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Markets and Copenhagen: The Elephant in the Room


 
"In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act." ~ George Orwell
 
"The world will not evolve past its currents state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation." ~ Albert Einstein
 
"The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation." ~ Bertrand Russell
 
 
When I was twenty-years old I had a skateboarding accident that resulted in a fractured elbow and wrist. Ever since then I can feel the barometric pressure change. Without looking up to the clouds I can usually tell when it’s going to rain.
 
There is a flood coming and no ark is in sight.
 
~
 
Months ago I made an easy prediction: the talks at Copenhagen wouldn’t be of any value. Time and energy will be wasted. World leaders, primarily World Emperor Obama, would obstruct others seriously trying to stop us from making things worse. Former World Emperor Bush made it clear throughout his eight-year reign of terror and tyranny: it’s not that we dislike nature (Bush himself had an eco-friendly home in Crawford, TX), but lining the pockets of capitalist thugs comes first.
 
For Mom (i.e., Earth) it would be better if this useless event didn’t take place since undoubtedly important resources will be squandered to get the participants there and sustain them during their useless visit to Copenhagen.
 
But what concerns me is not the silence and inaction of world leaders. They have vested interests to drive us off the cliff. And certainly not the denials of reactionary maggots (see oily fascists in sheepskins). But the lack of imagination of those who call themselves: "environmentalists."
 
Now, take this with a grain of salt, and as constructively as you possibly can because I realize this is not the most scientific of analyses, but most "environmentalists" I encounter have little or no clue on how market systems fuel our assaults on Mom. They are content with saying "Stop" this and "Stop" that. They put up a banner or get arrested. Mostly it’s symbolic and dismissed as naïve, rebellious youth. If the depth of our understanding of the issue(s) is so shallow and superficial that all we can conjure up are denunciations of "Stop!" then we are fucked. For many I am afraid this is the case. This doesn’t mean we need to be professors and drive Audi’s, but it does mean we should articulate our vision and strategy. People who are unfamiliar with the problems will rightly ask for not only understanding but a solution, and if we cannot give them that then they will rightly dismiss us. Being radical is more than being clad in black and shouting empty slogans.
 
I suspect a big part of our collective misunderstanding is that the organizations we look to for guidance and information doesn’t want to step on any toes. This is an issue any group with interests of changing things will face. If we take too revolutionary of a stance then we risk alienating some and thus limit the growth of our movement (or lose funding), but if we take too weak of a stance then we may grow in numbers (and funding) but we run the risk of being ineffectual – reforms become not only very watered down, if they happen at all, but also an end in itself. Some ceremony or hollow words of commitment may be uttered while behind closed doors lawyers look for loopholes, or they wait for the cameras to leave and they go back to business as normal.
 
So we may alienate some and not get the financial blessings of others, so what? All we can do is our best at being clear and honest. I don’t doubt that if we don’t sacrifice our integrity to be pragmatists it will pay off. Maybe in the short term we don’t grow as fast, but perhaps in the long run success and credentials will speak for themselves. Many so-called "progressives" fell for "Brand Obama" hook, line, and sinker. Shit, some still are. But many have become jaded and Obama’s precious little army is dwindling. They took the weak route. They ate of the pope and they are dying of it.
 
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I would like to think that it is too obvious to mention that it’s not a matter of stopping actions, but changing the institutions and social structures that are the foundation of the activities. In other words, we can’t be marketheists and good ecological stewards too!
 
We get that it is bad to reduce the rainforests, wetlands and grasslands by half. We realize that dumping pollutants into the air, water and soil is not good for sustaining biodiversity, and that the proverbial house of cards can come crashing down with just a handful of extinctions of species. But when we are indoctrinated with ideological drivel about capitalism and the existing order then we are reluctant to go further than staying "Stop!" We don’t want to rock the boat. We like to think that we can have our cake and eat it too: we can save the environment without revolution.
 
True story, but last night my wife tells me that our kindergartner had an interesting note from her teacher in her folder. This month, as part of their social studies curriculum, they are learning about other cultures festivities. Apparently some parents wrote in with their displeasure. They don’t want their kids knowing about Hanukah and Kwanza. The teacher included a letter that said per state law all children must learn these things for building understanding and tolerance. She (of course the kindergartner teacher is a female) included a section of the state law, and it was this that rubbed me raw:
 
The content [...] enables students to understand the importance of patriotism, function in a free enterprise society [...] as referenced in the Texas Education Code, §28.002(h).
 
I mention this to illustrate one example of how we are, in fact, indoctrinated very early on "with ideological drivel about capitalism and the existing order." The bitter truth is we can no more have a destructive system in place and a healthy environment than we can fuck our way back to virginity.
 
Markets do not tell us the true costs of our extraction, production, consumption and disposal of resources – or even our various preferences related to them. For example, a McDonald double cheeseburger does not cost $1.00. The "dollar value menu" is a clear example of how markets lie in order to fuel consumption and profits.
 
The cost of using the land to grow grain to feed the cow – and not to mention the cost of using the land to raise the cattle – and then the cost to slaughter the cow, or the land used to grow the ingredients for the bread, ketchup, pickles, onions and so on, and the cost of the labor, transportation, preparation and finally, the disposal of all the materials used has got to be more than one dollar. Within each of these factors are other externalities that markets ignore – i.e., the cost of transportation includes the cost of gas but we know too that the cost of gas is also deflated due to the exclusion of externalities in its value at the pump.
 
What I am trying to say is that one fundamental thing needed to be good stewards of the environment is an accurate accounting of our preferences and activities. If we continue pushing off the costs of our activities then eventually it will get paid. And that’s the problem we want to address. The debt of our activities is resulting in the wide-scale destruction of ecological habitats, which in turn is behind changing climates, etc. If we want to pay $1 for a double cheeseburger then others will have to pick up the rest of the bill. And I don’t think our children will enjoy paying for it. I don’t think the other species affected and habitats destroyed will appreciate it very much either.
 
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If not markets, then what?
 
Participatory Planning!
 
One of the key features of a Participatory Economy* is its allocation system where workers and consumers cooperate in revealing their preferences and planning their activities.
 
Consumers would propose their activities and their preferences to their local councils who would then compile the data; Iteration Facilitation Boards (IFB) would relay that information to relevant workers councils, who with their own proposals of their preferences and activities would say how much time and materials and so forth would be needed to produce such-and-such. In determining prices we would look at the costs and benefits of labor, health, environment, scarcity and more to arrive at a value that more accurately describes the value of our preferences and activities.
 
I keep saying "preferences and activities" and to those burdened with the baggage of existing economic systems it may seem odd to think preferences should have anything to do with the price of something.
 
If a local community, through their cultural practices, puts heavy emphasis on preserving their natural habitat and want to keep it from being exploited for production (maybe their cultural tradition includes worshiping the land, for example) then through their local planning process their preferences would have a voice in determining the value because value is not just a cold, calculated method of attaching a cost, but also a personal cost too. This is a struggle Native Americans have been dealing with for a very long time. To give an example: when the Klamath people successfully fought on behalf of the salmon they did so for cultural purposes as well as economic.
 
Participatory planning is also technologically friendly since it provides an incentive to develop new regenerative processes that minimize destruction and waste. By such advancements the ecological costs would go down, maybe even health effects, thus lowering the prices for producers and consumers. It’s possible to imagine that by capturing technical and material wastes to be regenerated the costs of books would go down and allow consumers to read more without going broke in the process, or without consuming more trees and releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.
 
The point here is that markets have got to go, and participatory planning should be put in its place, experimented with, and improved upon. It’s not just about the environment but so far as this is the topic then abolishing markets should be among the top demands of any environmentalist.
 
* A Participatory Economy is defined by four features: social ownership of productive assets, participatory planning as briefly described above, balanced job complexes for mutual empowerment and the assurance that workplace democracy is functional as well as formal, and remunerative justice where labor is rewarded for the effort and sacrifice expended. These features are designed to nurture solidarity, self-management, equity, efficiency and sustainability.

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