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On Dangerous Disconnect Between Economics and Ecology

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William Rees is one of the pioneers of ecological economics and is the originator and co-developer of ‘ecological footprint analysis’. This video contains some basic facts about current consumption levels in advanced economies that are attention-grabbing. I’d normally say “Enjoy” but this is not that sort of video.

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47 comments

  1. Anon

    Interesting Q&A today with German sociologist Ulrich Beck on a similar theme viz. how nuclear effectively breaks the social contract, and represents a contradiction in terms of free markets:

    Even if the probability of a catastrophe like this is very low, very small, maybe in 10,000 years or even 100,000 years, a case like this could happen–it happens.

    From a sociological point of view, at least in Europe but in many other countries as well, in the 19th century, we developed a system of rules in order to cope with the uncertainties and risks produced by modernity. It includes the exchange of money against loss of an eye, or loss of an arm, or loss of the whole body or loss of the whole city. The relationship between risk and insurance was actually a system of norms, or you could even say a social contract of progress.

    But if you run atomic industries, you don’t have to have insurance. It’s a mixture of private and state insurance. But actually, all the amount of money, which is prepared to react to this situation, is much less than what is needed. So actually, it is beyond insurance…

    …I’m talking about a principle, which is actually the basis of capitalism. Atomic energy and atomic industries are, let’s say, socialist industries because the state, the population, the citizens are paying if something goes wrong.

    And actually, this is a contradiction to capitalism and the market economy. We have the same discussion actually in relation to the banking system; it’s quite similar. Actually, the banks should take care of possible crises, and maybe they should have an insurance principle as well. But they don’t, so actually the state has to take it. This is socialism; this is state socialism.

    http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201107060307.html

    I would argue that this is fascism, rather than socialism, however, since nuclear power is run for corporate profit, and as the recent leaked UK govt emails show, certain governments at present are utterly co-opted by private-sector nuclear interests. Germany, Beck’s native land, would appear to be the exception, which he attributes to the efforts of the powerful German Green movement, founded in the wake of Chernobyl.)

    1. DF Sayers

      “I would argue that this is fascism, rather than socialism, however, since nuclear power is run for corporate profit”

      You’re absolutely right and I’m glad you make this correction. It is fashionable to point to any and all collectivization as socialism (here, it is collectivization of risk). But capitalism always collectivizes risk – by translating the functional failures within the system, that cause problems internally, to external pressures on the working class. Fascism, Feudalism and Capitalism all are necessary collectivist in some way – the differences are in structure and management.

      Socialism is popular or worker management of production. It’s a part of forgotten history, I think, but socialism is not only populist control – but it is an individualist philosophy.

      If this new corporate hegemony is socialism, then terms like fascism, corporatism and capitalism mean nothing. The state-corporate model of graft was defined long ago by Marx and Adam Smith before him as features of capitalism.

      Rather – I think socialism has been brought up to describe the ruling class in an attempt to maintain a consistent narrative wherein you only have two poles to go to: consumerist capitalism via the Democrats, and supply-side capitalism via the Republicans. Neither of those models are socialist at all.

    2. Alex SL

      Oh yes, I hate that so much. No matter what you think of socialism, this is simply not it. Every time I hear or read some moron say that banksters walking away with the profits while the taxpayer pays for the losses is socialism, I cringe. Same here.

      How do you then call a system in which, say, all the banks and reactors are all run by the state and no private person reaps the profits? But such is the desire to vilify that term that it short-circuits any taxonomic considerations.

      1. Francois T

        How do you then call a system in which, say, all the banks and reactors are all run by the state and no private person reaps the profits?

        Communism.

        Next?

        1. Anon

          The differences at Chernobyl and Fukushima in terms of response to nuclear disaster are instructive.

          We know the Soviets put in place hundreds of thousands of “liquidators” from their armed forces almost immediately, in particular to prevent radionuclides entering the groundwater that would threaten Kiev. Radiation is currently being detected in Tokyo tap water, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-04/radioactive-cesium-is-found-in-tokyo-water.html, while untold thousands of tonnes of highly contaminated radioactive waste water has already been dumped at sea.

          We know that the evacuation of populations surrounding Chernobyl was carried out swiftly, and when levels of exposure to radioactivity per hour were much lower than at Fukushima, and that even now, several thousand children remain at school in Fukushima Prefecture, 45% of whom had internal exposure to radioactivity in the thyroid by late March, http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/2011/07/radiation-at-thyroid-gland-found-in-45.html

          One could also argue that post-WW2 Soviet development of nuclear weaponry/civilian power was a response to the Cold War declared by the US against the Soviet Union from 1944 onwards – initially, on the streets of Athens, oh historic irony – and that the Soviets, having endured the depredations of Hitler’s armies from 1940, had no intention of suffering a repeat with the US. Episodes such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 emerged from the US stationing of offensive weapons in a satellite territory, Turkey, close to the borders of the USSR.

          But defensive nuclear power (USSR), or offensive (US), the net result is the same: it all blows up, finally.

          How those in charge respond is the litmus test of what they actually think of the people they’ve hurt.

        2. Maju

          That is actually Socialism. In Communism, conceived after the Paris Commune of 1871 (whose 140 anniversary we celebrate this year, quite silently) no state exists anymore. The stage of communism has never been reached except by hunter-gatherer and some primitive farmer peoples (and some hippy commune maybe?)

          A system where the State controls the Economy, as in Cuba, is Socialism.

    3. charles 2

      In France, the poster child of Nuclear Power, the plants have been developed by EDF, an entity 100% owned by the State ; Socialism maybe, but certainly not corporate fascism. EDF is well-known to be one of the best employers in France.

      Regarding Ulrich Beck’s thesis, the ultimate “uninsurable” event is not an atomic catastrophe, which only has a local effect, but it is greenhouse gases ; and it is not something that “may” happen every 1000 years, but is just happening now.
      If we want to talk about liabilities and remediations costs, appreciate these two figures : 429 million tons of CO2 emitted by the power sector in Germany, 200 USD per ton to remove CO2 from the atmosphere (source Lackner/Kilimandjaro energy), So every year,power sector creates a 86 billion USD liability for Germany. If you compute it globally, you get something that is higher than the most pessimistic estimates of the impact of the Fukushima nuclear accident (130 to 170 bln USD is the highest estimate I have seen, and I think it will be much lower). Remember, it is every year !
      So saying that it is OK to continue consuming fossil fuels for 20 years while waiting for cheap renewable and cheap energy storage to happen (if they indeed happen) is a silly tradeoff. We have to kick the fossil habit now, and the only technology on the shelf that can scale today is nuclear. It doesn’t mean that one will get nukes forever : renewables may indeed replace them in the future, but only when they will be cost competitive.

      1. RDE

        Actually you are standing on you head looking at the world upside down. If you look at energy problem from a life cycle perspective, the only current technologies that are economic and can scale up rapidly are wind and solar. Geothermal would also be on the list if a few pennies had been spent along the way to develop it’s technology.

        Nuclear power plants of current design take 8 years from start to operational status and are subject to unpredictable cost overruns and no price stability for fuel costs. If they were required to purchase insurance on the free market like most industries, none would ever be built because no private insurance company will accept unlimited risk. In a free market nuclear power actually has an unlimited cost rather than being too cheap to meter. In the time frame necessary just to replace the existing outdated nuclear plants in the US with new equipment, more capacity could be added in the form of wind and solar for less cost and with far greater impact upon job creation.

        In point of fact, decentralized solar costs are below grid parity in much of the US right now if accounting actually priced in the risk of CO2 emissions creating climate change, mega-grid integration vs decentralized stability, unpredictability of full life cycle fuel costs for coal and natural gas, risk from civil disruption of centralized grid systems, and all the other factors that are ignored by the short term perspective of the pricing mechanism.

      2. Up the Ante

        “We have to kick the fossil habit now, and the only technology on the shelf that can scale today is nuclear.”

        .. and if Charles were to specify which type of nuclear he prefers, he would say? To not specify it is analogous to TEPCO constantly providing half the information needed in its press releases, leaving the reader no step further than when begun.

        Let us be more thorough being an apparent metatheme. Disturbing undercurrents arise when this battle is not met.

        To be explicit, plutonium is the danger to this planet’s biosphere, beyond absurd length of half-life, super-toxicity at ridiculously low quantities.

        Why do we ‘need’ plutonium? We’re told it’s best for bombs. It turns out it’s not.

        John Gofman, PhD.,
        “So I started to work on trying to find out if uranium-233 was fissionable, and I proved that it was, using what’s called both slow- and fast- moving neutrons. In fact, I proved that it was even better in many respects than plutonium for this purpose.”
        http://www.ratical.org/radiation/inetSeries/nwJWG.html

        U-233 is a better candidate for fissioning than plutonium.

        Gofman,
        “[4] U-233 can be made from natural thorium. Thorium does not chain react by itself. Another element that makes the thorium chain react was necessary–uranium-235 or plutonium. Then the thorium continued to chain react and could produce U-233. However, at the time there was not enough U-235 or plutonium around to use for converting the thorium to U-233.”

        U-233 can be made from Thorium.

        Gofman,
        [5] Ph.D. in Nuclear/Physical Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley, 1943. Dissertation: The discovery of Pa-232, U-232, Pa-233, and U-233. The slow and fast neutron fissionability of U-233.

        http://www.ratical.org/radiation/inetSeries/nwJWG.html#fn4

        So now we have the win-win deal of modernity. Thorium ‘burns’ the deadlier, long-lived waste, and can produce U-233 to replace plutonium.
        And thorium reactors are inherently safer.

        (I took the liberty of copying & pasting my own comment from this thread,
        http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/07/guest-post-fukushima-cover-up-unravels.html#comment-420738 )

        We have several centuries of Thorium at our disposal, and a literal mountain of long-duration nuclear waste to be burnt up.

  2. bmeisen

    Thanks for making this available. Rees and his formal discipline are new to me.

    The inconsistencies of status-quo defenders are troubling. For them, it’s OK to de-cap Appalachia to extract coal but it would be too expensive to develop a system of resevoirs to store surpluses generated by wind farms during high-wind periods. The wealthy are consuming far, far more than their fair share but attempts to restrain their consumption are misguided because of trickle down effects involving countless manufacturing and service jobs, many of which are in developing countries. Does 75% of the wealthy’s wealth trickle down? Don’t price gas appropriately – people wouldn’t be able to get to work. Why can’t we use something other than the internal combustion engine in our SUV? I can’t change my behavior if everyone else continues to do what they’re doing. Just let your grandkids deal with it!

  3. MRW

    It is an absolute given that the USA uses 25% of the world’s resources.

    But don’t tell me this guy’s assessments are the solution. He has an agenda based on what he distinguishes as hard science, but it’s not. He is passionate because of personal experience, which I honor, and he looks at science that backs it up.

    However, logically, that does not compute into reason.

    In other words, I buy his description of the problem. I don’t buy his solution.

    1. Leverage

      I’m not sure he is stating a solution in this video, he just stating a problem and that we have to come to reasonable terms and accept it exists. Don’t let your cognitive bias fool you.

      Actually it’s quite simple, we can’t deplete the biosphere or our species will suffer a major setback in form of societal collapse. Find a workaround to that problem or there will be consequences soon or later. But off course there is a lot of ways to fix this, and is who gets the biggest share of adjustment, as it stands is the disappearing occidental middle class because the rich don’t want to lower their standards of living and change the status quo, if this can be done or social unrest and political revolve will happen, we will see…

      Interesting and related: http://es.scribd.com/doc/59489177/When-Demand-Outstrips-Supply-Copy

      1. clarenceswinney

        Democracy to Corpocracy
        Equality to Inequality is result
        In 1980, We were ranked high on Equality
        Today near bottom
        1980 1% owned 20% Financial Wealth and got 10% of all Individul income.
        Today–tax cut top 2% who own 50% financial wealth and get 30% of Income.
        Who is in the 2%—9 million of them have incomes go from 1 Million to 4000 Million. Need a Tax Cut? You nuts?

        Studies reveal a direct proportion of happiness to equality in wealth.
        Today, we are fourth from bottom of least taxed nations out of 40 major ones. Near bottom on Equality. Cause and Effect? You betcha!

        Everyone should sit back and imagine America with no Safety Nets which Republicans wish to eliminate.
        Social Security–50 million live with kids?
        Medicare-Pay for your $200,000 heart operation.Pay $6000 for one night in hospital with Nitro Patch for hi blood pressure. 8 Hours. $6000. True story. Mine. 8 Hours in a bed. $600 for cloth gauze from shoulder to elbow.Buy roll $20–To hospital raise xxxx bill cut to $100 still 900% markup.
        Medicaid. Keep that person in your home.
        Food Stamps–46M on them goes to 80M with no Social Security
        Vet Hospital Tough Luck Guys.
        Student Loans–Educate Elite only.

        Yes! Government is our savior if used properly.
        How can an American claim to follow the Teachings of Jesus Christ and be anti government????? HYPOCRITES ALL.
        olduglymeanhonest madmadmad at Inequality in America

    2. Sufferin' Succotash

      What’s his “agenda”? Survival? Sounds pretty subversive to me. I would strongly advise reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” for a look at possible alternative agendas.

  4. Thomas Williams

    RE: Economics/Ecology

    What saddens me is that this website finds the video to be news.

    Everything he says has been public domain and openly discussed since the late 60′s and early 70′s. Virtually all of his basic premises came straight from “Limits to Growth”.

    Throuput costs are precisely what the Chamber of Commerce types keep foisting off on the taxpayers (externalizing).

    Anyone who claims to be an economist and who has not read the aforementioned book is misleading people and probably a charlatan.

    That’s like claiming to be Physician with never having studied anatomy.

    Thank you for you attention but I really am disgusted with this (my) profession.

    Thomas Williams

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please, I’m old enough to remember Limits to Growth and mention it in my book. You seem to forget that its initial report was gloomy, did have some methodological problems, and the second version was more hopeful (which was arguably an overcorrection).

      Rees’ quantification of the productive land it take to support individuals in advanced v. other economies is a newer methodology.

  5. DF Sayers

    In ecology, we are taught that there are two major resources that biological entities need: energy (sunlight) and material. The same is true of economics: what is required is energy (labor) and material.

    Because photosynthesis forms the basis of energy transfer in the biosphere, scientists frequently discuss ecology in terms of net energy production by plants.

    And yet, labor does not get the same treatment in the human economy. Why not?

    1. Up the Ante

      ” .. yet, labor does not get the same treatment in the human economy. Why not?”

      One of the many versions of whackamole, getting whacked today, tomorrow and yesterday with the most obvious.

  6. LJR

    So this academic, as a child of ten was eating his meal after a long day of labor in the field, came to the startling conclusion, looking at his plate, that he had had a hand in producing everything on it.

    Well bowl me over with a feather!

  7. F. Beard

    It is usury that requires exponential growth to pay compound interest so it is usury that is to blame for unsustainable growth and damage to the environment.

    And since the debt normally compounds faster than real growth then recurrent recessions are necessary. And since recessions are unpleasant the natural tendency is to delay them which eventually leads to Great Depressions. And the last Great Depression led to WW II which was very destructive to the environment.

    Question? If usury is so destructive then why is our money system based on it?

    “You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess. Deuteronomy 23:19-20

    1. the dude

      Your exponential growth is associated with reproduction, not usury. If everyone has two kids (per person) and they have two kids, etc you are bound to run up against k (the carrying capacity of the ecosystem) at some point. Usury allocates financial resources which are themselves a claim on natural resources resources, it doesn’t really create or destroy anything. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of usurous rates, but lending isn’t the problem. Consumption, allocation and limited resources are the problem. You can argue that lending is a part of the allocation problem, but not that its abolition is a solution in and of itself.

      1. F. Beard

        Your exponential growth is associated with reproduction, not usury. the dude

        It is said that prosperity is the best form of birth control. But usury, by concentrating wealth, is also destroying it.

        I would not outlaw usury but certainly all government privilege for it should be abolished.

        Common stock is a usury-free means to consolidate capital for economies of scale so it cannot be said that usury is required for economic progress.

        1. the dude

          I just meant there would be more to do. Lending helps some people and hurts others. It’s part of the allocation of resources problem. But it’s not even all of that. Common stock is treated preferentially by the US government through the capital gains tax rate. This is effectively a subsisdy to capital, and a tax on labor. This is unfair to the poor, who spend a much higher percent of their income on what should probably be called necessities (rent, food, medical care) and are being denied these necessities by this effective tax. This is a super-complicated issue. No one swipe solution is ever going to fix it, unless you are talking about judgement day. That would do it.

          1. F. Beard

            Common stock is treated preferentially by the US government through the capital gains tax rate. the dude

            The capital gains tax is a trap. Capital gains are measured in Federal Reserve Notes. That effectively enthrones FRNs as the de facto monopoly money supply of the US for ALL debts, not just government ones.

            Liberals and Progressives should be eager to demolish any money monopoly for private debts. And since common stock shares wealth rather than reaps it, Libs and Progressives should be especially in favor of promoting common stock as a money form.

            Of course the corporations would prefer to not issue more common stock. Why should they? Corporations can borrow from the government enforced counterfeiting cartel, the banking system, at artificially low interest rates. Once that cartel is abolished then corporations will likely be forced by competitive pressures to share wealth (new stock issuance) rather than loot it.

          2. F. Beard

            This is a super-complicated issue. the dude

            What else would one expect with a money system based on fraud (“Your deposit is available on demand even though we lent it out”) and theft of purchasing power for the benefit of the banks and the so-called “credit-worthy” at the expense of everyone else, especially the poor?

          3. readerOfTeaLeaves

            I think that the dude and F Beard may be talking past one another.
            Looks like the dude assumes that F Beard understands ‘k’ (carrying capacity), but not everyone has been exposed to the way this can be entered into calculations to get more realistic pricing structures than what we have today.

            And it’s a pity, because I think that probably the dude’s arguments about k (carrying capacity) actually dovetail F Beard’s thematic comments about social justice and more equatable economic structures.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrying_capacity

            Right now, one reason that we have zombie economics, perpetrated by zombie politicians and zombie banks is because we don’t have a good measure of carrying capacity calculating in to our pricing systems — at least, not in a really viable, grounded, predictable way that many nations can agree upon. (If such a thing exists, I’m unaware of it.)

          4. F. Beard

            @readeroftealeaves,

            I understand “carrying capacity” but I fear the true definition of it is “How many bankers can the Earth sustain in luxury?”

          5. readerOfTeaLeaves

            Ah.
            Number of bankers in eXtreme luxury = 0.
            But so far, tons of denial about that fact in US.
            And tonnes of denial in UK.

      1. F. Beard

        Not at all. Usury is the root cause of the boom-bust cycle according to Karl Denninger. The last major bust, the Great Depression caused WWII which killed 50-86 million. If this is GD II, then WW III is not out of the question.

  8. the dude

    Well done. Nobody understands living systems science quite like the ecologists. I have long thought econ and finance could use quite a few more of them. These may not be new thoughts, but how many people have never heard of any of it is positively silly. Thanks Yves!

  9. Aquifer

    Read this stuff 25 years ago – Herman Daly, mentioned in the video; the point being that economics needs to be considered a subset of the physical environment and not the other way around …. Common sense, once you think more than 5 seconds about it. What is sad is that folks who talk about “common sense” are considered too “common” to pay attention to and folks ears prick up only when such “sense” comes wrapped in “scientific” terms from the “educated” with letters after their names. Not everything that passes for common sense is “true” of course, and not infrequently “truth” is, in fact, counterintuitive, but, IMO, too many “experts” use their expertise to obfuscate instead of enlighten (perhaps because “enlightenment” for the “masses” threatens their job security as “experts” :))

    It is interesting that perhaps the Prof’s most “enlightening” moment came as a kid – on a farm. Luckily for him he did not allow his education to snuff it out ….

    The other paradigm that he pokes a hole in, and IMO, needs to have many more poked in, is the idea of the perpetual necessity for competition – why, for example, do we need to be competitive in international markets? If we, and every other region, focus on meeting the needs and some, but not all wants, by using our own resources in a sustainable manner – why do we need to “compete”? I would posit that this deification of “competition” as the sine qua non of “progress” or well being needs to be squashed lickety split before we can get on with the “business” of living, it has undermined, if not destroyed, too many valuable pursuits, medicine,

    1. F. Beard

      The other paradigm that he pokes a hole in, and IMO, needs to have many more poked in, is the idea of the perpetual necessity for competition … Aquifer

      Again, usury is the culprit. Since the banks create the principle for loans but not the interest then without perpetual borrowing my interest has to come out of your principal or vice versa.

      Life is a rat-race run by and for the usury and counterfeiting cartel.

      The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave. Proverbs 22:7

    2. clarenceswinney

      COMMON SENSE
      Just my observation but I usually find one cannot state numbers or facts just generalized opinion.

  10. Aquifer

    Read this stuff 25 years ago – Herman Daly, mentioned in the video; the point being that economics needs to be considered a subset of the physical environment and not the other way around …. Common sense, once you think more than 5 seconds about it. What is sad is that folks who talk about “common sense” are considered too “common” to pay attention to and folks ears prick up only when such “sense” comes wrapped in “scientific” terms from the “educated” with letters after their names. Not everything that passes for common sense is “true” of course, and not infrequently “truth” is, in fact, counterintuitive, but, IMO, too many “experts” use their expertise to obfuscate instead of enlighten (perhaps because “enlightenment” for the “masses” threatens their job security as “experts” :))

    It is interesting that perhaps the Prof’s most “enlightening” moment came as a kid – on a farm. Luckily for him he did not allow his education to snuff it out ….

    The other paradigm that he pokes a hole in, and IMO, needs to have many more poked in, is the idea of the perpetual necessity for competition – why, for example, do we need to be competitive in international markets? If we, and every other region, focus on meeting the needs and some, but not all wants, by using our own resources in a sustainable manner – why do we need to “compete”? I would posit that this deification of “competition” as the sine qua non of “progress” or well being needs to be squashed lickety split before we can get on with the “business” of living; it has undermined, if not destroyed, too many valuable pursuits, medicine, my own field, being one of them ….

    1. Aquifer

      sorry, double post – the first one got away from me before i finished it :), a good metaphor for life, perhaps, except that in life we seldom get a second crack at it …

  11. Susan

    We have all been looking at this depletion-pollution economic model for 50 years. And only the German Greens have any effective political organization. William Rees explains the lack of political will with “The economic incentives are not in place.” Its pretty hard to incentivize an entire planet of greedy halucinators to stop halucinating. Rees says it will take global collective action to bring about change. So what’s first? First we have to break everyone’s expectations. Are we in the first stages of a grand plan? I hope so. Otherwise we are in the most puzzling situation.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      There are small business people honestly trying to crack this nut.
      There absolutely have to be new economic structures; some have to do with the way that markets operate, some have to do with issues of scale.

      For instance, the corporate structures we currently have concentrate ‘ownership’ in ways that create all kinds of problems.

      New solutions require new kinds of business structures.
      Nothing but opportunity, I’m tellin’ ya ;-)

  12. Psychoanalystus

    Very good clip. However, he only presents a partial picture of the forces at play, leaving out the obvious counteracting reactions of the ecosystem against human actions. For example, the current decline of western so-called “developed” economies is driving down consumption and implicitly the ecological footprint of these economies. Perhaps because he is from Canada, a rich and sparsely populated country, gives him the perception that it is only human willingness to and desire to change that will change our current economic model. This is not so — the ecosystem itself will force change on us, as it is doing right now.

    For a more complete discussion about this topic, I highly recommend watching Amy Goodman’s interview with the Chilean Economist Manfred Max-Neef. He outlines the principles needed to be implemented in the economic model in order to refocus it from its current obsession with growth to a sustainable one based on development. He also puts the current recession into the ecological context. It is highly recommended:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/11/26/chilean_economist_manfred_max_neef_on

    Psychoanalystus

  13. John Merryman

    There are lots of ways to relate ecosystems to economics.
    For one thing, the financial system is the economic circulatory system. Whether we want to compare it to the vascular system within the individual organism, or the convective cycle, pathways, waterways, etc. within the environment, it is a form of interconnectivity that controls the whole process. So if it is in private hands, as opposed to a form of public trust, then the rest of the economy/ environment is controlled by that entity.
    Another comparison is that since energy is conserved, old structure/form/information has to give way in order for new information to come into existence. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Biology is constantly pruning away unhealthy structures to make way for new structures. Within the body, this requires a system of “cell suicide,” or apoptosis, in which damaged cells self destruct. Occasionally though, they don’t and start dividing uncontrollably, which is cancer. This is basically what is happening in our banking system, as impaired debt is not allowed to die, but is compounded though all sorts of structured deals, derivatives and spv’s.
    At which point, the entire organism becomes terminally impaired.

    I think Yves should set up a section to brainstorm ideas for how a new economic system could be devised from the ground up, because the longer this goes on, the cleaner the slate will be when it finally blows up and those with workable ideas of how to build a new platform will have an advantage.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Lots to chew on in your comment.
      FWIW, the ineteconomics website does have a way to register and toss around ideas over there. Whether Yves wants to do this at NC, I’ve no idea.

      FWIW, I’m game ;-)

      1. Glenn Condell

        Me too, though I’m not likely to be more an onlooker with a hungry mind than participant with a plan.

        What is the very first thing that must be done to make a start on this mess?

        Publicly financed elections including non GOP/Dem candidates?
        Replace private primary dealership with public govt backed credit, returning banking to ‘the commons’?
        Raid and audit offshore housing of criminal profits?
        Outlaw off the balance sheet entities and regulate all derivatives on a desk?
        Introduce a global Tobin tax on all speculation?
        Conduct a state-led drive to full employment with no mind paid to growing deficit, in order to grow aggregate demand?

        And what are the chances of even a start being made on any of these, without Athens-style mayhem on the streets? And even then…

  14. Valissa

    Glad to finally see some discussion of ecological economics. Too bad the discussion was mostly political, would have preferred more on the field itself.

    Some good info on the subject here:

    The Wealth of Nature: A three-part series profiling ecological economists http://www.grist.org/article/series/the-wealth-of-nature
    (1) At What Cost? Ecological economist Robert Costanza puts a price tag on nature
    (2) Rewriting the book on economics, Joshua Farley
    (3) Breaking the Bank – The economic heresy of Herman Daly

    Wikipedia has a good entry on the subject… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_economics

    also it’s cousin, environmental economics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_economics

  15. William Wilson

    Very timely video. Some of your readers will learn something important regarding ecosystem limits and interrelationships involving economics concepts.

  16. Maju

    I enjoyed it: learning about our reality, its challenges and what we must do to improve it (or even save our species altogether) should be enjoyable. I understand that all that implies that our reality is wrong, that challenges us with notions of death, destruction and failure is disturbing and in that sense hardly enjoyable but also that we have a role to play as living people, which is what gives meaning and therefore joy to our lives and that is being aware, extending awareness and trying to correct the most grave errors that we have incurred in as civilization and species.

    Only after doing that we can get to other less serious and more emotionally comforting activities: first duty then leisure.

    The figures mentioned are impressive but we must not forget that when we talk of the ecological imprint of US Americans, for example, not only it is being averaged across classes but also all the state and corporate imprint is being assigned to these people, regardless of how and if they use them at all. Even accounting for rent differences, a homeless person would still be attributed with a huge ecological imprint because of, for instance, roads he cannot drive on, an army that does not protect him from poverty, and many other socialized elements of waste.

    While it is true that “wealthy” countries have a much greater impact as a whole, within these countries there are also incredible differences, specially in one such unequal society as that of the USA. And much, possibly most, of the impact is actually to be blamed in any case to the capitalist elites who own the corporations and benefit from public spending and low taxes.

    Still owning a hummer is clearly a crime against Nature and therefore against humanity.

  17. Justicia

    Thanks, Yves, great video.

    On the political economics of “growth” ideology and what must be done to defeat it, I recommend:

    Gus Speth – Schumacher Lecture, New Economics Institute

    http://vimeo.com/17193728

    Speth starts around 5 min

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