Gaia Brain - short version

John C. Champagne jchampag at
Tue Aug 5 17:52:29 EST 1997

Pollution fees:  Part of the Gaia brain.         by John Champagne

     We have a problem with pollution.  Our economy treats the earth as a 
free dumping ground for wastes.  The ecosystems of earth provide a valuable 
service by taking our waste products and transforming them into clean air 
and water and soil.  Like anything that is free, this natural service of  
accepting and cleaning up wastes that the earth provides for us is over used.

     We treat these valuable services as a free good because, until 
recently, there were not such great demands placed on these natural  
recycling services--we could use them as though they were free without  
destroying them from overuse; and, we lacked the tools to measure and  
allocate these resources.  Now, the demands placed on the earth's 
ecosystems by our habit of putting industrial and agricultural wastes in 
them are exceeding their capacity to absorb and clean.  So the problem 
is:  'How to allocate the limited resource of waste removal and cleaning 
in an efficient and fair way'. 

     If the earth's waste removal service were treated as the valuable
resource that it is, and if our industries were required to pay a fee
according to how much they use the service, then the problem of overuse
due to zero cost would be eliminated.  A pollution fee would require the
measurement of emissions and would cause a reduction in the emissions. 
This is how a sensory nervous system works:  information about injury to
the organism is transmitted by sense nerves into the neural network
(brain) and the neural network changes in a way that causes a reduction in
the injury.  In this analogy, pollution, or stress to ecosystems,
represents injury to the organism, the earth.  Information about the
environmental impact of industry and agriculture enters society (the
neural net) through the price of goods and services in the marketplace. 
Cleaner products cost less, while those with higher ecological costs would
have correspondingly higher prices attached. 

     Another way to think of this process is as an autonomic nervous 
system for earth:  the pollution fee is information about stresses or 
demands on ecosystems that would tend to move the earth organism out of 
homeostasis, and it is an economic incentive or pressure to maintain a 
homeostasis, or a healthy ecologic balance. 

     We must decide what the earth's ecosystems can sustainably absorb 
from us in the form of wastes.  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 

     We could issue permits for various pollutants according to how much of
each pollutant we will allow, and auction these permits in the free
market.  Thus, those industries which can adapt processes to reduce or
eliminate waste emissions will have an advantage in the market, while 
those industries which continue to emit large amounts of waste will
have to include the costs to ecosystems in the price of their products. 

     Because just about everyone will have a different opinion regarding
the levels of pollutants that would be safe and harmless, 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 organo-halogen
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 and 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. 

     This concept of assigning fees to the use of earth's waste removal
services can be applied to other areas.  Pollution fees are actually a
subset of green fees.  Green fees are a way to manage scarce natural
resources that are subject to overuse and depletion, such as forests,
fisheries and grazing land.  This system could also be applied 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, but until
that time, we might 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. 

     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 
living systems.  As these resources can be thought of as belonging  
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 to charities and 
spend 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. 

     The pollution fee/gaia brain concept applies ancient principles to 
today's challenges:  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/re-make our global society, and 

jchampag at


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