R E S U R G E N C E K E Y NOTE S S A C R E D E C ONOMY
VALUE BEYOND MEASURE
As what we value shifts towards ecological healing, we need to change our economic system to reflect that,
writes Charles Eisenstein
Money is usually the enemy of sustainability. There is a lot of money to be made by extracting resources, clearing forests, depleting oceans, and emitting pollution. There is little to be made by greening deserts, restoring wetlands, protecting habitats, or avoiding pollution. That means that government policies – and our own good intentions – must fight the money power in order to maintain a liveable world that honours all life.
Is this a necessary state of affairs? Does it reflect an eternal battle between altruism and selfishness, between spirit and matter, good and evil, God and Mammon? Some radical economists think it need not be this way. Money, after all, is a human creation, a social agreement reflecting a culture’s ‘story of value’. As our civilisation’s values change, this agreement can change as well.
One way to change it would be to somehow make environmentally destructive activities very expensive, and restorative activities highly remunerative. The idea is that pollution, deforestation, and so forth are a form of stealing from society, from Nature, and from future generations. No one should be allowed to profit by externalising costs onto someone else. Green taxes and capand-trade schemes for pollution rights seek to internalise these costs and align the best business decisions with the best ecological decisions. On the restorative side, the concept of ‘valuing ecosystem services’ seeks to pay people to preserve land, plant forests, protect watersheds, and so on.
In practice, these ideas have spawned mixed results. Carbon offsetting, for example, has led to massive planting of trees to offset CO2 emissions – but sometimes these plantings have been of ecologically disastrous monocrops. In Latin America, the monetisation of ecosystem services has sometimes cut off Indigenous people from their traditional subsistence activities. And other real and potential problems are now widely discussed in the literature: displacement of harmful activities onto non-protected areas or into the future, the difficulty and danger of compartmentalising ecosystem services (which devalues their synergies), the probability that monetising ecosystem services will only extend economic inequities into new realms, and so on.
32 Resurgence & Ecologist
Januar y/Februar y 2013