Monday, August 19, 2013

Hope and Sanity?

Those before us brilliantly eliminated use of then-scarce labor with use of then-plentiful resources. Think Industrial Revolution and fossil fuels.
Now we live in a world emptying of resources and brimming with laborers and pollution. Think resource depletion, 7 billion of us and climate crisis.
Shifting technologies to reduce resource use, by using more labor, could create needed jobs, while sparing now-rare resources, all while yielding less industrial pollution. It's a win-win-win.
And taxing 'bads', like resource use and pollution, instead of 'goods', like paying payroll, can lead us toward a workably sane world by inspiring a different type of technical innovation, that eliminates, not labor, but pollution and rare resource use. Think carbon tax instead of payroll tax.
With great ingenuity our forebearers devised ways that suited their world as it was, empty of people; and full of energy, other resources and room to pollute. They made do by incrementally progressing innovations that suited their then-current technics. We can continue that tradition by recognizing as they did, the limitations and features of the world about us. But our world and theirs differ. By understanding our circumstances we can better suit them.
Our world in 2015 averages a hectare of dry land per couple; that is 14.8 billion hectares divided by about 7.4 billion of us. Yet during the early days of industry, say 1860, there was 14.8/1.4 = 21.2 hectares per human couple. To stretch then-scarce human power in guiding and harvesting twenty-one hectares of land’s productivity, industrialists turned to what was then plentiful, the natural resources that now power and substantiate our industrialized world.
While we cannot do both, we can either imitate early industrialists technology, or imitate their ingenuity in solving one scarcity with another existing abundance. Today’s world is relatively scarce of some ores and of room to pollute, but brimming with us willing workers.
Techniques of manufacturing constantly evolve, partly in response to physical constraints, but also as constrained by imagination. Let’s imagine our world working well with over seven billion of us, yet with only the ores and feedstocks, and pollutable space that we have on hand. Now, how can we get there from here with least pain and adaptation? Can we forecast scarcity, and anticipate it? Can we inspire each other to begin adapting before we encounter more extreme scarcity? Can we understand and adapt to our current circumstances, or will we persist in only imitating the extreme resource dependence of the early industrializers, instead of their ingenuity?
We can face future scarcity today by anticipating future steepening resource costs via current resource taxes. But many are wary of governments rasing only taxes, and not raising provision of services as well. So in British Columbia a carbon tax returned all revenue generated by reductions in income taxes as well as direct cash outlays. This was so successful that the carbon tax is increasingly popular even years after it’s start.
Some might say that if we shift from industrialism in this way, say, from cars to bicycles, we will injure and kill ourselves more. But we hurt ourselves so often today because, to do even simple, common things, we use enormous and dangerous forces, from vast stores of fossil fuels and such. If we apply less force and more evolved techniques, we may well cause less damage, and not just to ourselves.
I hope the preceding captures and shares insights I’ve come across in the writings of E.F. Schumacher, Hazel Henderson, John Michael Greer and Herman Daly.

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