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ACHIEVING ECO-NOMIC SECURITY*
ON SPACESHIP EARTH

By Jim Bell

CHAPTER XI

THE ROLES OF SOCIETY

Things We Can All Do
The Individual And Family: Voting With Our Dollars
Educational Institutions
New Designs For Educational Institutions
The Business Community
The Government
The Media
The Artist
The Scientific and Engineering Community
The Religious And Spiritual Community

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis

The preceding chapters have explored many of the ways that eco-nomic security can be enhanced and why doing so is in everyone's interest. The material that follows will focus on how we as individuals, groups, and institutions, can actively participate in the process of getting us from where we are now to a more eco-nomically sustainable future.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Things We Can All Do
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether we are talking about individuals, business, government, or other organizations, some general things can be done at each of these levels to improve eco-nomic security.

  1. 1. At every level, using resources like energy and water more efficiently will help improve eco-nomic security. It will also lessen the environmental damage associated with resource procurement and use. Plus, saving resources will almost always save money.
  2. 2. Resources can be saved, in general, by following the maxim: reduce, reuse, recycle. Avoid unnecessary purchases, try to purchase things that are durable, reusable, or at least recyclable or compostable. Try to avoid purchasing things that will end up in landfills.
  3. 3. Health and environmental problems can be reduced by not using toxic materials. If the use of such materials is unavoidable, make sure they are recycled or otherwise neutralized after use.
  4. Note: Even "proper disposal" of toxic materials is problematic. Unless a toxic material is recycled or neutralized its "proper disposal" is bound to emerge as another problem, eventually. (See index for more entries.)
  5. 4. Negative ecological impacts can be reduced if potential purchases are evaluated from a true-cost-pricing or total cost perspective. For example:
    • Where did the raw materials in a product come from and what kind of damage was sustained in its procurement?
    • What kind of damage was sustained when this raw material was refined and/or used in fabrication?
    • What are the ecological and social implications of using the refined material or the products made from it?
    • Finally, is the refined material or the products made from it, easily reused, recycled, and/or composted?

Because some of these questions are only just beginning to be asked, some of the answers have not yet been completely explored. But it is important to ask these questions and for each of us to add our thinking to the process of getting them answered.

Without true-cost-pricing, the product with the least negative impact may not be the least expensive. Nevertheless, eco-nomic security can be enhanced if our purchases are made with total impact in mind. When suitably designed products are not available, let suppliers know that you desire to purchases products with life-cycles that are as ecologically benign as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Individual And Family: Voting With Our Dollars
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most important statements that individuals and their families can make toward promoting eco-nomic security relates to how they spend their money. When we choose not to buy something or choose one product over another, we send powerful messages to the business community about our vision of the future. Indeed, how we spend our money today has a profound effect on what life will be like in the future.

On a more specific level individuals and families can help create a more sustainable future in the following ways:

  1. If a small parcel of land is available, grow as much of your own food as is practical and grow it organically. With a little skill, even a window box can contribute to your home food supply. When buying food, make an effort to purchase food grown organically and try to eat low on the food chain, i.e., become a vegetarian if possible or at least limit the amount of meat in your diet. If you feel the need to eat meat, try to find suppliers that do not use growth hormones and antibiotics on the animals they raise. Look for suppliers that let their animals "range freely" and that provide them with organically grown feed. Whatever the farming method, producing a pound of meat requires many times more land, water, and energy than producing a pound of vegetables, fruit, or grain. Therefore, all things being equal, a diet that includes meat is more damaging to our eco-nomic security than one that does not.
  2. Purchase clothing made from organically grown fibers whenever possible. Second-hand clothing is also a good option. Even if second-hand clothing is not made of ecologically benign materials, using it longer delays its disposal. Wearing second-hand clothing will also help other clothing last longer and slow the consumption of resources to produce new clothing.
  3. Use household products that are ecologically benign.
  4. Walk, bicycle, or use public transportation where practical. If a car is needed, purchase one that is as efficient as possible and keep it properly maintained.
  5. Make your home more energy and water efficient. Use direct solar energy to heat water and space heat wherever practical. Where it is legal and practical, set up a gray water recycling system. Also, collect and store rain water for later use. Explore the possibility of using solar energy in its various forms to become more energy independent.
  6. In general, avoid wood and fiber products that are not grown, harvested, processed, and transported in ways that are ecologically sustainable. Use domestically produced wood and fiber whenever possible. Many countries have less controls on the cultivation and harvesting of such materials, and thus these methods may be more damaging. Although it is not always the case, moving things long distances often requires a greater expenditure of energy than moving materials shorter distances. Whatever the situation, it is good to be conscious of these issues when we consider purchases.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Educational Institutions
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Educational institutions, whether in the United States or abroad, can play a pivotal role in creating a sustainable future on our planet.

Toward this goal, schools and colleges need to broaden their mandates to better address the need to achieve eco-nomic security. More specifically, educational institutions need to develop curricula designed to teach people how to live and make livings on our planet in ways that are eco-nomically sustainable. The development of such a curriculum does not mean that subjects currently taught would be replaced. What it does mean is that most of these subjects would be taught from an ecological or biospheric perspective. In other words, students should be encouraged to think critically about how knowledge in a particular subject area relates to our global situation. Further, they should ask how that knowledge can be used to enhance the economic, social, and ecological well being of everyone including the other life forms that share this planet with us.

For example, if an individual's educational goal was to be involved in international trade, the objectives of the curriculum would be:

  • To develop an individual with the skills and ethics to trade successfully from a profit perspective, but also . . .
  • in ways that are a "win" for those at the other end of the trade equation and which . . .
  • protect the ecological foundation that makes possible the economic system within which the trade takes place.

In the area of chemistry, the focus of the curriculum would be on using chemistry in ways that are consistent with achieving eco-nomic security. In this capacity, a chemistry department could, as a partner with the private sector and government, help business and industry develop more ecologically and socially benign ways of producing products and providing services.

 

 

 

 

 

 
New Designs For Educational Institutions
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another aspect of the role of education in promoting eco-nomic security relate to how educational institutions are designed, constructed, and maintained. To be consistent with the goal of enhancing eco-nomic security, learning facilities should be designed or redesigned to reflect that goal. In other words educational institutions should:

  • Be built and maintained with resources that are mined, harvested, processed, transported, and used in ways that are ecologically sustainable.
  • Be designed to maximize the efficient use of energy, water, and other resources and put resources like rainfall and solar energy, which the site receives naturally, to work.
  • Avoid the use of toxic materials in construction or maintenance so that people learning or working in a facility will not be exposed to health-threatening materials during the normal use of the facilities or in the case of fires. (When modern buildings catch fire, most people who die are not burned. They perish from breathing the toxic gases given off by burning plastic and other materials.)
  • Be built on earthquake-safe geological deposits, in locations not subject to flooding and that do not use up valuable resources like prime agricultural soils or vital habitat areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Business Community 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The business community has a major role to play in achieving economic, social, and ecological security. There is a myth in our society that people engaged in business are only interested in profits. While everyone, including people directly engaged in business, is self-interested, business people are not necessarily more mercenary in protecting those interests than anyone else. In fact, examples cited in the preceding text show that many business people, from small businesses to large corporations, are putting extra effort into being ecologically and socially responsible.

Unfortunately, the lack of true-cost-pricing often, though not always, puts such businesses at an economic disadvantage with their less responsible competitors. When all costs are included, more socially and ecologically sustainable business practices are in everyone's eco-nomic interest.

Given that true-cost-pricing is not yet a reality, businesses can still do many things to foster eco-nomic security.

  1. Business and industry should design or retrofit their facilities along the lines previously discussed in the section on New Designs For Educational Institutions.
  2. If a business is involved in manufacturing, it should try to use recycled materials instead of virgin materials in production processes. It should also design products and packaging so that they can be easily reused or at least recycled and/or composted.
  3. All businesses should strive to use resources like energy and water as efficiently as possible. In addition to saving resources, efficient use will save a business money by reducing overhead costs.
  4. Businesses should avoid the use of toxic materials in production or maintenance whenever possible and develop production methods that do not produce toxic by-products.
  5. When using virgin materials, businesses should try to purchase materials that were mined, harvested, and processed in ways that are as ecologically benign as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Government
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal

As with other sectors of our society, the federal government has an important role to play in moving us toward eco-nomic sustainability. Probably the most important task at the federal level is the implementation of true-cost or full-cost-pricing. This is essential to the process of moving away from our present subsidy-skewed economy to a truly free market system. Toward this aim the federal government can help by:

  1. Establish a true-cost-accounting methodology. Once established, this methodology can be used to find out what the products and services offered in the U.S. market place are really costing us.
  2. Passing legislation to ensure that the true or full costs, to the degree that they can be known, are included in the retail price of the product or service involved.

As was discussed in preceding chapters, at least partial true-cost methodologies are already beginning to emerge. The development of such methodologies could be accelerated by teaming up ecologically knowledgeable economists with the best U.S. accounting firms and the U.S. General Accounting Office for this purpose.

As methodologies and costs emerge from this collaboration, the information could be developed into a comprehensive system for evaluating true or full-cost. As this system evolves, federal legislatures could begin the process of gradually adding the true-cost to the price of products and services. The word "gradual" is used here advisedly. The speed at which the true-cost is added should only be tempered by how rapidly the free market can respond to the leveling of the economic playing field that true-cost-pricing would foster. If the change is too rapid, the market will not have enough time to change over to the production of ecologically benign replacement goods in sufficient quantities at reasonable prices to meet demand.

In addition to the implementation of true-cost-pricing, the federal legislature has another parallel role to play -- to phase out all energy and materials-related subsidies that make non-renewable energy and virgin material prices lower than they actually are. Getting rid of such subsidies would stimulate efficient energy use, the development of renewable energy resources, and the design of reusable and recyclable products and packaging. Eliminating subsidies would also contribute toward strengthening the free market process, in general, by further leveling the economic playing field.

In conjunction with phasing out energy related subsidies, it would be advisable for the federal legislature to set a floor on how low retail energy prices in the U.S. could fall. This is needed for the following reasons.

True-cost energy pricing, coupled with the elimination of tax subsidies for the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries, would greatly stimulate the move to more efficient energy use and the replacement of conventional energy supplies with renewable energy resources. This, in turn, would result in a rapid reduction in the amount of energy consumed in the United States, particularly imported energy. In light of the relatively large change in world energy demand that such a reduction would cause, world oil prices would fall quickly to perhaps $5 per barrel or less. Small improvements in U.S. energy efficiency and over-production by OPEC dropped world oil prices down to $8.50 per barrel for a short time in 1986. (812)

If retail energy prices in the U.S. were allowed to fall with world market prices, the move to efficiency and renewables would be slowed or even reversed. If the demand for oil increased, in response to lower oil prices, world energy prices would rise and we would be back on the same energy see-saw that we are on now.

With an energy price floor, however, lower prices for energy on the world market would not effect retail energy prices in the U.S. Thus, the move to greater efficiency and renewables would not be stifled. If, for some reason energy prices on the world market went higher than the U.S. retail energy price floor, U.S. retail prices would be allowed to rise with them. But as long as the United States continued to reduce consumption, a rise in world energy prices would be very unlikely.

A painless way to set this floor price would be to base it on the price of oil on the world market at the time of its enactment. If this price was $16 per barrel, for example, the retail price of energy in the U.S. market could fall no lower than $16 for the equivalent amount of energy in a barrel of oil plus any fixed costs and true-costs associated with its procurement, processing, delivery, and use. (813) In the case of electricity, its retail price could fall no lower than what electricity would cost if it was produced by burning $16 a barrel oil plus fixed and true-costs. But unlike its retail cost, the wholesale price of energy in U.S. markets would rise and fall with the world market price.

After setting this floor, the U.S. government should do everything possible, short of providing subsidies, to promote efficient energy use and renewable energy resources. One way to do this would be to provide low interest federal loans to finance energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy projects. These loans would finance projects that have paybacks that exceed by .5 percent plus administration, the interest that the government would be paying on what it borrowed to implement the program. In other words, the loan program would be designed so that the government would earn .5 percent on each loan. Actually, becoming more energy efficient and switching to renewables would happen naturally with true-cost-pricing and the elimination of energy industry subsidies. But setting a price floor and providing loans would make it to happen more rapidly which, after the dust settled, would be to everyone's advantage.

In addition to keeping the U.S. on the efficiency and renewables track, setting an energy price floor would help to reduce our national dept and free up cash to take care of other problems. For example, if the price of a barrel of oil on the world market fell to $5 per barrel while the retail price in the U.S. was based on $16 per barrel energy equivalent, an $11 surplus would be available for every barrel of oil energy equivalent used in the United States. Even if we were only using half the energy we currently use now, an $11 surplus per barrel energy equivalent, would generate over $60 billion each year. (814) This amount is on top of the $100 to $300 billion or more (815) that would be saved by getting rid of direct and hidden energy and material subsidies. (816)

State Governments

Although true or full-cost-pricing should be instituted on national and ultimately global levels, state governments can help the process along in a number of ways. States can set up their own accounting procedures to find out what the products and services offered in the state's economy are really costing the citizens of the state.

Unless products are:

  • made from materials that were mined, harvested, processed and fabricated in way that are ecologically sustainable,
  • designed to be used in ways that are ecologically benign,
  • designed to be easily reused, recycled, or composted at the end of its usefulness,
  • associated with an in-place, incentive based (817) infrastructure to insure that products are reused, recycled, or composted, as is appropriate, when their usefulness has passed,

the products in question will burden society with hidden costs.

In other words, on one or more of the levels listed above, we as individuals and as taxpayers are going to have to pay something above and beyond what the consumer paid for the product at the retail level. By adding these real costs to the retail price of the product in question, we avoid the public liability associated with them. Since the purchasers of a product are those who assumedly benefit from their purchases, it is only fair that they should pay all the costs connected with the product.

It would also be legitimate and logical to add these same costs to similar products imported into a state. Obviously, the destination state will have to pay for any negative environmental impact caused by the use of a product inside state boundaries. If the product is not designed to be easily recycled and a recycling infrastructure is not in place to handle it, the state will also have to pay for the product's disposal. The destination state will also be on the hook for any negative impacts, like groundwater pollution, that disposal of the product may cause.

Even the negative impacts associated with the creation of products in another state or country and the negative impacts associated with the energy used to transport such products to their retail destination will have a negative economic impact on the state where they are sold. For example, ecological or health problems sustained in one state affect every other state. Even if the costs associated with mitigating such problems are paid by the state where a product is produced, it creates a strain on that state's revenues. This increases the possibility that there will be less money to deal with other problems, such as providing homes for the homeless, public assistance for the poor, better education for youth, and better trained police. If a product's destination state has a superior public assistance program, reduced revenues in other states can have an additional effect. Since the people affected by these cutbacks are mobile, they may migrate to other states where services and conditions are better. As recent migration trends have shown, this phenomenon is also happening between nations.

Federal revenue may also be required to take up the slack in any of the areas just discussed to directly pay for cleanups or to pay health costs. For example, it may ultimately cost hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up all the toxic waste dumps in our country. The payment for pollution-related health costs may also run in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The more federal revenues are used up in dealing with these problems, the less there is money available to help states with education and so forth.

Even when ecological and health damages are sustained in other countries, the eco-nomic liabilities sustained will ultimately affect everyone. For example, if a local fishing industry is damaged or destroyed in a politically unstable country by pollution or over-exploitation, it can lead to civil unrest that may even cause governments to be overthrown. Even short of a revolution, such occurrences would have cost implications for the U.S. on at least two levels. Militarily, this could lead or contribute to expenditures like those we are currently paying to blockade Haiti or keep the peace in Somalia. Although it has not been widely publicized, the environmental degradation of Haiti and Somalia has been a contributing factor to the devastating problems experienced in those countries.

Local Government

Since these same issues apply to the local level, local governments can also play a role in implementing true-cost-pricing. One area where local true-cost-pricing could be applied is in the disposal sector. Any product residue or product packaging that is not designed to be easily reused or recycled is going to cost something to dispose. At a minimum, these disposal costs include getting the residue or package to the disposal site and the cost of replacing the landfill volume the packaging or residue will use up. If the packaging or residue results in the release of air or water pollution, additional costs would be sustained. If the product residue or its packaging is toxic or partially toxic, even more costs, like cleaning up groundwater pollution, will be involved.

Under California State law, a $1 can of spray paint, with paint residue in it, costs about $20 to dispose legally. (818) With local true-cost-pricing, the can of spray paint would cost at least $21. Of course no one would buy it, which would quickly lead to the development of spray paint cans designed to be reused or at least recycled which would contain non-toxic paints and ecologically benign solvents.

In addition to disposal costs, the use of toxic materials has health cost implications to local governments. If the use of a material causes health problems, these costs should be added to the cost of the material involved. Leveling the economic playing field in these ways, would foster the development of non-toxic replacement products that would avoid such liabilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Media
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The media can be another important player in achieving eco-nomic sustainability. Probably the most important contribution the media can make is to do a better job of reporting on ecological issues. It is not so much that more time needs to be devoted to these topics, but that better research needs to go into its reporting.

When the Alaskan oil spill occurred, the media missed a great opportunity to broaden public awareness of the issue in ways that could lead to the avoidance of such problems in the future. Over and over, it was reported that although the spill was a tragedy, the only options available to us were to resign ourselves to similar disasters, from time to time, or we would have to stop driving our cars or accept freezing in the dark during the winter and roasting in the summer.

In the reporting, there was almost no mention, and certainly none in detail, of the many ways to avoid the use of fossil fuels altogether by using energy more efficiently and switching to renewable energy resources. Nor was the fact highlighted that if we pursued this course, many more jobs would be created than if we continue on our present energy path. Additionally, the reporting made no mention of the many other ways, economically and environmentally, we would benefit from, by becoming more energy efficient and switching to renewables. (See index for more entries.)

Another example of the need for improved media coverage is in the area of recycling. Although the media is largely sympathetic to the idea of recycling, much of the reporting on it ends by concluding that the expansion of recycling is hampered by the lack of markets for recycled materials.

The question never explored by reporters and editors is: why aren't the markets there? Even a cursory look into the subject reveals that using recycled materials in industry instead of virgin materials saves large amounts of energy. Melting down a piece of refined metal and forming it into a new product takes much less energy than mining and processing virgin ores to make a product.

A little deeper look would uncover the direct tax subsidies that support the mining and harvesting of virgin materials. Further research would expose a long list of hidden costs related to our throw-away society which are ultimately paid by taxpayers. These costs range from the ecological damage caused during the procurement and processing of virgin materials to the landfill space that throwaway objects use up. Research like this would disclose that the "limited market" for recycled materials is completely artificial. Further, it would suggest that, if we truly had a free-market economy, industries needing raw materials would always purchase recycled materials first. Why? Because in a free market this would be the most cost-effective thing for them to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Artist
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historically, consciously or unconsciously, the artist has served as a kind of beacon for the rest of humanity, pointing out new things or new ways of seeing the familiar. The artist has also played the role of a heightened sensory receptor for society at large, sensing some threat, challenge, or opportunity as yet unrecognized by the rest of us, then using art to bring it to our attention. Today the artist has a new challenge -- the challenge to imagine an ecologically sustainable future and use art to create that future. As an artist/designer I am of this camp and I encourage all artists to join in.

But even before launching oneself on such a daunting task, the artist can contribute to this future by using non-toxic ecologically benign media whenever possible. Many of the materials used by artists today are harmful to the artist and the environment. Yet, some of the most enduring art like cave paintings and pictographs were made with natural materials. Even the paintings by the masters were made using hand-ground pigments fixed in egg yolk, linseed oil, and bee's wax.

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Scientific and Engineering Community
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scientific and engineering community has a very important role in the development of an eco-nomically secure future. Historically, artists, scientists, and engineers were one. It is that shared heritage that the scientific and engineering community needs to embrace. Whether working as an individual or as part of a team, try to spend as little time as is needed figuring out why things will not work, or analyzing the things we are doing as a species to weaken our life support system.

Instead, spend your most creative energy discovering how we can live, as the modern beings that we are, in ways that protect our planet's life support system sufficiently to ensure its and our own future well being.

Even though the solutions discussed in this book are on the right track, none of them could be described as totally eco-nomically sustainable. Sooner or later, the contradiction inherent in these technologies will have to be worked out by scientists and engineers.

In addition to the technologies discussed in this book, there is one research direction that I would like to suggest to researchers.

Bioluminescence - This is the light that is generated by fireflies, glow worms, and other organisms. Compared even to fluorescent lighting which converts about 25 percent of the energy delivered to it into light, bioluminescence, which is virtually "light without heat", converts close to 100 percent of the energy consumed into light. (819) If a practical bioluminescent light could be developed it could be many times more efficient than today's best lighting technology.

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Religious And Spiritual Community
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever religious, spiritual, or philosophic path we follow, we honor the creation of the universe and its creator when we strive to live on our planet in ways that are eco-nomically sustainable. Not only is protecting our planet's life support system in our own interest, it is also totally consistent with the precepts of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, and loving thy neighbor as thyself.

When we conduct our affairs in ways that preserve the quality of the air, the purity of our water, and the health of the soil, we contribute to the well being of each other and all life. Toward this goal, there are a number of practical activities that religious and spiritually-directed individuals and groups can undertake:

o If your religious and spiritual path is practiced in a building or other facility, it should be designed or redesigned to be energy, water, and in general resource- efficient. Facilities should also be maintained using ecologically benign strategies and products.

o If your path involves education, people in general and our youth in particular need to know how to be responsible astronauts on Spaceship Earth. They need to know how our planet's life support system works and how we as individuals and a species can provide ourselves with the things we need and want in ways that are sustainable. This can be accomplished through regular lecture and classroom formats and through hands-on projects like putting in an organic garden, recycling, wildlife study camping trips, etc.

If your organization purchases food, try to purchase organically grown food. For a time, this may be more expensive than buying the typical petrochemically grown fare, but in reality organically grown food is healthier to eat, and it protects farm workers, wildlife, and water supplies from pesticides and chemical fertilizers. It also gives farmers an economic incentive to convert to sustainable agricultural practices.

More ecologically sound consumption choices can be made on other levels as well. In general, all purchases, be they kitchen towels or dish washing liquid, or materials for a major construction project, should be made on the basis of total-cost and ecological sustainability.

We are at a turning point. How we conduct ourselves over the next few years will greatly determine the future of our children. As expressed by a Kenyan proverb, "Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents . . . . it was lent to you by your children". How our children remember us in the future will have a great deal to do with the wisdom of our acts in the present. (820)

 

 

 

 

 


Jim Bell 4862 Voltaire St. San Diego, CA 92107 jimbellelsi@cox.net