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

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Nov 28 10:13:42 EST 1996

That's all fine and nice (Gaia, etc). We've
heard this many times over. 

The question though is what are your SPECIFIC 
measures you can propose to do address the 
overpopulation crises ? By now it hardly disputable 
that unless the population growth is stopped 
and/or reversed, ALL other efforts (ecological, etc) 
are pretty much futile and Gaia is about to eliminate 
us all as major pests and destroyers. She (Gaia)
did this already with dinasaurs.

So, what are your practical suggestions ?

Alex Berezin    

On Wed, 27 Nov 1996, John C. Champagne wrote:

> 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
> linked. 
> 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
> available.  
> 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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