[iDC] Introducing: Real Costs & Oil Standard

Christiane Robbins cpr at mindspring.com
Tue May 15 01:32:32 EDT 2007

I came across this article and thought it might add to the current  

Can Capitalism Be Green?

Stephen Leahy* - IPS/IFEJ
Inter Press Service News Agency Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Readers Opinions

TORONTO, May 12 (IPS) - Capitalism has proven to be
environmentally and socially unsustainable, so future
prosperity will have to come from a new economic model,
say some experts. What this new model would look like
is the subject of intense debate. One current states
that continuous growth can be environmentally
compatible if clean and efficient technologies are
adopted, and if economies leave behind production of
material goods and move towards services. This is known
as sustainable prosperity.

International agreements to fight global problems, like
the thinning of the atmosphere's ozone layer and
climate change, have used market principles to achieve
compliance by the private sector.

But the problem is, "we are consuming 25 percent more
than the Earth can give us each year," says William
Rees, of the School of Community and Regional Planning
at the University of British Columbia.

Rees and other experts have calculated that annual
human consumption of natural resources exceeds the
planet's ecological capacity to regenerate them by 25
percent, a proportion that has been growing since 1984,
the first year they calculate that humanity crossed
that capacity threshold.

"Our planet needs natural capital (resources) like
trees to provide the ecosystem services of clean air
and water that we all depend on," said Rees in an
interview. He was one of the inventors in 1992 of the
concept of "ecological footprint", an indicator of how
much productive land a certain human population needs
in order to supply itself with resources and to absorb
its waste.

Capitalism is all about accumulation of wealth based on
the consumption of natural resources, whose
availability is strictly limited, he said. We are also
exceeding the maximum amounts of pollution or waste
products, such as carbon dioxide emissions (the main
contributor to climate change), that the planet can
absorb and process without affect.

Market economists call pollution and its impacts
"externalities", and rarely factor them into the
economic models, he said.

Rees defines sustainable prosperity as the global use
of resources and generation of wastes that do not
exceed the planet's capacity to regenerate and absorb.
Equally important, he says, is the social dimension:
true prosperity is possible only when income disparity
between the rich and poor is small.

"U.S. executives are paid 500 to 1,000 times more than
their workers, and this inequity continues to worsen,"
he said.

If everyone lived like the U.S. population, we would
need five planets to provide the necessary natural
resources, says the World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet
Report 2006. China alone would use all the world's
current resources.

Cleaner and more efficient technology is not the
solution either, despite being widely touted as the
path to sustainability, said Rees. Modern
industrialised societies already use resources more
efficiently than developing nations, but rich countries
consume far more material goods and end up using more
of the planet's limited natural resources.

In his opinion, the new mantras of "responsible
consumption" -- buying organic or sustainably-made
goods -- and dematerialisation of economies --
producing services rather than products -- do not solve
the problem. The only solution is to reduce pollution
and consumption of resources, he said.

"All this sustainability talk implies that we don't
really want to change what we are doing," he added.

Responsible shopping or corporate social responsibility
won't make much of a difference, agrees Brian Czech,
president of the Centre for the Advancement of the
Steady State Economy, a Washington, DC economic think

"We have to ratchet our economic growth downwards to
stabilise at a steady state," Czech, a former wildlife
ecologist, said in an interview for this report.

Most developing nations still need to grow
economically, but rich countries have to reduce their
use of resources so that can happen, he says.

The idea that growth can be sustainable by
dematerialisation is "nonsense", in Czech's opinion.
Producing services requires use of natural resources
like energy and the money generated will be used to buy

"Neoclassical economists at the World Bank, USAID (U.S.
Agency for International Development) and elsewhere
continue to believe there are no limits to growth,"
Czech says.

Economic success needs to be redefined: instead of
increasing wealth it should be increasing well being,
says Nic Marks, head of the Centre for Well Being at
the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in London.

The British government has recognised that the economy
has to exist within the reality that there is only one
planet and we are living well beyond its means, Marks
said in an interview.

"However, it is politically unsustainable to say less
economic growth is the way forward," Marks noted.

Instead, greener, cleaner and dematerialised growth is
seen as the solution to "one-planet living". Marks says
these are necessary along with major reductions in
resource use.

U.S. entrepreneur Peter Barnes says the way forward is
for capitalism to shift from exploiting natural
resources like air and water to protecting them as
"common wealth trusts" of humanity. They would belong
to everyone on the planet and would have the power to
limit use of scarce resources, charge rent, and pay
dividends to everyone, Barnes writes in a new book
"Capitalism 3.0".

Barnes envisions a large number of ecosystem trusts
around the world, administered by trustees who cannot
act in their own self-interest. They would be legally
obligated to act solely on behalf of beneficiaries --
all citizens and future generations equally.

"Neither government nor corporations represent the
needs of future generations, ecosystems, and nonhuman
species. Commons trusts can do this," he writes.

(*This story is part of a series of features on
sustainable development by IPS and IFEJ -- the
International Federation of Environmental Journalists.)

On May 14, 2007, at 9:31 AM, Andreas Schiffler wrote:

> I have a comment on two of the remarks made in this thread.
> Michel Bauwens wrote:
>> How do we start is a difficult problem, but we can also view it in  
>> a distributed fashion.  ...
>> On 5/13/07, *Julian Kücklich* <julian at kuecklich.de  
>> <mailto:julian at kuecklich.de>> wrote:
>>     The good thing about virtual items is that they do not need to be
>>     manufactured, and they can be created with a built-in  
>> expiration date.
>>     So the environmental impact is extremely low ...
> In both suggested approaches, the emphasis seems to be on using  
> information technologies in some form to create some kind of  
> 'consensual hallucination' that serves an ecologically motivated  
> goal. In one case it is the distributive properties of p2p  
> networks, in the other it is some form of virtual item that are  
> used to leverage some form of control and power from "cybespace".
> There are two issues with this that I can see in the context of  
> environmental change.
> For one, information technology as a whole (i.e. the network of  
> routers and fibers that transport the information) is problematic  
> from both an ecological as well as a political angle:
> - Internet as "power-hog": see for example the iDC threads on power  
> consumption of the internet or take the the SecondLife avatar  
> carbon-footprint as an example.
> - Hardware is not build in a sustainable fashion at all (i.e.  
> little reuse and recycling) and most of the devices we use are  
> using vast amounts of energy and raw-materials to produce and  
> create environmental issues upon disposal.
> - IT as the poster-child of capitalism through excessive  
> monopolization in the industry: the bulk of compoents comes from  
> Intel+AMD (CPU),  Microsoft+Apple (OS), Nvidia+AMD+Intel (Graphics)  
> and so on.
> The second one it, the relative removal of 'networked solutions'  
> from the physical nature of the problem. Take my 'heat pump  
> installation' as an example. Even if I would find a trusting source  
> on the Internet that discusses the implementation of a 'geothermal  
> heatpump' in a do-it-yourself fashion and offer p2p borrowing that  
> allows me to implement it, that would still not solve my physical  
> problem to have the system constructed (i.e. source the material,  
> get things shipped and installed, etc.). This is where for example  
> highly localized forms of ecological activism (the local Green  
> party) trumps the net anytime and being active on the 'cyberspace  
> drug' actually hampers efforts to affect change in the real world.
> I am not sure how to respond to the first criticism (after all I am  
> sending an email right now to a 24/7 server) but the second one is  
> easy to solve: connect the virtual with the real world, add real- 
> physical entities to the mix, make it easy to move real stuff  
> around. For example the environmentally 'wimpy' exercise currently  
> promoted by many governments to replace incandescent lightbulbs  
> with energy efficient ones is in this sense better than anything  
> available on the net today because it requires us to actually touch  
> and handle the objectionable object.
> And one could favor p2p implementations that have at least some non- 
> virtual components... in some sense, they would make it harder to  
> "unplug" from the network promoting sustainability of the action.  
> The success of SecondLife with is conversion of L$ into US$ is  
> probably a good example for this idea at work (although it has  
> nothing to do with the environment).
> --Andreas
> <aschiffler.vcf>
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity  
> (distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> http://mailman.thing.net/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/

Christiane Robbins

... the space between zero and one  ...
Walter Benjamin


The present age prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to  
the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence for in  
these days illusion only is sacred, truth profane.

Ludwig Feuerbach, 1804-1872,
German Philosopher

More information about the iDC mailing list