Paul Andersen: The biggest entitlements of all
An entitlement is a “right to have something.” Most conservatives are against entitlements, claiming they enable dependence on government handouts, which is counterproductive to individual initiative.
But conservatives are denying the biggest entitlement of all, an entitlement that dwarfs the funding of Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, unemployment and welfare programs.
The biggest entitlement of all comes from nature — as in the raw materials extracted to fashion wealth and the resources by which all currencies, economies and societies are underwritten.
The entitlements from nature are never questioned and rarely acknowledged, yet their material value forms the foundation of the industrial world. These entitlements are rarely recognized and never repaid, even though they represent a long-term debt to the natural world on which all life depends.
Ask any hardened capitalist about their payback to nature, and you’ll get a look of incomprehension. Starting with the biblical misinterpretation of “dominion” as “ruthless exploitation,” capitalism draws personal wealth from natural resource accounts, ignoring the commons from which all resources emanate.
Natural capital procures wealth without moral obeisance to the source, inviting industry and finance to extract from a cornucopia that spews infinite capacity for the chosen few.
Climate change is the universal payback for these entitlements, plus the additional costs of species extinctions and habitat destruction. Such reckless capitalization of nature wages ecocide in the longest war in history.
The media is gradually accepting this assault with the comforting suggestion that climate change could be a benefit. A warming world, suggested a science writer in The New York Times, will spur biodiversity as the Earth literally becomes a hot house incubator.
With this spin, I could celebrate climate change because it will reduce my propane bill and provide a longer growing season for my garden. How convenient.
Never mind residents of low-lying coastal countries whose homes will be flooded, setting off a refugee crisis that will make current migrations seem petty. The stampede of Syrian and Rohingyan refugees today is merely a dry run for what’s to come.
The Trump conservatives running Washington scoff at entitlements and make overtures to dismantle them. Meanwhile, their rich corporate donors enjoy the unlimited entitlements of nature, whether oil and gas companies, mining conglomerates or Goldman Sachs fund managers capitalizing on speculative returns.
The rewards of such plunder are monetary and materialistic, measured solely on the bottom line. Meanwhile, apologias are being offered to make the impacts seem reasonable, utilitarian and in tune with entrenched national interests.
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, climate change forecasts for the U.S. are fairly benign. Our grain belt will continue to produce agribusiness bushels of nitrogen-intense grain and our water supplies, though strained, will be sufficient to fill fountains and swimming pools in Las Vegas.
Therefore, the U.S. has no incentive to curtail the entitlements we extract from nature, least of all on moral grounds over human suffering or the rights of nature, which is the most obscure moral paradigm of all. Only humans deserve rights, but really only the chosen humans who happen to live in America.
Nature enjoys those rights with which we endow it, and those rights are dismissed when they conflict with the overwhelming momentum of American capitalism. Anthropocentric hubris, as manifest in capital clout, is at the heart of climate change and the Sixth Great Extinction.
Nature as a living entity is as handily disenfranchised from due process as it is from consideration by traders on the New York Stock Exchange. The biggest entitlement of all — nature — is ironclad, regardless of moral considerations from wingnut eco-freaks like Pope Francis, Martin Luther King, Aldo Leopold, John Muir and — for God’s sake — Jesus Christ.
Never mind providing health care to the sick, security to the old, education for children, food for the poor, or asylum for refugees who suffer through no fault of their own. Such entitlements are soft-hearted handouts.
The most acceptable and appropriate entitlements cater to the virtues of self-interest and profitable initiative for those most eager to exploit the commons and shower the consumer culture with cheap energy, luxurious services and the baubles of contemporary living.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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