Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Biodiversity as a Public Good

Decisions regarding the extent to which humans shall disturb the larger community of life need to be collective decisions.

A basic principle of property rights requires that those who degrade the value of property must compensate the owner(s) for the damage done or value lost. If we believe that we all own the air and water in common, then it makes sense that we should require industries that cause pollution to pay a fee to the people at large, because their actions degrade the quality of the air and water that belongs to all of us. We should respect public property rights, too.

Destruction of meadows and forests for conversion to monoculture farmland adversely impacts environmental quality. We might choose to attach a fee on monoculture, as a counterweight to the economic incentives from food markets (and now biofuels markets) that encourage destruction of biodiversity. The most appropriate fee would be a fee that is just high enough to ensure that destruction of wildlife habitat and loss of biodiversity are not carried to an extent that most people would say is excessive. Putting a limit on destruction of biodiversity and loss of wildlife habitat would mean a more democratic society, if most citizens would like to see such limits established.

Furthermore, if a large fraction of people polled in a random survey said that monoculture dedicated to production of sugar cane or tobacco or opium included these adverse environmental impacts and that such monoculture supported excessive consumption of sugar or cigarettes or heroin, to the detriment of the human community at large, we might attach a higher fee to monoculture dedicated to growing these crops. We could thereby manage the overall prevalance in society of sugar, tobacco, heroin (and other potentially harmful substances) without the need to take a war-like or militaristic stance or police action against individual citizens who choose to use such substances within their private spaces. We could require that the buying and selling of such products be kept every bit as private as the use of them. No public spaces--no places open to the public--need have such markets operating, if the people at large choose to adopt such a standard.

In our not-so-distant evolutionary past, certain foods were quite rare, but necessary and highly beneficial to those who could find them. Our taste buds (our physiology) and our psychology are adapted to ensure that we are highly motivated to seek out these previously scarce, high-energy foods. But since the development of agriculture and modern economic systems, scarcity of these high-energy, high-value foods is no longer a reality, while our physiological and psychological appetites for them remain strong.

A fee system could ensure that the mix of foods produced by our agricultural system more closely matches what most nutritionists and most people would agree is a more healthful balance. With a different political and economic paradigm, we could see improvements in personal health, with improved ecological health, too.

Fees attached to the cultivation of plants that most members of society feel ought to be grown only in limited amounts would make the products derived from these plants more expensive than what they would be in the absence of any controls. But the extra profits associated with those higher prices would go to all the world's people as part of a natural wealth stipend. This method of control would not feed black market profiteering or corruption of law enforcement and other public officials, as current methods of control often do.

The threat of legal sanctions against people who use controlled substances in private spaces, including the threat of lengthy (and costly) prison sentences, would be removed. This would tend to make it easier for people with substance abuse problems to seek help when they recognize that they do in fact have a problem.

A fee system can be applied generally as an efficient and fair way to control pollution, to manage rates of taking of natural resources, and (through equal sharing of fee proceeds to all) to end abject poverty in the world. An equal, modest payment to all people would mean that workers would have more flexibility in choosing their place of employment. The prospect of being unemployed would no longer bring the threat of becoming destitute that it does within the current system, where natural wealth is not shared equally.

With a modest income going to all people based on shared natural wealth, the economy would not require injection of additional money into circulation that is often advocated during periods of economic contraction. Monetary stimulus (printing more money) is corrosive to the stability of economic systems generally because it fuels inflation and often stimulates production beyond what is sustainable and what is needed by the human economy and society. The ultimate limits to human economic activity are the physical limits that are imposed by the nature of the world we live in. If we exceed limits of what is sustainable for an extended period of time, civilization will collapse. Stimulating the economy by inflating the money supply means that the overall size of the economy grows, and our demands on natural resources increase, taking us closer to these physical limits (or farther beyond them, as the case may be). Conversely, fees assessed on those actions that make us approach or exceed those natural limits (actions that tend to use up resources and foreclose opportunities) can reduce the prevalence and moderate the intensity of potentially harmful human activities. Fees can prevent excessive growth of economic activity to the point that it becomes detrimental to the larger community of life, detrimental to climate stability, harmful to future generations, etc. Fees can dampen the upswing and excesses of an over-heating economy, while equal sharing of fee proceeds can ensure that recessions do not become so deep that they threaten the viability of the system. With confidence bolstered by their natural wealth stipend, all people will continue to spend in support of their basic needs.

This proposal assumes that the decision of how we ought to balance the amount of the Earth's surface dedicated to monoculture and paving on the one hand versus forests and meadows on the other hand belongs to all of us. It implies that ownership of the decision about how we ought to balance overall production levels of various kinds of food belongs to all of us. The responsibility for deciding such questions does not rest solely with the minority who are land-owners. A public property rights paradigm will embody within the structure of our political and economic systems the awareness that bio-diversity is more valuable than bio-mass.

Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Natural law requires respect of PUBLIC property rights, too

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some responses to a proposal to end extreme poverty and limit humans' impacts on Earth


An email exchange:

from: John Champagne
to: Jack ***
date: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 4:01 AM
subject: Documenting the vacuum of responses to this call


I want to document the various responses (or lack of responses) that follow this call for a change in the rules we live by that would bring an end to extreme poverty globally AND would define limits to environmental impacts overall such that there would not be more pollution or faster depletion of resources than what most people feel is acceptable.

I am identifying the right to share natural wealth as a fundamental right. When fundamental rights are not respected, there is a moral obligation on the part of those who are aware of the violation to act to remedy the situation. The idea that environmental impacts should not exceed what most people feel is acceptable is also based on the fundamental moral precept that we have a shared human right to define overall limits.
In response to this proposal, in conversation, you have indicated that this proposal does not merit a call to local news outlets to challenge them to report the existence of the proposal or to challenge them to say why they don't report it. (Or, perhaps more accurately, you have declined to make any such call or to put any such challenge.) You have declined any involvement in an effort to create an organization aimed at bringing these ideas to a larger audience. When asked why it is OK that these ideas are allowed to languish, you have offered only a change of subject or platitudes (such as, "Everyone does what they can"... You repeated this response some time after I pointed out that everyone does what they choose to do from among the things that they possibly could do.)
If I have described the situation falsely, please let me know. If you want to confirm that this is an accurate description, I will be more able to show mental health personnel that I have made extensive effort to use language and more conventional forms of communication to bring these ideas to a larger audience. (Previously, when I resorted to a fast as symbolic protest of the neglect of ideas that could solve the world's seemingly most intractable problems, I was taken against my will for psychiatric observation and was threatened with forced-feeding and electro-convulsive treatment if I continued to refuse nourishment.)


from: Jack ***
to: John Champagne
date: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 1:17 PM
subject: Re: Documenting the vacuum of responses to this call


John, You have a sound analysis/message but so do Bill McKibben and the Dalai Lama. Somehow they have been relatively more successful in disseminating their message, although, clearly, most people remain apathetic (or even hostile). May I suggest that you embrace your status as a minor prophet, let your message gestate, and find other ways to engage in the joys and pleasures that the natural world (and human relationships) still provide us. Respectfully, Jack E.


from: John Champagne
to: Jack ***
date: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 3:05 PM
subject: Re: Documenting the vacuum of responses to this call


are you aware of and can you cite a page or two from either of them that promises limits to environmental impacts consistent with the will of the people AND a significant minimum income (say approximately $20 per day) for everyone on Earth?

There is lots of sound analysis in the world. Where are the proposals that promise to achieve these two goals?

(The amount that I refer to is based on the estimated value of natural wealth according to a team of scientists published in Nature, May, 1997.)


from: John Champagne
to: Jack ***
date: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 3:15 PM
subject: Re: Documenting the vacuum of responses to this call


I don't think we have the luxury of time. I figure we are already a generation (or two) behind where we need to be re awareness about what an alternative paradigm might look like (and even that a paradigm shift is imperative).

An organism suffering a cancer MIGHT carry a new life to term IF the cancer is not too far advanced in the earlier stages of pregnancy.


from: John Champagne
to: Jack ***
date: Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 2:49 PM
subject: Re: Documenting the vacuum of responses to this call


"Sound analysis" is a somewhat vague term. As I mentioned, there is plenty of sound analysis. $20 per day is not an arbitrary amount. Neither is it vague. It is the amount that natural wealth is estimated to be worth (estimated by a team of scientists, Robert Costanza, et al, Nature, May, 1997)

The knowledge that systemic solutions are being allowed to languish is interfering with my ability to enjoy life's simple pleasures in the normal way.

If you (or any other person) can state a reason or reasons why it is OK to let these ideas languish and the reasoning appears sound, It would save me from having to take my most emphatic protest to Assumption College in Worchester, MA. (That is the place of residence/work of the professors who have thus far offered the most formal and authoritative response to this proposal, to whit: It is not realistic (because) it would require changes in human nature. They have declined to say what changes would be required, nor have they said what I wrote that led them to this conclusion.

http://john-champagne.blogspot.com/2012/12/why-i-fast-attention-must-be-paid.html

The blog post puts the question, "Why is it OK that these ideas are left to languish?" in a more elaborate form. (There are flaws (What are they?); There are better proposals (Where are they?) There is evidence that the ideas are coming into the public discourse (What evidence?) The goals are not important (Says who?)

To my knowledge, no one has made any attempt to answer this question.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Symbolic fast as political protest leads to forced confinement for observation in psychiatric ward

(This is a follow-up to my previous post, but is too long to post as a comment...)

I was taken into custody on December 25th, 2012, for psychiatric observation. I was held against my will and within a few days was threatened with force-feeding and electro-convulsive treatment (ECT) if I continued to refuse to eat. I perceived that as a threat that my conscience would be destroyed.

I was taken to Court within days of being taken into custody, where it was confirmed that, if I continued to refuse food, the Court would allow the psychiatric establishment to 'have their way with me'. (My phrasing.) That is, the Court would allow them to do whatever they deemed 'necessary'. I learned later that I had been labeled as 'delusional'; it was said that I held the belief that I could save the world. In truth, I believe that we together can solve the biggest problems threatening the stability and sustainability of civilization. I never made any assertion of belief that is ascribed to me by doctors of psychiatry at University Hospital. (I feel that one possible path forward is to sue for malpractice and have that Court order reversed. More important, though, is that these ideas are either discussed or rebutted. Whatever wrongful acts were taken against me seem a small matter, the mistaken diagnosis seems a small matter, next to the question of whether we will create a sustainable and just civilization or allow a global collapse, along with all the famine, chaos and environmental degradation that that would bring.)

When I heard the threat of forced-feeding and ECT, I felt as though my ego (which I had let go of years earlier, at the time that I realized that normal efforts to use language to communicate profoundly impyortant ideas were going nowhere, were being completely ineffectual) … I felt as though my ego had leaped back into my body, almost as a physical sensation. I knew that, if my conscience was destroyed, then my capacity to take the decision to make this ultimate symbolic statement would be lost. I knew that I had to get out of that threatening environment.

I should have written this note earlier. I wanted to write to not only explain the events that led me to interrupt my fast, but also to relate the hilarity and insanity that I experienced during that forced visit to the psychiatric ward. (My only such visit ever in my life.)

Although the professional staff was presumably deeply concerned that I receive nourishment, the hospital meal service did not seem able to understand the concept of a vegan meal. I was repeatedly served a tray that contained animal products, which I declined. I came to realize that vegans don't go to hospitals very often, so the staff does not have experience dealing with requests for plant-based meals.

I remember surreptitiously eating a muffin with peanut butter on it, since it was against the rules to have food from outside... even while the staff were still having difficulty accommodating a plant-based diet request.

At one point (after I had regained some energy), some other patients and I were playing cards and using monopoly money to place our bets. We were becoming quite psychologically engaged, quite animated, and reacting emotionally to each dealt hand's outcome. We wondered, being under observation as we were, whether our game-playing and normal social interaction would count in our favor in our psychological evaluations; or whether our intense emotional reactions to the outcomes of bets placed using play money would count against us as signs of delusional behavior.

That was all certainly an experience that I will not soon forget. (Whether I will remember it for a long time is a different question... depending on whether I am around much longer.)

I think that I need to take my fast, undertaken in part to protest professors' extreme and egregious discourtesy, to Massachusetts, where the professors teach class at Assumption College. If I must endure forced-feeding and elector-shock treatments, I think it should be close to the source of the most formal and authoritative voices saying that these ideas should not be put to a larger audience.

Again (repeating myself), if there is good reason to not publish (such as a conflict with human nature, as claimed by those professors), then I want to know what that reason is. Professors Hickey and Kantarelis (or any other member of the academic community) can simply point to the text that I wrote that implies a need to perform actions that are contrary to our nature. If a misinterpretation has led to the conclusion that there is such a conflict, I want to clarify the text that is being misinterpreted.

If there is a better proposal for ending extreme poverty AND limiting humans' impacts on the environment (so that they are held within overall limits that most people find acceptable), I want to know what that proposal is. Where is it? Anyone can point to it to make me aware.

Or, if the goals of ending extreme poverty and limiting humans environmental impacts (to levels acceptable to most people) are not important and so a means for achieving them is not worth a public conversation, I want to know that people are willing to go on the record and say publicly that they are not important.

Otherwise, I still feel that neglect of these ideas must be protested in the strongest possible terms. Thus far, normal means of communication have failed. We do not have unlimited time to address these most serious threats to the stability and sustainability of civilization.

J. Champagne


Natural law requires respect of PUBLIC property rights, too

Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Biodiversity as a Public Good:

Is Civilization a Success or Failure, or is it Too Soon to Tell?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why I fast - Attention must be paid

I am a bit scared now for my own health and safety, being somewhat weakened by 66 fast days this year, with about 30 in the past 100 days or so.

Because...

I started a fast about 12 hours ago, one that may end badly for me personally. I am asking for some attention to be paid. I am seeking answers.

I believe that this proposal that calls for payments by polluting industries to the people, and payments by those who take natural resources, could solve two of our greatest problems threatening the stability and sustainability of civilization. Many small problems would disappear.

This proposal would mean the economy would become focused on increasing efficiency in use of energy and other resources (to the extent necessary to bring the reality, in terms of resource depletion and other environmental impacts, into line with what the people want). And it would bring an end to extreme poverty.

The proposal is being allowed to languish. I find this fact very disturbing; so much so that I have not been able to give a normal answer to 'How you doing?' for about six years now, seeing as I do that people are willing to neglect a profoundly important proposal. (Perhaps I, too, would be thoroughly uninterested in carrying this idea forward if I were not the author of the proposal. Well, by whatever quirk of nature or accident, I am the author of a proposal, and I am VERY interest in that to which silence and inaction are common responses. The inclination of most people is to let these ideas languish.)

I am asking that the two professors at Assumption College, (Hickey or Kantarelis, one or another of them) say what they meant when they declined to share this proposal to a larger audience because it was said to be contrary to human nature. What changes in human nature would be needed (from what to what)? What did I write that caused them to hold this view? I would be happy to celebrate hearing from either of them on these questions by breaking fast.

(These professors took a substantial sum of money and invited me to their academic conference on the understanding that they would give an honest evaluation of a paper that elaborated on my ideas and then decide whether to publish. Truth be told, they did not specifically tell me that they would give a review. But I think the assumption is always that there will be honest dealings, and it is generally understood that there will be feedback (which there was) in the case of rejection of a paper. The problem is, though, that their critique, "change in human nature" is so vague as to be (shall I say?) inscrutable. Not analyzable. What change? And there was no reference to text, even after repeated emails to the two men (there was no reply at all) even to this date [12-24, late PM, latest update] to show what in the paper brought them to that conclusion. Common human decency requires honesty and courtesy. Where is it? I may be about to die for something I believe to be profoundly important. Nothing that anyone has said has caused me to waiver from that conviction. So be it, if need be. But if there is a fatal flaw, if there is a requirement for a not merely improbable but also highly implausible change to happen, if the proposal is not realistic or feasible, then surly I don't want to die for a flawed proposal. That would be a sad waste of a good life.)

Also, if ANY other person sees a fatal flaw in this proposal, PLEASE alert me! That would be a relief. I will not sacrifice my life for a flawed proposal. I only feel so strongly about this because I believe it to be important. If it is flawed, it can be let go.

OR

If anyone, ANYONE, is aware of a better proposal for achieving these goals, PLEASE let me know. I will not sacrifice my life for a second-rate proposal.

OR

Someone show me some sign, some evidence, that these ideas are to be part of the public discourse. Where is that conversation happening? When is that conversation happening? The hour is late.

OR

If MANY people were to tell me that these goals are not important and that it is not worth pursuing changes that would be difficult to bring about, then I might celebrate our self-indulgent toboggan ride toward collapse with a bit of fruit... Not the outcome I would prefer. I prefer to think that I live in a society made up of people who really are concerned about these problems and goals. I mention this maybe as a way of inviting people to 'look at it squarely. These are important goals!'

(I feel certain that a small group of people could, if they chose to do so, make a topic part of the public discourse, at least in a local area...)


What news media and universities are not telling us: Systemic flaws are not reported

If a reporter or editor were to respond to this critique by resolving to remedy this blind spot in the reporting and publicly committing to doing so (or if they would tell me where the critique linked above is flawed) I would also be ready to end this fast. I would not feel a need to sacrifice my life to bring some topics and ideas to the public consciousness if those topics are being addressed in normal reporting, as they should be.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How are we doing?

How are you doing?


How are WE doing?

Someone asked me how I am doing.

I am not OK.

I haven't been able to say I am OK for about six years now.

I don't want to live in a world where the best ideas for how to create a sustainable and just society are left to languish.

But I do not have the power to define what society is; whether it is adaptive or moribund. WE decide that. Our collective actions decide that.

Societies do not adapt in a timely fashion to changed realities when the best ideas are neglected.

Here's our best idea available for ending extreme poverty in the world AND limiting humans' impacts on the environment (to hold them within what most people would endorse as acceptable, as not excessive): Recognize an equal claim to and demand an equal sharing of natural wealth. We can charge a fee to polluters high enough to adequately discourage harmful impacts and give the proceeds to all the people.

(If you are aware... if anyone is aware... of a better way to achieve these goals, please let me know.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Early essay on the gaia brain paradigm

This essay was offered as an outline, an abstract of a proposal, in response to a call for papers that bring ideas from different disciplines to bear on solving environmental problems. It resulted in an invitation to the conference, along with an offer to consider publishing a longer paper with the conference proceedings.

Pollution fees and natural resource fees: A necessary part of our global brain.

Democratic ownership and free market management of natural resources: a capitalism-communism synthesis.

We have a problem with pollution. Our economy treats the earth as a free dumping ground for wastes. The ecosystems of earth provide a valuable service by taking our waste products and transforming them into clean air and water and soil. Like anything that is free, this natural service of accepting and cleaning up wastes that the earth provides for us is subject to over use. This problem is known as the Tragedy of the Commons.

We treat these valuable services as a free good because, until recently, there were not such great demands placed on these natural recycling services--we could use them as though they were free without destroying them from overuse; and, we lacked the tools to measure and allocate these resources. Now, the demands placed on the earth's ecosystems by our habit of putting industrial and agricultural wastes in them are exceeding their capacity to absorb and clean. So the problem is: 'How to allocate the limited resource of waste removal and cleaning in an efficient and fair way'.

If the earth's waste removal service were treated as the valuable resource that it is, and if our industries were required to pay a fee according to how much they use the service, then the problem of overuse due to zero cost would be eliminated. A pollution fee would require the measurment of emissions and would cause a reduction in the emissions. This is how a sensory nervous system works: information about injury to the organism is transmitted by sense nerves into the neural network (brain) and the neural network changes in a way that causes a reduction in the injury. In this analogy, pollution, or stress to ecosystems represents injury to the organism, the earth. Information about the environmental impact of industry and agriculture enters society (the neural net) through the price of goods and services in the marketplace. Cleaner products cost less, while those with higher ecological costs would have corresponingly higher prices attached.

Another way to think of this process is as an autonomic nervous system for earth: the pollution fee is information about stresses or demands on ecosystems that would tend to move the earth organism out of homeostasis, and it is an economic incentive or pressure to maintain a homeostasis, or a healthy ecologic balance.

We must decide what the earth's ecosystems can sustainably absorb from us in the form of wastes. But we do not know the answer to this question. No one does. So we begin by recognizing that we cannot be certain of the numbers. Let us resolve to err on the side of caution, that is, to be conservative and err on the side of preserving and restoring ecosystems for the benefit of our grandchildren and future generations.

We could issue permits for various pollutants according to how much of each pollutant we will allow, and auction these permits in the free market. Thus, those industries which can adapt processes to reduce or eliminate waste emmissions will have an advantage in the market, while those industries which continue to emit large amounts of waste will have to include the costs to ecosystems in the price of their products.

Because just about everyone will have a different opinion regarding the levels of pollutants that would be safe and harmless, the actual amount that we decide on will be a summary of the opinions of all the world's people. And, because many of us are not able to make an informed decision about appropriate levels of some or all pollutants, we may choose to delegate our vote to someone whose opinion we respect. For example, if I believed that it is safe to release 100 million tons of fossil fuel carbon dioxide into the environment, and that no level of chlorinated hydrocarbon emmissions (e.g.: CFC's, Heptachlor, DDT) can be called safe or sustainable, but I had no opinion or knowledge about safe levels of other pollutants, then I might refer to lists of people who share my views on CO2 and chlorinated hydrocarbons to see what their opinions are regarding other pollutants, either to inform my own opinion, or to find a knowledgable and responsible person to whom I could delegate my 'emmissions allowance' vote.

This concept of assigning fees to the use of earth's waste removal services can be applied to other areas. Pollution fees are actually a subset of green fees. Green fees are a way to manage scarce natural resources that are subject to overuse and depletion, such as forests, fisheries and grazing land. This system could also be applied to the management of the use of non-human animals by human beings. Someday, perhaps soon, we may completely eliminate the systematic enslavement and exploitation of non-human animals in industry and agriculture, but until that time, we may wish to create a system whereby industry and agriculture are subject to economic costs in some proportion to how much suffering they inflict on the animals they use. This will give them an incentive to reduce both the numbers of animals they use and the amount of suffering inflicted on each one.

The Gaia brain/pollution fee system will so transform the global economy and society, we probably ought to think in terms of an elimination of government as we know it. With the introduction of significant pollution fees, conventional taxes not only would be difficult to support financially, they may seem rather without philosophical foundation: we may see that a fee according to our use of the earth's natural resources is well founded on philosophical principles of fairness, while taxes on income or sales do not seem on the face to be eminently fair.

The proceeds of the pollution fees and green fees would be a monetary representation of the value of earth's air and water and living systems. As these resources can be thought of as belonging to all, the proceeds of these fees probably ought to be shared equally among all the people of the earth. This could be the basis of a guaranteed minimum income. Perhaps we could contribute half of our share to charities or other community needs--those functions currently served by government, and spend the other half toward our more personal needs. If everyone had access to such an account, no one would live in abject poverty, and low income people would have charity social services available.

The pollution fee/gaia brain concept applies ancient principles to today's challenges: We must live in accord with nature; We must give something back in proportion to what we take; We are the stewards of this planet. The greatest challenges that life presents are those which must be met to ensure the very survival of the organism. The difficult but life sustaining task before us is to transform ourselves from cancer cells of earth to brain cells of earth--to make a healthy, properly functioning world brain; to create/re-make our global society.



The longer paper: Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hungry from fasting - Hungry for answers

Today is the 50th fast day of the year for me.

I do not want to live in a world where the best ideas we have for solving our biggest problems are neglected. I fast to symbolically represent this fact in as strong a way as possible, and to protest the fact that a call for equal sharing of natural wealth languish, so that we miss maybe our best chance at a sustainable society and an end to extreme deprivation and poverty.

That is seriously wrong.

I also don't want to think this is a big important proposal if it has flaws that would keep it from working. Let me know if you see any. Anyone.

If anyone wants to join me in asking where the supposed conflict with human nature is (It's easy: "Where is the conflict with human nature?") in a plan to charge fees to polluters and give the proceeds to all the people (which is the reason given for why professors Hickey and Kantarelis decided this proposal should not go to a wider audience), I think now would be a good time.

Seems to me to be a fair, even a necessary question.

Kevin Hickey khickey@assumption.edu
Demitri Kantarelis dkantar@assumption.edu