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

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