ISSUES - Ecology-Based Economy

What Would an Ecology-Based Economy Mean for Minnesota?

The ecology-based economy is a counterforce to the current economic model in which we were born. As a society of governed people, we are constantly told we need to generate constant growth, yet we cannot continue to grow infinitely on a finite resource base. Potentially it could lead to mass suicide for human beings who consciously continue down this path, and has already led to mass genocide that is taking place now among the indigenous animals and species of the planet who have no say in how people mismanage the planet.

Based on this, the Network will work to transform and/or replace the use of the gross national product(GNP) and the gross domestic product (GDP) as indicator’s of Minnesota's economic health. We plan to redefine economic security as articulated by Robert Kennedy:
"For too long we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community value for the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product now is over 800 billion dollars a year, but that gross national product, if we judge the United States of America by that, that gross national product counts air pollution, and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic squall. It counts Napalm, and it counts nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our city. It counts Whitman's rifles and Speck's Knifes and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet, the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play; it does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate for the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short except that which makes life worth while. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. “~ Robert Kennedy’s comments on what the GNP measures during his session in 1968 at Kansas University.

One of the tools the Network will use to achieve an ecology-based economy will be the Precautionary Principle (Do No Harm) as embodied in the Purpose of the Minnesota Environmental Act of 19732: (a) to declare a state policy that will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between human beings and their environment; (b) to promote efforts that will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of human beings; and (c) to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the state and to the nation. HIST: 1973 c 412 s 1; 1986 c 444.

For the Network, ecology is the main focus. We aim for transition from a human-centered to an ecology-centered view of the world. From this altered perspective, as part of the bioregion of Minnesota, each economic exchange, be it barter or a traditional money transaction, inherently restores the water, air, soil, and habitats to health and sustainability. Or, to put it another way, a balance would be established by making Minnesota's economic health dependent on the health of our natural resources.

The Network will also use measurements such as whole-cost, full-cost, and life-cycle cost to determine our investment in Minnesota. Yet these measurements may only calculate some costs. How can we put a cost on global climate disruption, decades of toxic nuclear waste, extinction, persistent toxins, cancer, and other yet unforeseen consequences from the growth/GDP economic mode? Some of the costs that we can attempt to include are mountain top removal, nuclear waste, tailings from mining, time and resources spent by our government managing and regulating the industries that don't pay their way and leave local communities paying financial and environmental costs that are not included in their bottom lines. Ethical, well informed people in an ecology-based economy would not tolerate this unnecessary destruction and poisoning our ecosystems, our people and our future.

For transportation we can calculate whole-costs such as road building and maintenance, police and fire, carnage, oil emissions, and the cost of having a military protecting oil supplies throughout the world. Add this to the costs of buying a vehicle and the gas needed to operate it, and we become more honest about the real cost of transportation. Transportation planning in Minnesota will adjust accordingly.

We can also use some calculation about human health in relation to risk assessment. For example, look to the 2002 Report by the Minnesota Project: Public Health Benefits of Converting the Riverside Coal Plant to Natural Gas. In this report, human health costs are added “such as bronchitis, asthma, mortality, and a host of many others” that are not in the bottom line of coal electric power plants. At the time of the report, if we were to add up these costs from just eight coal power facilities within Minnesota, approximately $185 million each year would be added to the bottom line of the electric bills for Minnesotans.

If we wanted to add up the whole cost or life-cycle cost of the Prairie Island and Monticello Nuclear electric power facilitates, we would find that the number is infinite. The profit driven decision-making that allowed this to happen has put the upper Mississippi River in danger. It has also imposed the burden on future generations who will now have to work millions of hours to pay off the infinite costs just so we could constantly plug-in during our short time on earth. These costs include routine releases of iodine 131, strontium 90 and tritium, the decommissioning of the facilities, and the waste. In addition, we face increased risks of a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or human error that could lead to the Upper Mississippi River being contaminated indefinitely by a meltdown.
In electrical energy, with an ecology-based economy, we would see a cascading of efficiency standards in housing and building codes leading to a 50-70% reduction in energy use and creating 2-10 times more jobs than the existing systems-while not losing service. And our fuel sources would naturally move to renewable energy. This would help to remedy human-caused imbalance on Earth.

But we must act. We must have the courage to push for crucial changes in how we measure and get things accomplished.
An additional benefit of an ecology-based economy would be elimination of redundancies in production while rewarding human-scale economies which would inherently enable minimum-impact and minimum-risk economies, such as subsistence, barter, intentional living, cooperatives and co-housing.

Another outcome of an ecology-based economy is that, as we stop creating so much waste, the cost of living will go down and quality of life indicators will rise. All living things will enjoy a cleaner, healthier environment. People will enjoy increased free time, allowing for more whole and healthy individuals, rather than working for waste and the knowing or unknowing deterioration of key life support systems on Earth.
Using new ecological indicators to frame our economic decisions and activities, we would transition naturally from disposable “to durable and repairable”, from wasteful energy use to efficient energy use, from unhealthy remote food and energy production to healthier local food and energy production, from suburban sprawl to walkable cities.

Instead of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which has proven to be dysfunctional, we would have something such as the Minnesota Ecological Health Indicator to guide us in implementing ecological and economic policies in Minnesota. This new indicator would measure the health of Minnesota's water, air, soil, diversity of species, investments in durable over disposable, and energy savings. Then, if poisons are dumped, topsoil is eroded, nuclear reactors are kept running, dirty coal is kept burning, and extinction of our fellow creatures continues, the Minnesota economy will be recognized as failing. We will understand that a truly healthy economy is only possible when all species enjoy a healthy environment. Those practices which have proven to poison and promote extinction will be disabled, and that which provides for our needs, yet simultaneously prevents and eliminates threats to the biosphere, will be enabled.

The Ecology Democracy Network will not allow incremental change in the face of exponential problems. An ecology-based economy would achieve a proportionate response to remedy problems we face. Having consumers try to put the genie back into the bottle of bad design, engineering and manufacturing will not come close to solving the problems we face.

Our struggle to phase out the existing economic dysfunction and grow a healing economy will continue to be met with a variety of deceptive messages and practices, creating the illusion that the problems are being solved. Over the last 60+ years the marketing, advertising and the public relations industries have contributied to creating the fix we are in. These commercial pushers should not be underestimated in their cleverness as they attempt to divert us away from the fundamental changes that are necessary as we move to greater respect, balance, and a healing relationship with our home.

By establishing an ecology-based economy in Minnesota, enforcing existing laws, passing new laws, bringing court challenges, running candidates, and other tools, we can transform the culture to be "of, by and for the Earth and all who dwell on Earth."

Related Organizations/Leaders:

Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE)
5101 S. 11th Street, Arlington, VA 22204, USA
Brian Czech, President (703) 901-7190

Redefining Progress
1904 Franklin Street 6th Floor Oakland, CA 94612 - Phone: (510) 444.3041 Fax: (510) 444.3191
Capitol Office: 1326 14th St. NW Washington, DC 20005 - Phone: (202) 234-9665, Fax: (901) 234-9665

Worldwatch Institute
1776 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-1904
Phone: 1-(202) 452-1999, Fax: 1-(202) 296-7365

Global Footprint Network
312 Clay Street, Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94607-3510 USA
Phone: 1-(510) 839-8879, Fax: 1-(510) 251-2410

1243 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver, BC, V6H 1B7 Canada
Phone: (604)736-9401, 1-(800) 663-1243 - Fax: (604) 737-6021

Bill Rees on the Ecological Footprint
School of Community & Regional Planning, #433-6333 Memorial Road Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2
Phone: (604) 822-3276; Fax: (604) 822-3787

Other Links/Downloads:

Sweet Honey in the Rock; Are My Hands Clean? (PDF)
(This is to show the interconnectedness of our dependencies, as well as, costs that are externalized from the price of what we buy.)

State of the World 2008, A New Bottom line for Progress, By Matt Talberth (PDF)

MN Environmental Quality Board's 1990 "Smart Signals" assessment of progress indicators (including Genuine Progress Indicator)

Adbusters, December 2008 edition Issue #81. Hermann Daly is their Man of the Year. He was one of the modern thinkers on an ecological economy.
Also, Issue #85

The Story of Stuff: (On the home page is video that offers a good explanation of whole costs.)