07 December 2006

Does the Horizon End?

Environmental Economics, at first seemed like a dry land to pace through, but soon certain concepts caught my ear and now my words. Cowboy Economy to Spaceship Earth is an interesting, well known concept among economists and environmentalists. I have been reading quite a few articles and there are some intriguing debates to think of when talking about the so-called super heroes SAVING THE WORLD. Here, I have basically put together some interesting quotes, extracts, and links.
The “cowboy economy” is a phrase used to describe the American ethic employed when land was plentiful and the cry across the land was 'westward ho.' Noted economist Kenneth Boulding coined the phrase in the 1960s while he was a member of the UM faculty. The cowboy metaphor symbolized the “illimitable plains” and the “reckless and exploitative” behavior of American economic activity. At the same time Boulding was predicting the consequences of the cowboy economy, Buckminster Fuller was encouraging humanity to think of the earth as a spaceship with a limited amount of life support. Despite these warnings, a frontier mentality that continues to allow strip mining, overgrazing, and woodland clear cutting still prevails. http://www.tcaup.umich.edu/urp/cowboyeconomy.html
In 1966 the well known economist Kenneth Boulding published an important book with the title: The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth. Corporate Cowboys are still trotting across lands with one pure ideal - prudence at home, profligacy abroad. Developing countries, with its exploited resources are further being exploited by these reckless hungry souls who are focused on one objective - economic growth. The core to this problem is that 'development' is now focused on this narrow concept of 'growth'. And this 'growth' is seen as a product of a market.
Basically, Boulding had pointed out quite early in the 20th Century that Earth is a closed system. Though, Deep Ecologists and Spiritual Ecologists might have a justification to call it an open system of inner energy, I will have to say that looking at the World as a closed system helps. However, the Cowboy Economy is not only a concept but a widespread attitude. It is the attitude of Globalization. A paradigm that is willing to open up this system further, and attempting to reach further horizons.
One could poetically agree and empathize, ‘yet all experience is an arch wherethro', as Tennyson tells us all in Ulysses. We should move beyond horizons. In a globe, geographically there is no end to this horizon. But, the horizon does have an end. Prudence, as such may not be the actual attitude to be propagated but something of higher intelligence.
A recent UNEP report stated that, a responsible development in those countries where a majority of the global population is loving and a majority of the majority is living at or below the existence line, will require that the industrialized countries over the next few decades reduce its resource consumption not with but to 1/10 of current levels. It calls for an intellectual lifestyle challenge- a community with a new intellectual culture, a new consumption culture, and a new technological culture; a life of ecological intelligence.
Albert Einstein warned us almost 50 years ago by stating: The world we have created through our way of thinking has serious problems which cannot be solved by continuing to think as we always have.
World scientists published on unprecedented warning to humanity: “A great challenge in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated”.
The Spaceship Earth is similar to the Gaia theory. In the Gaia theory, Earth is looked as a single organism balancing its own self, but it has thresholds, which humans have evidently crossed. We have to respect the Earth as one living system; we are but a part of it, which will have to work towards the well-being of the organism than grow as a parasite. Well, this is just a brief in my words. However, Spaceship Earth combines Modernity, Stewardship, and Gaia. It says that we all live in this one spaceship with limited resources, and there in nowhere to go and restock anytime soon, and that humans are to efficiently allocate these resources and develop according to the present needs. It may have been derived from a passage in Henry George's best known work, Progress and Poverty1 (1879). From book IV, chapter 2: "It is a well-provisioned ship, this on which we sail through space. If the bread and beef above decks seem to grow scarce, we but open a hatch and there is a new supply, of which before we never dreamed. And very great command over the services of others comes to those who as the hatches are opened are permitted to say, 'This is mine!'" This concept also pacifies some superficial philosophers, or even maybe the deeper thinkers. It is just sometimes good to deal with problems by indicating metaphors. Many psychologists deal with a variety of emotional troubles using the metaphor as a tool. One may visualize their anger as a fire and then work towards extinguishing it. Interpretation of dreams works a lot around these visualizations and hidden desires one possesses in one's own id. When looking at an environmental problem, trying to visualize the Earth as a spaceship provides as a helpful tool for many theories presented by environmentalists and economists. It advocates the simple fact that intelligent prudence everywhere and link of development with equity has to be established. Therefore, the link between development and environment will finally be traced in a justifiable manner. However, a spaceship may not work under the circumstance where the simple connection between claiming rights and innate responsibilities are missed. The Earth is formed on various links and the conscience plays a large role. Transporting exploitation to another arena does not help in anyway. The United Nations is not the best captain for this ship. It has variety of similar weaknesses possessed by the League of Nations. The fact that its wide-based word on human rights is really amazing, does not hide the on the environmental arena (the larger concept of development) many links are being missed. The Horizon ended a long time ago. People continue to see it, but are under the blind hope that there are no full stops in human's capacity and that we dominate the commas. The world still continues to be a podium dominated by Corporate Cowboys.

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