[ Revised – 1st edit: March 17, 2017 – from original article March 2016 ]
So long as the status quo of capitalism exists, we are stuck with a dilemma:
- on the one hand we need to tear it down, so the faster it fails, the better
- on the other hand, its excesses are causing suffering and death, and we want to limit that
So we need to find ways of helping capitalism reduce the damage it does, while still getting it to realise that it must go, because it is not the future, it is the past – and ultimately remove it whether it has that realisation or not.
Capitalism is notorious for taking credit for the works of others … take for example my own work: if I were to succeed and get some of these things off the ground, the aspects of them which interface to the status quo, would generate what they refer to as a “profit”, and you can bet your bottom dollar they’d say “see, we told you so, capitalism work” … but the reality is, if that were to happen, it is already the case that it would be happening in spite ( not because ) of capitalism.
None of my ideas – not one – comes from anything that is both central and original to capitalist economic theorem.
But the reason I’m making this author’s note is just to point out one of the great many difficult questions I’ve had to wrestle with over the past 30 years since I first started thinking about these things.
For the purpose of this particular article, we can say the following: capitalism has already trashed our environment – the air water soil and airwaves are all heavily polluted, habitat is destroyed and desertified the world over, ecosystems have and continue to collapse, species extinction has been running rampant for decades, and the list goes on …
… there is now quite a serious amount of momentum – the snow-ball / domino effect – of all those changes, and it’s gotten to the point of insanity and incompetence, that I don’t think it matters much what we suggest as changes, because the idiots at the helm will still make extremely bad decisions the majority of the time, and what good decisions they make will be too far, few, and weak in between.
So with that in mind, I present to you this idea for legislative changes within the status quo, as an interim measure to stem some of the ecologically blood letting.
I first proposed the following change in legislation around 2010/2011, as a response to the amount of plastic rubbish I was picking up while walking dogs through parks and on the beach.
Look almost anywhere ( as I did when I took the featured image shot ), and I challenge you to find a place where you don’t see any rubbish at all … it’s not impossible yet, but I remember my childhood in the 70s, and this world has changed dramatically in terms of pollution types and levels.
On a single 15-30 minute walk, without a great deal of effort and while entertaining one or more dogs along the way, I could pick up anything from half to several kilograms of glass, metal, plastics, and other synthetics, from the grass, the street, and the beach.
In my mind as I walked along, I would extrapolate the area I was cleaning, the frequency with which rubbish was replenished by litterers, the amount of rubbish that washed down drains during storms before I could get to it on my next walk, the number of multiples of that area it would take to cover the entire city, the number of towns & cities by relative proportional size from my own example, that it would take to cover Australia, the likely differences in littering between different classifications of those towns and cities, and how this might extrapolate across the whole planet.
the impossibility of adaptation
If you go do this exercise and then have a think about that, you should find the results and conclusions fairly scary … because this stuff chokes creatures, cannot be digested, thus kills them, and therefore it cannot be adapted to.
For an animal to “adapt” requires incremental genetic changes, and which are passed on and accumulate in the gene pool of a population of species.
But if an animal has its guts clogged with plastics, it dies – that simple. There’s no surviving, so there’s nothing to pass on and no one to pass it on to. Similarly, if an animal is choked to death, there’s nothing to pass on.
Creatures don’t survive being choked, and they don’t survive having their digestive tracts clogged up … they die, all of them ( eventually ), unless rescued … and rescue by a human doesn’t pass on a genetic trait of adaptation.
Clearly we have an issue, in that the general public and businesses are being entrusted with a responsibility for whigh they:
- Don’t have the capacity to deal with – ie: they don’t usually own recycling equipment
- Don’t have the interest to deal with – ie: there’s no financial incentive built in to capitalism, and container deposit schemes only ineffectually cover a small part of whole problem, and they’re not universally applied anyway
- Don’t have the motivation to deal with – ie: they likely find it completely boring and uninteresting, and not their problem
Which is basically a formula for disaster.
So what exactly is “the problem”?
The problem is manufacturers using non-biodegradable and toxic materials, are not universally required to show cause for their choices of materials, nor are they required to show a management plan for the lifetime of the raw materials, components, and other supplies they use.
Thus the problem is dumped on the consumer, and the consumer rarely has any capacity to do anything other than put it in a bin, which is neither a reliable nor a complete solution.
We currently have countless tons of waste, everywhere you look, with more adding to it every day. The ocean, landfill, streets, parks, forests, drains, creeks, and streams are full of it … and people’s homes, garages & workplaces produce more of it every day.
an exercise in awareness
As an exercise, just for 1 day try to notice as much rubbish as you can, as you go about your day – then at the end of the day, run over your experience and think:
- If you work in an office:
- how many other offices are on the same floor
- how many floors are there in your building
- how many supplies are unpackaged before you see the rubbish generated by that packaging
- how much rubbish is generated by the periodic packaging and servicing of office equipment and infrastructure
- how many other non-office related services are attached to your building, and what rubbish might they generate ( including that which you don’t see )
- how much rubbish is generated by all the businesses that you do business with
- how much rubbish is generated by all the businesses that manufacture, store, and supply things to your business
- how many other such office buildings ( and relative proportional sizes ) are in your street, your suburb, and your whole city … how many cities ( by relative proportional size ) are in your country, and all other countries
- Adapt the above to any other type of workplace
- Adapt the above to your private home life
- Answer this: even with the best possible recycling, how long do you think the Earth’s ecosystems can withstand the onslaught of all the rubbish that falls through the gaps, or is intentionally dumped, not to mention the toxicity of landfill sites.
While there may be some adaptation, for example you have bacterium and fungi that can to some degree digest some of the things we’re putting out there … it’s nowhere near enough to constitute a “solution”, and we shouldn’t be doing this in the first place.
Legislation in all countries could achieve the following:
- Place the onus of responsibility on manufacturers & importers to show technical ( not economic ) cause for the proposed use of any non-biodegradable &/or toxic material
- Technical cause must show that:
- no biodegradable & non-toxic material exists which can do the job effectively
- no singular or collective set of processes or systems can be changed in order to make such materials technically viable
- economic cause ( the cost of such materials ) shall be disregarded entirely
- Having ascertained that no biodegradable & non-toxic alternative exists, a tax shall be levied upon all businesses involved in both the manufacture, storage, distribution, and utilisation of the goods made from such non-biodegradable and toxic materials, to be invested in scientific research towards the creation of biodegradable & non-toxic alternatives
- Either way, the lifetime of all materials used must then be taken into account in a management plan ( devised and paid for by the originator of the materials ), which guarantees the continual reclamation, recycling, and eventual return to Earth of a proportion of all materials used, such that:
- the “return to earth” is by a method, and in a location and form, such that it’s return to earth causes no greater deleterious ecological consequences, than its original existence prior to extraction / harvesting
- the total amount of materials not recovered for recycling – across all manufacturers using those materials around the world ( should they all be subjected to this legislative / regulatory requirement ) – cannot build up in the environment faster than its decay rate
- the total amount of materials not recovered ( as above ), cannot cause death to other species faster than their capacity to breed, cannot cause genetic mutation or sickness faster than their capacity to heal, nor can it cause any suffering to any species deemed endangered, or sentient ( as per the capacity for psychological suffering ) – and where such suffering to any such species deemed sentient, will be considered at law as if the act of negligence had been done against a human, thus constituting tort, with the damages to be paid to environmental rescue and veterinary services
- ANY COUNTRY NOT IMPLEMENTING SUCH LAWS: should either be exempted or subsidised to do so ( if their economy is weak ), or have their exported goods banned or heavily taxed from import into countries where the law is in force, such that their products become unviable economically, and that any sold contribute enough tax to heal the damage done.
This proposal would ( obviously ) raise the cost of such materials, thus the cost of products made with them, thus reduce the incentive for manufacturing, and make other materials more viable. It would also increase the motivation to make products more durable, and motivate the consumer to take better care of such products purchased, after first thinking carefully about whether or not to buy them in the first place.
This means we would also see:
- Increased spending and real innovation in materials science research
- Increased spending and real innovation in manufacturing process research
- Increased spending for environmental monitoring and environmental pollution remediation
- Cleaner streets, parks, public spaces, beaches etc.
… and really, I just don’t see how anyone could argue there’s a downside to any of this, which couldn’t be quickly and easily debunked as nonsense.