20 Missions 20: Earth verses Economics

Mission 20: Earth verses Economics

When the laws of human economics are in conflict with the laws of nature, where do you stand? This is your final mission on this course – to answer that question. Which do you serve, because they are mutually opposed?

I have laid out a grid below showing the extremes of with regards to these questions, from negative 5 to positive 5. Please ‘mark yourself’ for where you are on this continuum, for each of the five questions. Eg if you agree totally with 1a is -10 points.


 minus 5  4  3  2  1  0  1  2  3  4  5   plus


economics the earth
1a. The first commandment of economics is: ‘grow. Grow forever. Companies must get bigger. National economics need to swell by a certain percent each year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more – ever more. 1b. The first commandment of earth is: ‘enough.

Just so much and not more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine. Everything born of the earth grows to its appropriate size and then stops. The planet does not get bigger, it gets better. Its creatures learn, mature, diversify, evolve, create amazing beauty and novelty and complexity, but live within absolute limits.


2a. Economics says: ‘compete. Only by pitting yourself against a worthy opponent will you perform efficiently. The reward for successful competition will be growth. You will eat up your opponents, one-by-one, and as you do, you will gain the resources to do it some more. 2b. The earth says: ‘compete, yes, but keep your competition in bounds. Don’t annihilate. Take only what you need. Leave your competitor enough to live. Wherever possible, don’t compete, cooperate. Pollinate each other, create shelter for each other, build firm structures that lift small species up to the light. Pass around the nutrients, share the territory. Some kinds of excellence rise out of competition; other kinds rise out of cooperation. You’re not in a war, you are in a community.


3a. Economics says: ‘use it up fast’. Don’t bother with repair; the sooner something wears out, the sooner you’ll buy another. That makes the gross national product go round. Throw things out when you get tired of them. Throw them to a place where they become useless. Grab materials and energy to make more. Shave the forests every 30 years. Get the oil out of the ground and burn it now. Make jobs so that people can earn money, so they can buy more stuff and throw it out. 3b. The earth says: ‘what’s the hurry?’

Take your time building soils, forests, coral reefs, mountains. Take centuries or millennia. When any part wears out, don’t discard it, turn it into food for something else. If it takes hundreds of years to grow a forest, millions of years to compress oil, maybe that’s the rate at which they ought to be used.

4a. Economics discounts the future.  Ten years from now, $2 will be worth $1. You could invest that dollar at 7% and double it in ten years. So a resource 10 years from now is worth only half what its worth now. Take it now. Turn it into dollars. 4b. The earth says: ‘nonsense’. Those invested dollars grow in value only if something worth buying grows, too. The earth and its treasures will not double in ten years. What will you spend your doubled dollars on if there is less soil, dirtier water, fewer creatures, less beauty? The earth’s rule is: give to the future. Lay up a fraction of an inch of topsoil each year. Give your all to nurture the young. Never take more in your generation than you give back to the next.


5a. Economics says: ‘worry, struggle, be dissatisfied’. The permanent condition of humankind is scarcity. The only way out of scarcity is to accumulate and hoard, though that means, regrettably, that others will have less. Too bad, but there is not enough to go around. 5b. The earth says: ‘rejoice You have been born into a world of self-maintaining abundance and incredible beauty. Feel it, taste it, be amazed by it. If you stop your struggle and lift your eyes long enough to see earth’s wonders, to play and dance with the glories around you, you will discover what you really need. It isn’t that much. There is enough. As long as you control your numbers, there will be enough for everyone and for as long as you can imagine.

With thanks to:

Feel it, Taste it, Be Amazed By It’ Extracted from ‘Living Lightly’ Issue 16 Summer 2001. Article by Donella Meadows, author of Pulitzer Prize-nominated weekly column, ‘The Global Citizen’. Copyright: Sustainability Institute, PO Box 174, Hartland Four Corners VT 05049, USA.

A continuum from minus 50to plus 5 will give you some idea where you stand. Are you mainly working for economics or for the earth you inhabit.

Which of these mandates makes a world worth living in?

We choose through our actions, which laws we make or obey. D we obey those of the economy or those of the earth. Which will ultimately prevail? We can choose whether to make our economic choices consistent with planetary ones, or to find out what happens if we don’t.

I feel very lucky to have studied at a college with a Philosopher in Residence. I would quite like one at home! Even in the 1980’s he was concerned at an ecological level. These days Skolimowski is regarded as the ‘father’ of eco-philosophy. On a molecular level Skolimowski draws no clear delineation between us and our environment. Skolimowski says that many of our present problems have come about through an elevation of ‘knowledge over values’, resulting in a general philosophy that regards our environment as something to be conquered rather than cherished.

His book ( Eco-Philosophy) proposes we should improve the balance of knowledge and values in our culture, as a means of development, both personal and social. He calls this ‘The New Imperative’. He presents the conflict between the opposing value systems as below:

Pursuing information Pursuing wisdom
Environmentally and ecologically oblivious Environmentally and ecologically conscious
Related to the economics of material progress Related to the economics of the quality of life
Politically indifferent Politically aware
Socially unconcerned Socially concerned
Mute about individual responsibility Vocal about individual responsibility
Intolerant to transphysical phenomena Tolerant to transphysical phenomena
Health mindless Health mindful
Language orientated Life orientated
‘Objective’ (detached) Committed
Spiritually dead Spiritually alive
Piecemeal (analytical) Comprehensive

As you might observe, the values associated with ‘present philosophy’ are preventing our society from evolving into something wholesome. Although many of us are ‘waking up’, the social and political  structures we have are controlled by people of extremely limited vision.

When there are clear inconsistencies between human economics and the laws of planet earth, which do you think is going remain?

A quote attributed to the eighteenth-century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke is: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It is time for you to choose and act now, to show your colours through action.

The Human Race is in a time of choices, in a race against time. If you are feeling a deep dissatisfaction, a ‘cognitive dissonance’ between what you see with your own eyes and what you are being ‘told’, it is important to look carefully at your core values and act upon them from your own conscience.

How do your own values govern or influence your actions? Are you living your life according to your values with regards to the inconsistencies you see?

It is not enough to just ‘change ourselves’ or simply ‘become the change we wish to see in the world’. We also need to resist at every level the impositions of un-evolved people making laws and creating conditions that severely limit our choices to evolve as we might wish to.

Otherwise we wake up to polluted water and air along with climate catastrophe and slide down the snake to face our basic survival needs all over again, if we survive at all. Otherwise we will never fulfil our potential as human beings and what a terrible waste that would be.

Your final Mission to Rewild Yourself is to go and take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror. Remenber that you too, are made of nature.