Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ecosystem of globalization -- comments and questions

I received some comments and questions on my Ecosystem of Globalization paper. They were good comments, and I thought I wd share my response. Comments are in italics.

Sorry to be so long in replying. Some of the language was new to me, and I wish I knew more about economics, etc., but it was easy enough for me to follow a lot of it. I thought if you ever expand this, I, personally, would benefit from examples, for example, of extension and intensification.

Extension means growing geographically, by pulling new markets into capitalism. So China becoming a capitalist economy (in whole or part) would be an example of extending. Another example would be a local, non-capitalist economy being pulled into the world economy. Extension is a way of increasing profit etc. by selling more to the new markets, tapping into resources, integrating people as workers and consumers into the (capitalist) world economy.

Intensification is making more profit out of the same market. This can be done by turning existing activity into profit-making activity, e.g., privatizing public services, or people buying services that used to be done by unpaid labor at home (e.g. childcare, food preparation, house cleaning), or people consuming more (helped by easy debt).

So the idea is that once there are no more new areas to pull into capitalism, the only way it can grow is through "intensification."

Random thoughts.

Re: Transportation and globalization. It seems to me this is an important cost to the ecosystem of increasing globalization. I wonder how one would figure the relative costs and benefits of local production and consumption vs spreading out production and shipping goods around the globe.

This is an interesting question. It gets to what is counted as a cost. You are saying that if all of the externalized costs were factored in, global production might not be so cheap...

You say on p 2 “there is no ‘wilderness’ today…outside of capitalism.” Right. Some time ago, the National Forest Service began using the language of “recreation amenities” in relation to public land management. This fits into the original paradigm of public land management as resource management and conservation, rather than preservation. First, it focused on extractable resources like timber, mining, and grazing. Then, recreation amenities came into the same paradigm. I know there are economic analyses of recreation showing how many dollars a nearby community gains from having, say, a national park nearby. I imagine there are more sophisticated economic analyses of recreation as a commodity, but I don’t know.

I think also, even if it isn't managed as a park or for economic exploitation in any way, it still isn't "wilderness". That even if it is "unspoiled" or unexploited, it still is related to capitalism in some way (e.g., an "other" or as a resource reserve that allows everything else in capitalism to go on.

Another negative effect of globalization is the disruption and disenfranchisement of local communities, especially land-based communities. As local communities get caught up in globalization, they lose their connection with the land, resulting is less sustainable ways of treating the land. This might be another concern related to speculative capital on p 3. Disruption of local communities has both human and environmental costs.

This would be a good example of "extension."

On p 4, in your para which begins “It should be noted…,” is it also relevant that new technologies create new needs in existing markets, which in themselves are a sort of new market? Is this intensification? Is that even a useful way to think about it?

Yes, this is a useful way to think about it, it is an example of intensification.

Reading the section on the ecosystem of globalization, I thought of a recent book by Richard Louv, LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS. The subtitle has the catchy phrase “Nature-Deficit Disorder” in it. I liked the book. Among other things, he goes into how kids are blocked from direct contact with nature by insurance companies, homeowners’ associations, liability issues, etc. In other words, he takes up some of the institutional and structural barriers to contact with nature as well as the psychological ones. Now, looking back at my notes, I have no idea why I thought of that in reading this section of your paper. Maybe you can see a connection. Anyway, I liked the book.

No, it is very apropos. You had mentioned the book to me, and I think I had it in mind. (Wait -- I see Richard Louv is quoted in WSJ article in footnote # 10).

On page 6, note 11, I chuckled. Finally some light humor in a dismal situation!

I wasn’t sure what you meant by "the end of value" on page 7, but I wanted to know. This sounds like a useful and interesting concept.

"Value" is a Marx concept, and the way I understand it is that it describes a particular kind of relationship between people and between people and nature. The idea here is that capitalism turns everything into an economic quantity. So it is also way of looking at the world, not for any intrinsic usefulness or quality or in its own right something with a right to exist, but as a means to increase wealth. In this sense, the "end of value" is a good thing. That was another paper (

So, here is my big question, and maybe the central question of your paper. If I understand you right, capitalism is inherently anti-environment or anti-environmental-sustainability, by virtue of its need to continually extend and intensify production. Only an overthrow of Capital will foster sustainability. Got it. Are there variations on capitalism which are not inherently destructive; can capitalism evolve, or is a revolution required? And if capitalism is irredeemable vis a vis the environment, are there any practical alternatives in the foreseeable future?

I think what I was trying to get at is that capitalism is not "anti-environment or anti-environmental-sustainability". But rather that capitalism creates a certain kind of environment to ensure ongoing profitability. Although it often looks like it, I don't think capitalism will commit environmental suicide (well it still might, but it's a losing bet no matter how you think of it). "Sustainability" raises the question of sustainable on whose terms? Towards what end? So it might be possible to have a "sustainable environment" of tree plantations, ocean fish farms, and private nature parks. But your idea of sustainable would be much different I expect. But your main point, what is to be done -- that's the thing. It might sound counter-intuitive, but I guess the important thing is getting people to think differently, to be conscious of this, to realize that they can do things and that things can be different. You are certainly part of that. People have different talents and will apply those as they see fit. I think that there is something radical in developing a qualitative, holistic, monistic sense of nature; but a decent understanding of capitalism is important too. So the question to me is how does consciousness change, what ideas are put out there and discussed and argued out. And the political and economic solutions will flow from that. I hope.

I would like to bring these kinds of issues into my courses more. I did last week in a one-day discussion on ecopsychology with the Wilderness Therapy students, and they got into it. I think it is a set of questions they ask a lot, but which rarely get brought into ecopsychology discussions. Andy Fisher (RADICAL ECOPSYCHOLOGY) does too, questioning capitalism and current social paradigms, but still, it is oddly absent from ecopsychology discussions. Anyway, thanks for sharing this paper with me. Keep me posted. If you have or see anything else that would be a good, broad intro to the economics of environmental sustainability, let me know.

Hmm. James O'Conner has an essay, call "Is Sustainable Capitalism Possible?", anthologized in Natural Causes, that raises some important questions -- I think starts well, but gets dense as it goes on about capitalism (I still need to finish reading it). There's a chapter from the Deep Ecology for the 21st Century by Donald Worster, "The shaky ground of sustainability" that looks alright, but I just glanced over it. The Brundtland Commission Report "Our Common Future" from the late 1980s is the classic UN-type document, see:

Or the Wikipedia entry on sustainable development might be helpful to:

I'll give it some more thought.

-- jd