How we can reduce our negative impacts on the world is by finding the right question to ask.
Choosing the right things to spend on doesn’t really do that, for two very good reasons.
Most money you spend will have about average impacts per dollar anyway. If you think where money goes and how each product takes so many kinds of inputs, every dollar really uses the whole economy, and on average, now produces about 1.0 lb of CO2!
Because it generates profits it also stimulates economic growth at around 3% a year, made possible by a similar increase in what we are trying to take control of in nature, per dollar. So buying expensive “green” products does more harm than cheap products by having nearly the same average impacts throughout the world, per dollar. You could buy cheaper products, but because you’d then buy more there’s no escape… either way.
The key is changing the question. The question is not what you buy, but what you use it for. Whatever you spend on, judge it by how well you or others can use it to change the future. It’s not what need you serve today, but the lasting meaning of what you do with your choices. A switch to sustainability is one from satisfying wants to having a lasting meaning for the world around you.
We need to, as a whole community, get off the path we are on but seem captives in a spiral of seeing how far we can push our presently narrowing path before it closes out entirely. It’s like the housing bubble, but it’s a bubble of thinking, making us think we have no choice but to take ever increasing control of our environments. That we can control things better in the short term is the illusion that keeps us thinking we can control ever more things without losing control in the long term.
That is a complete illusion, of course, just the same way the limitless appreciation of housing values was an illusion, a bubble of misinformation created by a circle of little self-deceptions… that we all thought was fun but turned out badly. What we need to figure out is how to allow things that are naturally uncontrolled to take care of themselves, a different path to making peace with nature.
An Excerpt w/ed. from “What to do” 3/6/10
For “what to do” from an environmental and systems science view, see also the 6/10/11 notes for Alex Jakulin’s Foo Camp talk on my work and my various discussions of the natural limit for money that Keynes identified which come down to one thing.
It comes down to the subject for slides #5-8, for for Aleks’ talk. All natural systems start like economies, with a “seeding mechanism” to multiply the start-up system. That mechanism, the use of investment to grow investments, changes form and turns into a “steering mechanism” to bring an end to growth later, if the system it seeded is to survive beyond the start-up period.