of other pollutants, then I might refer to lists of people who
share my views on CO2 or chlorinated hydrocarbons to see what their
opinions are regarding other pollutants--either to inform my own opinion,
or to find a knowledgeable and responsible person to whom I could delegate
my 'emissions allowance' vote.  If I were convinced that the level of
emissions that I regard as sustainable could not be achieved immediately,
I might want to structure my vote in the form of a percent reduction per
year, toward a specific target. 

  Gaia Brain Provides the Tools for Sculpting Society

Virtually everything we do, every way that we apply technology to exploit
our environment, will have to be measured and may need to be rationed,
according to the method outlined above or some other method.  Every kind
of human behavior and lifestyle would have associated with it economic
costs which would reliably reflect the perceived environmental costs of
that behavior.  Economic forces, which all people respond to, will induce
us to make changes in habits and lifestyle that are compatible with the
interests of the larger living community, and with the interests of future
generations of human beings. 

This concept of assigning fees to the use of earth's natural resources and
waste removal services can be applied to other areas.  We could apply gaia
brain methods to the management of the use of non-human animals by human
beings.  Someday, perhaps soon, we may completely eliminate the systematic
enslavement and exploitation of non-human animals in industry and
agriculture [Singer], but until that time, we may wish to create a system
whereby industry and agriculture are subject to economic costs in some
proportion to how much suffering they inflict on the animals they use. 
This will give them an incentive to reduce both the numbers of animals
they use and the amount of suffering inflicted on each one. 

We could attach or increase a fee on anything that we would like to see
less of in the world.  We could contribute a portion of our share of the
proceeds of natural resource fees toward those things that we would like
to see more of.  We could say:  "Less asphalt"; "Less advertising
billboards"; "Less outdoor lighting, and more stars in the night sky";
"More city parks"; "More libraries"; and the economic incentives that
would accompany our expressed wishes would result in real change, so that
our wishes would be born out in reality.  Alienation, in the Marxist sense
of living in and creating through our actions and interactions a society
which we would not choose, would be eliminated, or at least dramatically
reduced, because society would evolve to reflect our expressed wishes. 

  Impact of Paradigm Shift on Institutions and Society

This model of human society as meta-organism, and as nervous system of the
gaia organism would transform the educational process.  Children can
understand the concepts of 'organism' and 'interaction with environment'
because they themselves are organisms.  They eat and breathe.  They can
observe protozoa.  This gaia brain model would invite early introduction
of ideas about social interaction, and would invite the active involvement
of children in the collection of opinions among community members about
appropriate levels of pollution and use of natural resources, and about
perceived community needs; and it would invite their involvement in the
assessment of actual conditions.  A question is a device for directing
one's attention onto a topic [Minsky], therefore, just the act of asking
people about pollution, natural resource use, and community needs will
cause them to think about these issues more; but, the fact that the
questions might be put by children will do much to remind all concerned
who it is that will be most affected by the answers:  the children who
will have to live with the consequences of these decisions for many years
to come.  The children, as assessors of actual conditions and of the
accuracy of reports issued by industry, would be involved in the
protection of resources that will sustain them in the future, and they
would gain valuable knowledge and insight into the workings of society in
the process. 

The Gaia brain/pollution fee system will so transform the global economy
and society, we probably ought to think in terms of an elimination of
government as we know it.  With the introduction of significant pollution
fees, conventional taxes not only would be difficult to support
financially, they may seem rather without philosophical foundation:  we
may see that a fee according to our use of the earth's natural resources
is well founded on philosophical principles of fairness, while taxes on
income or sales do not seem on the face to be eminently fair. 

The proceeds of the pollution fees and green fees would be a monetary
representation of the value of earth's air and water and biota.  As these
resources can reasonably be said to belong to all, the proceeds of these
fees probably ought to be shared equally among all the people of the
earth.  This could be the basis of a guaranteed minimum income.  Perhaps
we could contribute half of our share toward programs that address
perceived community needs and use the other half in whatever way we 
choose.  If everyone had access to such an account, no one would live in
abject poverty, and low income people would have charity social services

This new source of economic security would cause the psychological rewards
of work to become more prominent as an issue of concern, while job
security and pay would become somewhat less important.  This would give
both employers and employees more freedom to end relationships that they
find unsatisfactory; which, in turn, would give them more freedom to enter
into relationships that look promising, as there would not be any need for
the burdensome legal obligations that often accompany the decision to
hire, (although binding contracts would remain an option).  A more fluid
job market will make it easier for both employers and employees to find
what they are looking for.  This direct democracy, capitalism-communism
synthesis that is gaia brain theory would make it easier for all people to
follow their bliss. 

The pollution fee/gaia brain concept applies ancient principles to today's
challenges:  All things are connected; We must live in accord with nature;
We must give something back in proportion to what we take; We are the
stewards of this planet.  The greatest challenges that life presents are
those which must be met to ensure the very survival of the organism.  The
difficult but life sustaining task before us is to transform ourselves
from cancer cells of earth to brain cells of earth--to make a healthy,
properly functioning world brain; to create anew our global society. 

John Champagne     jchampag at

Walter Cronkite for President!  Franklin Thomas for President!
They would do it if we ask... Pass it on.

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