Monday, July 09, 2012

Oxygen is not a free lunch (environmentalism for the free market believer)

The right wing think tank The Heartland Institute - one of the main funders of climate change denial - claims that we should look to free market solutions to environmental challenges. While I strongly disagree with their philosophy and this approach, free market belief systems are common in our society so it may be useful to develop arguments that this constituency can understand. Here is one such argument. Those who are so indoctrinated in neoliberalism that they cannot see our world, the air we breathe, as the great gift (the free lunch) that it is, might benefit from considering the oxygen in the air we breathe from a labor perspective. This is not human labor, but rather the natural labor of plants and particularly trees. The deforestation occurring around the world can be seen as a labor dispute - the trees are being locked out, deprived of the means of production, the soil and water that they need. This is one labor dispute that the capitalist cannot win. While it may seem as though those who order the chainsaws or set the policies have all the power against these immobile, defenseless beings, ultimately it is these gentle creatures who have the ultimate power, collectively creating the air without which none of us (no matter how rich) cannot survive fOr more than a few minutes. Negotiation is crucial, and urgent, for both sides. The image of the 99% is powerful, true, and important for social justice, but let's keep in mind that when it comes to te environment, we are the 100%. If we continue to destroy the environment, some of us will suffer more than others, but we will all suffer. If we wage war against the environment, we all lose.