Friday, October 12, 2012

Moral foundation allows us to adapt to circumstances

Our global civilization is headed for another great collapse unless we bring our behavior more into accord with our principles. Natural resources belong to all.

Intelligence is the ability to make connections that foster adaptive responses, to preserve the life and promote the health of an organism. Intelligent societies respond to environmental conditions in ways that promote sustainability. Societies lack intelligence if actions by members cause damage that is not readily apparent to those members. Then individuals may unknowingly do things that harm the interests of all members of society, and that may even cause harm to the larger community of life. When we do things that cause harm and cannot see the effect of our actions, we cannot respond in a way so as to reduce or stop the harm. We cannot consider the effects of our actions on others if we remain unaware of those effects. We are unable to abide by this basic moral precept.

Economists call the disconnect between what it costs to produce things (including costs in terms of pollution and resource depletion) on the one hand and the prices of products offered in the market on the other hand as 'externalities'. Fees assessed to industries according to how much ecological damage they cause would make the prices of things reflect the harm (the costs) that otherwise would remain hidden from consumers. A democratic society would set the fees so that they are just high enough to cause industries to try hard enough to reduce pollution, resource depletion and other harmful environmental impacts. We will know that industries are in fact trying hard enough when most people say that environmental impacts are acceptable, with a good balance being struck between 'freedom', so that our economic system can function and human needs can be met on the one hand, versus 'control', so that the interests of future generations and the larger living community are protected on the other hand.

We could decide that it is in the public interest to limit the rate of taking of natural resources (by applying a fee), so that the shock of having to adapt the scarcity of resources can be reduced by spreading resource availability out over a longer timeframe; or so that, in the case of renewable resources, a sustainable and healthy resource base can be maintained.

We could decide, collectively, that it is in the interest of stargazers (that's most of us at some point) to dim our outdoor lighting somewhat on a regular basis, so that we might enjoy a better view of the night sky. Perhaps we would want to further reduce outdoor lighting on select nights, to avoid disorienting night-migrating birds, perhaps, or so that we might more fully appreciate occasional meteor showers, thin crescent (blue) moons and passing comets. A system of fees on outdoor lighting could achieve this. The fees would float up or down, if there were an imbalance between the number of people who want more outdoor lighting vs. the number who want less. Lighting fixtures could be designed to automatically dim or shut off when the fee reached a threshold amount, as determined by the user. Small changes in opinion about acceptable levels of light pollution (or any other environmental impact) would translate to modest but real changes in actual conditions. The reality, the actual human impacts on the Earth would come to match what most people feel is most acceptable. When the reality matches what the people want, then we can say we live in a democracy.

Outdoor lighting is but one of the many kinds of impacts on the environment that human beings must limit, in an efficient and fair way, if we are to build a global society that is sustainable and consistent with democratic principles. The fee system could result in the world that the largest number of people say they want to live in. We would have a more democratic society. When prices show us the harmful effect on the environment of what we do, we will choose the more environmentally-friendly habits and practices.

John Champagne


Equal sharing of natural wealth promotes justice and sustainability: A solution to the matter of instability we know as the 'arc of civilization' (thrive and collapse)

Biological Model for Politics and Economics

1 comment:

Bill said...

You are far too wordy to cogently follow your somewhat rambling thoughts. How about a succinct set of bullets to get your point across