Paul Andersen: Fair Game
November 8, 2010
Elections tell a lot about our culture, and judging from the midterms, ours is all about the economy. Republican winners were pro-business, unseating the more socially minded Democrats. The big losers in this election were members of neither party. The big losers were the global ecosystems that we depend upon for air, water, food, prosperity, and life itself.
The prevailing mandate in the midterms was the status quo, business-as-usual consumerism. The Tea Party failed to make its feared sweep, so the Republicans and Democrats remain mixed in the congealing porridge of Fedlock. Meanwhile, the nature coalition didn’t even make it to the debate podium.
Candidates for the Green Party of the United States are routinely excluded from serious political debates. On Oct. 12, Green Party gubernatorial candidate Laura Wells was arrested in California as she was attempting to legally enter – with a ticket – the governor’s debate at Dominican University.
“Private security arrested Ms. Wells, handcuffed her and held her against her will until San Rafael police intervened. With green gags covering their mouths, protesters from the Green Party of California picketed the governor debate here Tuesday – upset that although billed as an ‘eco debate,’ the affair unfairly excluded ballot-qualified Green Party candidate Wells.”
American elections are focused on the mechanics of industry, the instruments of finance, the networks of commerce, the creation of jobs, the policies of taxation. Nature has little impact on how this nation works. By nature I mean sustainability in the macrocosm and lifestyle choices in the microcosm – moot points on the American political landscape.
The glaring omission to the American political dialogue is that all human endeavors are dependent upon the dynamics of the biosphere. If we wish to have sustainable institutions and healthy enterprises, they must fit harmoniously within the processes of the living Earth.
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The ideology of industrialization, which is what triumphed on Tuesday and is manifest in our two-party system, assumes that modern society exists above nature and should rightly use and despoil the rest of the natural world. Any loss to ecosystems is merely an “externality” that can be solved by a technological fix.
The Green Party promotes a “holistic, ecological outlook that recognizes the interconnection of all life and social processes, and that neither social nor environmental problems can be solved in isolation from each other.”
This is exactly the finding of a recent United Nations study assessing the loss of natural capital due to human activities. “Governments and businesses need an overhaul of policies and strategies to respond to the rapid loss of nature’s riches, worth trillions of dollars but long taken for granted.”
The U.N. warns that “damage to natural capital, including forests, wetlands and grasslands, is valued at $2-4.5 trillion annually, but that nature’s ledger sheet is not included in economic data such as GDP, nor in corporate accounts. That ‘invisibility’ needs to change so steps can be taken to save ecosystems that are a vital source of food, water and income.”
Concerns over biodiversity and ecosystem health are not even on the political radar in mainstream America. Ours is a material culture that cares only about what the economy can provide in creature comforts and entertainments. Such a narrow approach ignores the natural systems that underwrite it all because there is no economic lens to reflect it.
Examples from the U.N.: Halving deforestation rates by 2030 would cut damage from climate change estimated at more than $3.7 trillion. In Switzerland, healthy bee colonies ensure yearly agricultural production worth $213 million through pollination. Thirty million people are reliant on reef-based resources for food production, incomes and livelihoods.
“Development and biodiversity cannot be seen as competing choices,” urges the U.N. Yet biodiversity is never on the evening news, and you won’t hear it mentioned on talk radio. Now that we’ve had a Republican resurgence, climate change will not even be on the table as a congressional issue.
Nature lost big in the midterms, a loss that will be calculated by future generations on the ledger sheet of life.