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Capitalizing the Environment

"Imagine a wondrous new machine, strong and supple, a machine that reaps as it destroys. It is huge and mobile, something like the machines of modern agriculture but vastly more complicated and powerful. Think of this awesome machine running over open terrain and ignoring familiar boundaries. It plows across fields and fence rows with a fierce momentum that is exhilarating to behold and also frightening. As it goes, the machine throws off enormous mows of wealth and bounty while it leaves behind great furrows of wreckage. Now imagine that there are skillful hands on board, but no one is at the wheel. In fact, this machine has no wheel nor any internal governor to control the speed and direction. It is sustained by its own forward motion, guided mainly by its own appetites. It is accelerating. This machine is modern capitalism driven by the imperatives of the global industrial revolution. Our wondrous machine, with all its great power and creativity, appears to be running out of control toward some sort of abyss. Amid revolutionary fervor, such warnings may sound far-fetched and, as history tell us, usually go unheeded until one day, sometimes quite suddenly, they are confirmed by reality." -William Greider, One World Ready or Not, 1997.

The March of Progress
"The March of Progress" by Mark Henson. All rights, US and International, reserved by the artist.

Even as limits appear on the horizon, the reigning powers of commerce espouse a single-minded economic philosophy of growth–really, accelerated growth. The very mechanics of our economic system sustain this dynamic. Capital is the flywheel. The leap-frogging of margins turns it over. Our fertility rate is the grease on the flywheel pivot. And the momentum of this engine, the economic system of capitalism, is hurling us into the twenty-first century with no concern but the bottomline. It's clearly time to reevaluate our economic goals through the lens of sustainability.

Table of Contents

Overviews:

LABOR
Our social, cultural, and personal expectations are intricately and desperately caught up in the momentum of the existing global economy. Even should we be told in unqualified terms that industrialization must stop tomorrow or we pass the point of no return, headed straight for environmental collapse, we fear the cost of changing the economic machinery so much we would risk all to continue another day. No one feels this more intimately than the working class people. MORE.
SUBSIDIES
The use of government subsidies all around the world exposes painful contradictions between the policies espoused at international roundtables and those enacted on the economic playing field. More than $500 billion of taxpayers and consumers money is spent annually around the world supporting industrial methods that are hazardous to the environment. MORE.
TRADE AGREEMENTS
Just as national governments support environmentally detrimental subsidies, many international trade agreements also work in the opposite direction of sustaining our world. The General Agreement for Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that established the World Trade Organization (WTO) and current guidelines for international trade is a revealing example. MORE.
BANKING PRACTICES
The First World, led by the Group of Seven (G7), has funded Third World development over the last fifty years through a variety of commercial, multilateral, and bilateral loans. In the ideal, these development loans were to provide the wherewithal for the lesser developed countries to build infrastructure, social programs, schools, health services, a viable economy and, eventually, a place in the global market. What we have today is a gross perversion of that ideal. MORE.
THE FINANCIAL MARKETS
The deregulation of the financial markets combined with the high speed trading made possible by increasingly sophisticated computers has radically changed the world and expanded the power and reach of capitalist economics one hundred fold. Financial transactions can now occur at lightning speed. Money managers, reacting in the flash of a news bulletin to events any where in the world, can move money from one market to the next at the touch of a key. While there is clearly considerable advantage to the near instantaneous communication provided by the World Wide Web, the unfettered movement of large sums of private capital can be used like a weapon of stealth on developing nations and have far reaching political and social repercussions. MORE.

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A Depression-era program to bring electricity to rural areas is using taxpayer money to provide billions of dollars in low-interest loans to build coal plants even as Congress seeks ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

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