John Hardin / @ 6:51 a.m. / Op-Ed

HARDIN: Balancing ‘The Economy’ With ‘The Environment’


Everyone seems to be looking for the right balance between “the Economy” and “the Environment,” as though they could find some sweet spot there. As if lawmakers could craft a policy that spurs economic growth, prevents habitat loss and promotes biodiversity all at the same time. Even our local environmental groups want to get in on this balancing act. They preface their appeals for tighter environmental regulation of the marijuana industry with the admission that they recognize the importance of the marijuana industry to our local economy, and ask for a “balanced approach.” In truth, they aren’t asking the Supes to balance the needs of “the environment” with the needs of “the economy.” Instead, they’re asking the Supes to balance the demands of growers, for less regulation, with the demands of the environmentalists who support their organization, for regulations to protect endangered species, preserve forest ecosystems and limit pollution and other impacts.

We should remember that when we talk about “the Economy” vs “The Environment,” we’re not talking about two parts of a whole. “The Economy” and “The Environment” are two opposing ways of seeing the world. Scientists, educated people, and people who watch The Discovery Channel recognize that the natural world functions as its own economy. In nature, every creature takes what it needs of what it can find in the world around it, and in death, every creature returns those nutrients to the system that gave it life. That’s how the natural economy works, but that’s not what we mean by “economic activity.” The world’s natural economy has nothing to do with “the Economy” at all. All of that natural economy stuff happens in “the Environment.”

For most humans “the Economy” is also an environment. When a businessman talks about “the business environment,” he’s not talking about the forest; he’s talking about “the Economy.” If you live in the city, very little of what you see, belongs to the natural world, and almost everything you see is for sale. Even in the suburbs, people inhabit “the Economy.” Most people have to spend money to visit “the Environment” in person, but most just look at it on TV, which they also pay for.

So “the Environment” is really the ultimate economy, and “The Economy” is the environment most people live in. It’s very confusing. Even though we civilized people inhabit “the Economy,” more than “the Environment” we still, ultimately, rely on the natural economy, for our survival. That’s why people care so much about “the Environment.” Get it?

We find this hard to understand because it’s still culturally alien to us. The idea that any part of the natural world should remain unbent by the hand of man is a very new one, in our culture. Civilization was founded on the principle that the natural world belongs to us, as human beings, to use as we see fit. Religion tells us that God thinks we humans are special, and that he gave us dominion over his creation. Science tells us that we are much smarter than the rest of creation, and that we, and only we, have the capacity to understand how the universe works. Therefore, it makes sense that we would, with our new, secular, scientific, understanding of how the universe works, radically transform the surface of the Earth for our own purposes.

Of course, the harmony, justice and equality we see in cities all over the world provides clear objective evidence of our superior wisdom, and using the very best science, we can demonstrate from our 10,000 year history, as masters of our own destiny, that we have crafted a culture suited for the ages, as sustainable, resilient and regenerative as nature herself, only better. If your sarcasm meter hasn’t gone off, it needs new batteries.

At least religion had the nerve warn us of the current apocalypse. Science remains in denial, choosing rather to search for the Higgs Boson, gravitational waves, or other such angels that dance on heads of pins, even as it reports that civilization has triggered a cataclysmic, era-ending global extinction event, and forecasts dire consequences from human-caused global warming.

Whichever of our cultural myths you prefer, they all tell us that the Earth is putty in our hands, to be shaped as we see fit. Unfortunately, the truth of our time tells use that our culture was wrong. For ten thousand years, our culture taught us to despise nature and to deny our natural instincts. In exchange, it promised us enlightenment, salvation and wisdom. Today, we see what our culture has really delivered: extinction, pollution, endless technological warfare, poverty, crime, addiction and global environmental devastation, just for starts. For hundreds of generations, we bet our lives on the myths of this culture. Just look around. Anyone with eyes can see that it’s time to cut our losses and face reality.

We inherited a bankrupt culture. Our myths lie and our gods have forsaken us. Our culture, civilization, has been at war with nature for about 10,000 years. Now that we have defeated nature so completely, we realize that we have wrecked our lifeboat. We scramble for survival on an increasingly inhospitable planet, enslaved by the ultraviolent, all-consuming culture we inherited from our parents, and fuel with our lives. The truth stares us in the face, but we have no Plan B.

When we talk about “the Economy,” we’re talking about our culture — civilization, that machine that turns our lives into toil, and the natural world into waste, based on those lies that promised us wisdom, salvation, enlightenment and leisure time, but delivered extinction, waste, poverty and addiction. “The Economy” is itself an addiction. We’ve become dependent on it, and we know it’s killing us, but we can scarcely imagine what our lives would be like without it. When we talk about balancing the “the Environment” and “the Economy,” it’s like balancing the needs of the man to be cured of his alcoholism with the needs of the alcohol to be drunk by him.

It doesn’t make sense to talk about the “health” of “the Economy” because “the Economy” is a disease. The only question that remains is: Is this disease fatal to humanity, or can we defeat it before it defeats us? “The Environment” is the only thing that can sustain us. We cannot afford to lose another inch of it. These are new ideas in this culture, but their truth becomes more apparent every day.

That’s why we need environmental protection far more stringent than anything we’ve seen before, and that’s why we should not tolerate new development that encroaches on the Earth’s little remaining natural habitat or impacts delicate forest ecosystems. I’ve heard a lot of local dope yuppies say. “Hey, look at the damage the logging industry did. Look at how much water those vineyards use. What’s wrong with my little three-acre conversion? Why are we pot farmers being singled out for all of this regulation?”

It’s not your industry being singled out. It’s our whole generation being stuck with the mess left by five hundred generations of people who chose arrogance over respect, and mistook ego for intelligence. It’s about facing facts, and coming to terms with the truth, or it’s about denial, and suicide, but it’s not about your industry being singled out. That’s just you being paranoid and egocentric, and those are just bad habits of ours, culturally. 


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