April 30 A Capital Idea Part 3: Resources as Capital
I have often wondered how people can "own" land, or the seas for that matter, among other things. Apparently many other people have had the same thought. Native Americans thought that the concept of land ownership was ludicrous, when European settlers came to this land and claimed the land for their own. Given the current popularity of Native American land-sharing ideology among Euro-Americans, their idea seems to be catching on. Despite this trend, our capitalistic system is fueling an opposing trend, in which even genes are seen by some as property which can be copywrited. As another example, in fact, naturally occuring substances have long been usurped by pharmaceutical companies, as their property to be used for their own profit.
It is true that European settlers took over this land and have dominated this continent, using a capitalistic economic system, but basically, the immigrants employed an exploitative system -- exploitative of both people and natural resources -- to create an ultimately unsustainable economy, sort of a huge, long-term bubble economy. So far, the resources upon which it relies -- and the cheap labor -- have not run out, but our resources are much degraded, as is our natural environment. The phrase, "penny wise and pound foolish" comes to mind.
We need to adopt the idea that our true wealth lies in our renewable, natural resources. This wealth, like land, cannot truly be owned, but rather, is part of our "commonwealth," a word the founders of this nation were fond of using. We must share the land, share the resources, share our knowledge, and recognize that our accomplishments depend upon the contributions of others. I have written about creating a "green" economy before. Here, I submit that having a "green" economy means recognizing the value of our shared resources. Furthermore, it means recognizing the importance of developing sustainable resources. The fact that we continue to have available natural resources to drive our economy, though nonrenewable ones such as coal and oil are dwindling, and even renewable ones such as timber are at far lower levels than what the early European settlers found, shows that this planet contains enormous resources and potential resources. But these resources are not limitless, and their use has enormous consequences, such as global warming, and the "sixth extinction" which, tragically, is causing many species to go extinct due to human activities.
The main difference between the traditional Native American approach, and the modern renewable resource approach, is the use of science as a tool for creating a sustainable approach to the economy, with a good standard of living for all. Scientific research can tell us the limits of our resources, but more importantly, can be used to create more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly ways of using the resources that we have. For example, solar energy capture technology is being deployed more and more frequently around the world, although not nearly as much as it should. Changes for the better are happening, but at a very slow pace, distressingly, probably at a slower pace than negative consequences of our traditional practices are piling up. In other words, we are "tinkering around the edges" of the problem, trying to increase recycling and the use of sustainable forms of energy, for example, but still not stemming the tide of environmental degradation which our ancestors set into motion. There seems to be an innate fear of change, at least in enough people to make true change difficult.
We should not be afraid of change. The only way to correct the errors of the past, is to be fearless in embracing that which can improve our world. If we continue to rely upon old technologies, such as the profligate use of coal and oil, eventually our entire society will collapse. I think the recognition of that is motivating most of us to modify our behavior in minor ways, but unless faced with the spector of social collapse, most people are unwilling to deploy the best available technologies, or even political or economic systems. It seems so much easier and comfortable to stick with the familiar and known. But even the so-called "familiar and known" has a way of degrading into counterproductive and unpredictable, and lead to people clinging to "sacred" or "honored" traditions based on false premises. What we really need is a paradigm shift in our thinking, to overcome the inertia of tradition and established practices, an inertia which prevents us from seeing our resources as the precious gifts of the earth that they really are.