Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Capitalism and the environment

In Wired News today is a provocative story about saving the planet. Among other things mentioned by the author and Lester Brown, who was being interviewed:

There's a quote by Oystein Dahle close to a decade ago now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was for many years Exxon's vice president for Norway and the North Sea. He said, "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth."

Seen at a distance, the problems of socialism are many. The problems o f capitalism, seen up close here in America, are not as visible. We fish have trouble describing what water is like, as the saying goes.

Our society is constantly pushing economic costs into the future. The SuperFund sites all around the United States are just one example. We don't often pay the real costs to society of products we purchase.

And it is not only ecologic truth that is not being told. Social truth is sometimes covered over as well. I see it here in Anchorage: subdivisions are built with little regard for people movement, for example. Where are the sidewalks and bike trails and pathways to bus routes, grocery stories, libraries and so forth? It's easy to think that they have been squeezed out by the desire to squeeze in one more lot for sale. Maybe there's more to it than that. I hope so.

I miss the pedestrian access of Uppsala where foot and bicycle traffic was a priority in the community. We may be maximizing the profit of a few, and minimizing the taxes of the many, but the time will come, I predict, when many are wishing for better foot traffic possibilities.

I'm far from wanting to toss out capitalism. But we ignore its problems at the peril of our environment, our health, and our souls.

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