A recent blog post on Gary Patton’s excellent Two Worlds blog cites The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a study proposed to help create “a society that recognizes, measures, manages and economically rewards responsible stewardship of its natural capital,” sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the IEEE Committee on Earth Observation (ICEO).
The study’s mission statement demonstrates quite clearly that the IEEE proposes to maintain the status quo, not usher in an economic revolution. Any society that proposes to “steward” “its” natural capital is a society dominated by ownership and use of the natural world for human profit. We would be shocked to discover the IEEE proposing any other program, since the purpose of engineering in any form is to make over the Earth for human profit.
Development is development, even environmentally “sensitive” development is development. Development is the problem, not the solution.
Attempting to assign monetary value to the natural world and natural processes is just one more attempt to subvert what little is left to human service. Natural processes do not exist for human use and benefit. They exist for themselves.
The statement: “In order to create truly sustainable relationships with natural resources, we may need to reconsider the way we acknowledge importance and the underlying beliefs that shape our systems.” illustrates the depth of the problem. “Resources” refers to use by humans, be they natural or … unnatural. The one underlying belief that shapes our system is ownership and use for human benefit. Until we can drop that particular bit of hubris, we cannot make any headway in living sustainably on this Earth.
There is only one sustainable “use” of the non-human world, to never use resources faster than they are naturally replenished and never produce wastes faster than they are naturally dispersed. Any other form of use is by definition unsustainable.
Further, the pamphlet states: “In the meantime, an economic shift in perception of natural sources can help to preserve those sources while more complex shifts in perception occur.” This flies in the face of human history. Perceiving natural sources in economic terms merely hastens their depletion. The economy is at the mercy of whomsoever controls it, and those in control cannot turn their backs on the economic and political systems that maintain their access to power.
Therefore, anyone who views the natural world as anything other than free sources of raw materials, space and profit is automatically opted out of the control system.
The only possible path through to a sustainable human economy is to change from production for profit to production for use, the same economic system employed by all life forms on Earth, save Homo sapiens, accompanied by a realistic reduction in human population. No other species lives beyond its means as humans do. Therefore, until humans come back to the fold, living within natural cycles of resource availability, human society will continue to be unsustainable.
None of this is new. These principles were clearly articulated in 1977 in Progress as if Survival Mattered, published by Friends of the Earth. The message is simple:
Things that cannot go on forever, don’t.