RE: SOC/ENVIRO: A green view

From: Barbara Lamar (
Date: Sun Apr 22 2001 - 14:41:29 MDT

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf Of
Damien wrote:
> > Her line of critique states that X *is* now the case, and will yield
> > exponential damage unless it's stopped (at what colossal cost is rarely
> > investigated, admittedly).
Greg wrote:

> Right - my reaction to this fairly standard form of eco-doomism
> is based on
> two things. First, the assumption that current modes of living
> will persist
> or spread unchanged is accepted without question. Second, the solution -
> relinquishment - is offered with no more prescription than
> hand-waving and
> bromides.

I think it might be helpful to look more closely at what's meant by "current
modes of living" and "relinquishment" and "technology" and "free enterprise"
in the context of Elliott's article.

Taking it line by line:

> ATTAC Weekly newsletter - Wednesday 04/04/01
> What will our children inherit?
> By Liz Elliott
> For most tribal and village people, for most of human history, the
> cosmos felt to be a place of belonging and security, with significant
> connections to nature and community.

This is questionable; however, I have to admit that the village people I've
known *have* generally seemed happier, more relaxed, less subject to
depression than urban people. In creating a future, I think it would be well
worth looking at tribal structures not as curiosities; rather to better
understand conditions under which humans are happiest. I don't think the
current urban lifestyle is the answer; even for the wealthy it doesn't seem
reasonable to say it's the best way to live. One only has to look at the
mass consumption of antidepressants and drugs such as alcohol to realize how
many people are unhappy. And these would be the *rich* people who can afford
to go to doctors and spend money on antidepressants.

To refresh everyone's memory, here are some excerpts from Donella H.
Meadows' STATE OF THE VILLAGE REPORT (published in 1990 so it's a bit out of
date by now but still fairly accurate, I think) [Donella (Dana) Meadows,
systems analyst, journalist, college professor--Dartmouth, international
co-coordinator of resource management institutions, and farmer. She was
trained as a scientist, earning a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College in
1963 and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University in 1968]

The Global Citizen May 31, 1990

Donella H. Meadows


If the world were a village of 1000 people:
584 would be Asians
123 would be Africans
95 would be East and West Europeans
84 Latin Americans
55 Soviets (still including for the moment Lithuanians, Latvians,
Estonians, etc.)
52 North Americans
6 Australians and New Zealanders

One-third (330) of the people in the village would be children. Half
the children would be immunized against the preventable infectious
diseases such as measles and polio.

Sixty of the thousand villagers would be over the age of 65.
Just under half of the married women would have access to and be
using modern contraceptives.

In this thousand-person community, 200 people would receive three-
fourths of the income; another 200 would receive only 2% of the
Only 70 people would own an automobile (some of them more than
one automobile).
About one-third would not have access to clean, safe drinking
Of the 670 adults in the village half would be illiterate.

The village would have 6 acres of land per person, 6000 acres in all
of which:
700 acres is cropland
1400 acres pasture
1900 acres woodland
2000 acres desert, tundra, pavement, and other wasteland.
The woodland would be declining rapidly; the wasteland increasing;
the other land categories would be roughly stable.

 The village would allocate 83 percent of its fertilizer to 40 percent of
its cropland --
that owned by the richest and best-fed 270 people. Excess
fertilizer running off this land would cause pollution in lakes and
wells. The remaining 60 percent of the land, with its 17 percent of
the fertilizer, would produce 28 percent of the foodgrain and feed 73
percent of the people. The average grain yield on that land would be
one-third the yields gotten by the richer villagers.

The village would have buried beneath it enough explosive power in
nuclear weapons to blow itself to smithereens many times over.
These weapons would be under the control of just 100 of the
people. The other 900 people would be watching them with deep
anxiety, wondering whether the 100 can learn to get along together,
and if they do, whether they might set off the weapons anyway
through inattention or technical bungling, and if they ever decide to
dismantle the weapons, where in the village they will dispose of the
dangerous radioactive materials of which the weapons are made.

>Land was communally owned and
> cared for.

This was true in some cases and not true in others. Land has been well cared
for under both communal forms of ownership and private ownership. Likewise,
land has been wasted under both forms of ownership.

>In modern suburban, mobile culture we become cut off from
> the land and our neighbours, and thus suffer anxiety.

I have directly observed this to be true.

>To sedate this
> emptiness, the richest 20% of humans consume 80% of the world's
> resources, vast amounts of stuff

It's difficult to know for sure what motivates people to accumulate more
stuff than they can realistically use. From personal observation and
introspection, I know that in some cases the motivating factor is
insecurity, the belief that if one has a bigger house, more money, more
stuff, one will be safer.

I make a point of asking people what motivates them when I can do so without
being rude; many work-a-holics have told me they'll slow down once they get
"enough" money. But not one of them has been able to define "enough."

, polluting air and water and
> destroying soil fertility.

I know this is true from personal observation as well as reading and hearing
other people's observations.

>Consumerism and the religion of economic
> growth distract us from the purpose of human life

The above statement is meaningless unless one has a definition of the
"purpose of human life."

; softening the
> underlying transfer of interest/debt money, power and resources to the
> top 1%, blinding us to the great impoverishment of environment,
> community and Third World enslavement.

I've noticed that consumerism keeps people so busy they don't have time to
stop and consider what they're doing and whether it's their best course of
action. Most people I know, even ones who have net income of more than
$100,000 per year, spend almost their entire paycheck on current expenses
and debt service. They're chained to their jobs, because if they quit or
switched to lower paying work, they wouldn't be able to pay the debt. Many
of them have less than a year's worth of living expenses in savings (in some
cases, less than a month). Although these people are surely better off than
slaves, I don't think they could be called free by any stretch; and many of
them are terribly unhappy. They *do* use the purchase of new stuff to give
them a fleeting sense of accomplishment and happiness. And they *aren't*
aware of the cost of their lifestyle to other people and to the environment.
Most of them have no idea that rich, friable river-bottom land has been
converted (in less than a hundred years in most cases) into semi-barren
cement-like soil that cracks when the weather's dry and floods when it

They have no idea of the conditions under which the cattle that were made
into their steaks and hamburgers lived. Feedlots and meat packing plants
aside, much of the pastureland is in terrible condition, over grazed, made
to continue producing only through the use of huge amounts of fertilizer and
pesticides such as 2,4-D. The 2,4-D breaks down within a reasonable amount
of time upon exposure to ultraviolet light, but it persists for *years* in
the shade. I know this from personal experience and from talking to
agricultural agents who were trained in universities supported largely by
dollars from chemical companies. These guys were taught that 2,4-D is good.
But they begin to doubt what they were taught when they see that manure from
cattle grazed on treated pastures contains enough 2,4-D to kill broadleaf
plants for years; and when they notice that all the ranchers who've been in
the business for a number of years get prostate cancer.

> "Consume more!" urge the
> corporations, which spend more on advertising than the world spends on
> education.

I don't think the advertising is to blame. Consumerism seems to come more
from a lack of substance in people's lives. They look for self-worth in the
number of possessions they have and the size of their bank accounts.

> However it cannot go on.

This is true. Something has to change.

>If we all lived like Americans we would need
> three planets. And we are heading for 11 billion population in 100
> years The maths of environmental destruction to pay debt shows this
> excessive consumption cannot go on; it is a compounding interest
> situation where 3% growth a year means 7 times the production in 60
> years. The CSIRO estimates we Australians must decrease their
> resource use by 90% in 100 years!.

CSIRO stands for Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organisation. The CSIRO scientists are *not* in the business of predicting
doom. They're working on technological solutions. Containment and reversal
of salinity degraded lands is one of their projects. Dryland salinity occurs
when native vegetation is cleared and the land is used for shallow-rooted
annual crops. The water table rises, bringing salts to the surface. Such
land doesn't support and plant life, although research is being done to
develop salt-tolerant crops. Salinization can be prevented by planting trees
and deep-rooted perennial crops such as lucerne (alfalfa)

"Dryland salinity which affects almost 2.5 million hectares of Australian
farmland, is expanding at a rate of 3-5% a year and costs $270 million per
year in lost production. Estimates indicate that containment and reversal of
existing salinity degraded lands would provide an additional $810 million in
farm revenue per annum."

> How will we do this? Since 50%
> plus of prices=effort=environmental use are to pay interest, i.e. make
> the richest 5% richer

Governments are in the same predicament as individuals with respect to debt

>, much resource use could be reduced by bank
> restructuring. Taxes and waste could be markedly reduced. Economic
> growth must be reduced by 2% a year, particularly with fossil
> fuel/greenhouse emissions, and replaced with growth in ecology,
> community, art/music, family, health and sprituality.

I would be interested to know more precisely what Elliott has in mind with
respect to bank restructuring and "ecology, community, ..." etc. I agree
that taxes and waste could be markedly reduced.

> Not necessarily
> a decline in true standard of living! In fact, a great opportunity!!

I agree with Elliott here as well. In many cases accumulated stuff lowers
one's quality of life rather than raising it. People end up spending more
time caring for their stuff than enjoying it. I think I've mentioned before
on this list that a turning point in my life came when I spent a morning
with a "homeless" woman and realized that her quality of life was actually
higher than mine (I was making fairly decent money practicing law but had
far less discretionary time than I wanted).

> The current "Economic Growth in GDP" goal is based on false accounting
> (destroying our natural capital and calling this growth!)

This is absolutely true. I can say this with a high degree of certainty
because in addition to a law education I have a master's degree in business
and have professionally practiced accounting for a number of years (I was a
tax lawyer and still provide tax and accounting services for a few clients).
Generally accepted accounting methods don't adequately reflect the costs of

This is another case of consumers not being aware of the true costs of their
lifestyles. This is particularly relevant to people who intend to live for a
long time, because many of the costs are being pushed into the future
instead of recognized currently. If you die at the age of 75, you might not
ever have to worry about dealing with it. But if you live to be 150, you
probably will have to worry about it.

> commercialising the huge unpaid love economy

I think what she means here is raising kids in daycare centers instead of at
home, eating prepared foods instead of cooking, buying food instead of
having a garden, that sort of thing.

, on exporting our soil,
> water and work and beggaring-our-neighbours and on failing to pay the
> true cost of our consumption rampage. Our children will have to pay.

Or *we* will have to pay if we live longer than the traditional human

> And the cleanup will be much more expensive than the costs "saved" in
> the short run.

I agree. It's almost always harder to fix a mess than to do things right in
the first place.

>We are wasting a precious opportunity to invest in
> sustainable technology, so that our children can live off the interest
> (for instance using petrol for solar cells manufacture).

I agree. It makes far more sense to be more efficient and less wasteful

>Actually, our
> true standard of living taking into account environmental loss, crime
> and others stresses, has been dropping since 1975.

I'm not sure about this statement, but I think it's probably pretty
accurate. I didn't comment on the book that was mentioned on this list
recently on the theme "We've Never Had it Better." But I found the standards
of measurement being used by the author highly misleading.

> The Free market/ economic irrationalist ideology is based on a
> perversion of Adams Smiths ideas; Smith never envisioned producers not
> paying their true costs of production, nor of capital being
> internationally hypermobile.

I think this is true. The economic system we have at the moment is very far
from "free enterprise". By removing responsibility from consumption, the
corporate system has the same devastating "tragedy of the commons" effect as
the worst forms of socialism.

> Since profits in the unreal financial
> economy, derivatives, shares, merger driven profits etc have been 20%
> plus, investments in the real world of food, transport and housing
> must perform to the same unsustainable profit return if they are to
> attract scarce capital. Such high profits are only possible by not
> paying tax, stressing workers and gouging the Earth.

I don't entirely agree with the statement, but I do agree that profits shown
on financial statements don't represent real value and that bottom lines
being shown by agribusiness are based on dishonest accounting methods.

> Elders everywhere tell the same story; their land does not look as
> lush or healthy as it used to. Gone are the great cod fisheries of
> eastern Atlantic, the Amazon goes in 25 years, and oil will start
> running out in 20 years. Humans already use 50% of world fresh water
> and arable soils. Minerals and petrol we extract will in future be
> from more marginal, harder to access sources. A quarter of a million
> acres of forest are lost a day. Trees are nature's water pumps, rain
> makers and nurseries. At the current rate of soil loss through
> desertification, salination and erosion, there will be no arable soils
> within 100 years. Agribusiness mines soils till they are just root
> holders to pour chemicals into. 12 kilos of soil are lost for every
> kilo of food produced. Globalized corporations scour the world for the
> cheapest raw materials, lowest environmental standards and worst
> working conditions for workers, small business and farmers.

This is all basically true, although I don't know about the accuracy of her
figures--they're only rough estimates.

> The feedlot dairy industry is a classic agribusiness disaster, cruel
> to cows, polluting to rivers, wasteful!

I'm not sure what she means by feedlot dairy industry. In the US feedlots
are used to fatten up beef cattle. This has nothing to do with the dairy
industry, aside from the fact that some of the beef cattle come out of dairy
cows (I hope I don't insult anyone's intelligence by mentioning that a cow
has to have a calf before she'll produce milk. In cases where a dairy farmer
doesn't want more dairy cattle, for whatever reason, the cows might be bred
to meat-producing breeds such as Beefmaster with the intent of raising the
calf for the meat market)

Anyhow, back to the feedlot industry--in addition to being cruel to the
animals, the method produces meat that is probably not healthy to eat.

Chickens raised in chicken factories have useful lives of only a couple of
years, get cancer and other loathsome diseases. I believe I've read that
bovine growth hormone shortens the useful lives of dairy cows. The factory
farms are "profitable" largely due to government subsidies and dishonest
accounting methods.

> And capital intensive so
> farmers are progressively turned into bank serfs.


> In the US, chicken
> and hog farmers are dictated to every step by giant vertically
> integrated feed, fertilizer and storage companies like Cargill.


> Until
> there is a price squeeze or climate problem, when the farmers take the
> risk and their holdings are resumed by the banks, also owned by
> Cargill, ArcherDanielMidland and Aventis. Everywhere farmers' margins
> are reduced, whilst supermarkets and transport/fuel corporations make
> higher percentages.

Yep. In some cases, the corporation provides seed, some of the machinery,
fertilizer and chemicals. The farmer gets a per cent of the gross profit.
This was called sharecropping in the old days and was not something people
aspired to. In most cases, the corporate/government combo controls commodity
prices. This is *not* free enterprise by any stretch.

> Chemical intensive/ petrol using farming and
> transporting sends farmers broke!

Yep. And then the corporations (or more likely, their head honchos) pick up
the land real cheap.

>International and continent wide
> transport of basics is unnecessary and polluting, yet supermarket
> style food chains are seen as cheaper.

Again, dishonest accounting methods, especially if you figure in health care
costs associated with eating unwholesome food.

>"Cheap" at the expense of
> farmers, environment and climate. Our climate is becoming more
> unstable due to Big Oil protecting its investment in anachronistic
> technology.

I don't think anyone knows for sure what's happening with the weather, but
it does seem unstable lately.

>Our seas and waterways are used as a toxic dump; 13
> million tons of chemicals go into our environment every day. Chemicals
> are not recyclable, biomagnify and are totally unknown in their long
> term effect. 1000 new chemicals a year enter the US market, only 25
> tested, never in the long term, on sensitive people or in combination.

I don't know about the exact figures, but I know from personal observation
that the seas and waterways are being trashed.

> Human physical health is threatened by agribusiness style farming; by
> these chemicals, genetic engineering and proliferation of new
> diseases.

I agree with the bad health effects of many of the chemicals. I don't think
anyone knows enough about genetic engineering to say one way or the other. I
do believe that great benefits can come from genetic engineering, but I
don't like the direction it seems to be going at the moment. I don't trust
corporate management. I know they've lied about the safety of various
chemicals, so I would expect them to lie about other things as well.

> The shallow mineral and essential oil content of speed
> grown, longhauled supermarket supplied food system predispose to heart
> disease, cancer and depression, typical western diseases.

I think this is probably true, though I don't know for sure.

>These are
> exaggerated by worker stress and loneliness of the marginalized
> unemployed, old and young.

This is probably true.

>Poorer nations' people suffer from simple
> infections and stress, due to spending more on debt repayments than
> Health, Education or Water.

This is bull shit, I think. Infections, stress, bad health, dirty water all
existed long before debt repayments and wouldn't magically go away if the
debt was forgiven. However, as with individuals who are chained to their
jobs through consumer debt, the options of the debtors are certainly

> In the Two Thirds World, efficient peasant farmers are threatened by
> monoculture farming for export.

I know this is true from personal observation as well as what I've read and
been told.

>Small scale farms are much more
> efficient than industrialised farming in terms of energy in/energy out
> and total yield per acre.

This is true *only if* efficient methods are used on the small scale farms.

>.Small farmers are undermined by dumping of
> subsidised foods produced by unsustainable methods, and by excessive
> regulations favouring agribusiness,

I know this is true from personal observation.

>genetically engineered seed
> oligopolies and irrigation/big dams.

I don't think this is necessarily true. The harm is caused by the government
subsidies which favor the use of chemicals, and the presently available
genetically engineered crops are designed to work with chemicals and

> Colonialism with greater
> environmental degradation! Once stable selfsufficient communities
> disintegrate. Rural to city migrations create sweatshops which
> undermine all workers' conditions and cause illegal emigration and
> wars.

True. And in many cases the rural to city migrations are not voluntary.

>Water and resource disputes precede much "ethnic conflict"; GATS
> and other WTO treaties specify water as a tradeable commodity, with no
> local protectionism being possible. GATS calls the environment "a
> service", to be privately administered.

I've talked to a number of farmers whose wells have dried up because of
excessive water use by cities, agribusiness and industry. I know of a guy
who's making a living salvaging windmills from ranches that have been
abandoned in west Texas as the Oglalla Aquifer has been pumped down.

> Unsustainable policies are promoted by Big Business. Big farms get
> most subsidies and infrastructure benefits.

This is true, and libertarian supporters of Big Business please note that
this is *not* free enterprise according to its original meaning.

> The major parties are
> bought out and offer no alternative to ecological collapse.

True. I know this from personal observation as well as what I've read and
been told.

>Yet, in
> all this accelerating destruction there is hope!
> 50% of the world still lives in more traditional systems where
> democracy and sustainable agriculture are easily possible. With
> minimal investment in low interest banking, small tools and
> permaculture type training, many of these communities could be self
> sufficient again.

This is true. As one example, back in October I talked to some guys who were
using permaculture to reclaim a site in Macedonia that had been used as a
refugee camp. Not only did they reclaim it--they made it better. The village
below the camp site had always suffered from floods. The civil engineers who
did the drainage ditches and roads for the camp had made the flooding
problem worse, as well as setting up conditions conducive to soil erosion.
Using swales, the permaculturists stopped the flooding and created basins
for catching the rich soil washed down from the mountains instead of letting
it wash into the river. (These people also showed me how to use swales on my
own land to get through droughts like the one we had last year)

>If not propped up by First World aid, oppressive
> corrupt regimes could be toppled by third world people and much
> forest, water and mineral wealth be better managed.

Yes, local people are better able to manage their resources than absentee

> 10 million South
> Indian farmers have pledged to defend their land against genetic
> engineering. Huge demonstrations in Aisa, South America and India
> against corporate slave labour conditions rarely get press.

There are several reasons these people are against genetically engineered
crops, and I'm running out of time so I can't cover all of them. My main
objection to these crops is that they're designed to work with chemicals and
excessive amounts of fertilizer (made from petroleum) which end up polluting
the air and water (and leaving residues in the food as well)

I'm out of time. Thank you, Greg, for posting the article.


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