‘Green Economics’ by Jean Hardy

There is something contradictory about the two words in the title. ‘Green’ implies living in such a way that humans do not destroy the earth we inhabit: rather, indeed, that we preserve and enhance the earth in the way we make our living here. The present word now used to describe this process is that we live sustainably. Human societies which have lived in this way, have existed for thousands of years on the same land, allowing all other species to flourish beside them.

‘Economics’ is a modern term, which is generally applied to capitalism, particularly free trade capitalism. In this system, the earth and its creatures are essentially seen as a ‘resource’ for humans, to use as we wish. Throughout human history, people have used the earth, of course. They have felt free to chop down great forests ever since the beginning of agriculture. They have cultivated the land for many purposes, and in most ‘developed’ nations for last few thousand years, have felt themselves able to ‘possess’ areas of land. But it is only from the seventeenth century that the whole theory of society, resting in what we now call ‘possessive individualism’, has encouraged Europeans first, then many others, to believe that many people can come to acquire land by law. This has flourished along with the system of building up large amounts of property and money, held as capital, from which further money can be earned by the acquisition of interest.

This development was not really possible before then, because in most societies – and this applies to Islamic law today – ‘usury’, in other words lending money or goods for interest, was subject to severe punishments – indeed sometimes by death. And looked at now from the ecological point of view, it is possible to see that interest/usury can be a really significant offence: because where does this profit come from? It comes partly from a person’s work, human energy, but most of it arises from the use of the earth – what we conventionally and anthropocentrically call ‘natural resources’. As the human race grows richer, the earth is inevitably despoiled. As Clive Ponting points out in his book A green history of the world, Easter Island in the Pacific is a frightening example of what can happen when people destroy their own environment – in this case, as in many others, when power struggles predominate over simple and appropriate life styles. This destruction has become worse with the development of modern economics. “The crucial defect (of capitalism) is that the earth’s resources are treated as capital – a set of assets to be turned into a source of profit. Trees, wildlife, minerals, water and soil are treated as commodities to be sold or developed. More important, their price is simply the cost of extracting them and turning them into marketable commodities. Yet this view overlooks the basic truth that the resources of the earth are not just scarce, they are finite.” (pp 155/6)

Much of the focus of Greenspirit is a critique of what happens in a society based in non-Green economics. It is arguable that our system of economics is the root of all our present problems. And these, of course, rest in a particular human mindset. Can we begin to envisage what a Green economics would look like as an alternative?

Deep Ecology and Gaia theory provide some of the basic alternative values:-
• That all species and all life has its own intrinsic value, not dependent on human estimation. The diversity of all life must be protected and encouraged. The smaller size of the human population should be seen as a factor in the enhancement of all life. People should not be allowed to intervene in other life forms without real cause. The earth itself is alive in a real sense, which we can recognise by perceiving her as ‘Gaia’ and we ourselves are but one living part of this whole wonderful system we call ‘the world’
• Politics and economics needs to change to take these factors into account. We need to recognise that we presently live with deeply anthropocentric assumptions, and instead begin to perceive the earth and its creatures as part of our own world, and of equal importance to ourselves. We are a part of one another.

A Greener economics would incorporate the above philosophy and lead to:-
i) a more simple local life style, eating local food, using less transport.
ii) more power being held by local people over the care of the land they live on and the other species that inhabit it with them.
iii) the use of fossil fuels will need to be cut and alternative energies need to arise.
iv) understanding and controlling the present large international economic agencies that rule our live and promote unthinking and unconscious globalisation, which creates more and more divisions between rich and poor and despoils the earth – e.g. the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation (see Links), the large multi national companies.
v) more long-term – to the seventh generation – and conscious understanding of the whole system of which we are a part.

In other words, it is an economics, a means of living on the earth, which promotes human living “as though the earth and all her creatures matter”.

Links