The debate around the economy in Europe and the US is gravitating around two « strategies » : more regulations or fewer regulations. And while we’re fiercely fighting this ideological battle, we often leave common sense out of the conversation. When it comes down to the future of the economy, the elephant in the room is climate change and environmental degradation in general.
Capitalism is living on nature’s credit
Capitalism, even in its « purest » form, cannot survive because, it keeps on undermining Earth’s capacity of supporting human civilization by keeping environmental damage largely out of the economic equation. The prices that we pay for some of the most destructive products don’t reflect their true cost. Oil, meat, plastics, airplane fights etc. come at a price that does not include the damage caused to the existing and future ecosystems. The price of oil doesn’t reflect the cost that future generations will have to pay for the polluted air and all the infrastructure that has been built around that industry. The price of meat doesn’t reflect in any way the forests that have been cut to grow the soy or to graze the animal. Furthermore the agriculture that is developed on top of the rich forest soil is pure theft from an ecosystem that took millions of years to develop. Neither the producers nor the consumers pay the real price of their products and services. Instead, all of these environmental costs are externalized and paid for by the living eco-systems.
Common sense legislation
We need some sort of legislation, that will add the environmental damage caused by production to the bill that manufacturers have to pay. This isn’t just about adding a new tax on meat or oil, it’s about creating an economic system that better represents the real costs associated with the production and distribution of goods and services. The whole economy is built around short-term profits without any vision for sustainability. Everything is made in a way to expire and to require the need to be replaced or constantly upgraded. This is the most profitable way to do business, just because the real costs of the production, pollution and disposal are not taken into consideration.
Couldn’t we agree that producers should pay the real price of the manufacturing of their products? If the product becomes too expensive, it means that it shouldn’t have existed at first place?
The other issue is transparency in the market. When we talk about capitalism and free markets, we suppose an environment where the participants in the economy are fully aware of the quality of the products and services that are offered. If consumers are really informed about the products they buy that would be able to make real choices and participate in an actually free and transparent market, which is absolutely necessary for the functioning of capitalism. Can’t we agree that as consumers we have the right to know what implications our purchases have ? Labeling products and services in a way that reflects the environmental costs associated with them is an absolute necessity. I’m certain that the vast majority of people don’t want to destroy nature and jeopardize the potential for a future of their children, but they need access to the information on the moment that they are purchasing the goods or services.
We’re currently living within capitalism and from what it looks like, this is going to be the case in the foreseeable future. Before we can come up with a better way of organizing our resources, we should do our best to make the current system work in a more reasonable way. As hard as it is, we should engage in dialogue with people from all the political spectrum and try to find solutions based on facts and science. Maybe climate change is too abstract of a concept for some people, but maybe deforestation, soil erosion, ocean acidification, etc. are concrete enough problems to talk about. Communication is the only thing that can get us out of the collective denial.
I do believe that most people on the left or on the right would agree with the two main points that I’m trying to make in this article :
- Producers should pay the real price associated with the services and products they provide.
- Consumers should be informed in the best possible way about the environmental costs associated with the products and services they provide.
It’s clear that these points can only be achieved through sensible regulations, and for us to be able to achieve an agreement on this desperately needed legislation, we must be able to set our ideological differences aside.