Shortsighted economics isn’t just about our financial condition. We are seeing the world around us being endangered, spoiled, engineered and depleted in a race to exploit the marketplace.
Messing with Mother Nature
These emotion-packed issues are a mix of politics and science, denial and fear. It’s easy enough to board the bandwagon on either side, but any thoughtful examination will drive the independent thinker crazy.
I’ll use the most recent fight over an oil pipeline rerouted through Native American territory in North Dakota as an example of how conflicting these events can affect all of us.
From the opening essay on the history of economics, you know I have a soft spot in my heart for Native Americans, past and present. And so, when the protests erupted in North Dakota, I was emotionally ready to go out there and stand in front of the water cannons.
But I was forming my views of what was happening on the basis of the headlines, videos and dramatic photos. It wasn’t the battle I’m fighting right now and so I left it up to the others to do my fighting for me.
You see, I’m no different than anyone else. Sometimes I know little and think much.
The Bouncing Ball of Environmental Risk
Now, having been forced to dig deeper for this essay, I understand the events at Standing Rock much better. You can too but you need to scroll back a ways.
Through several of the most recent presidential administrations, both Democrat and Republican, the goal has been to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Scroll back further to the energy crisis in the early ’70s when the Arabs took control of oil production in the Middle East and severely cut back supply.
That was followed, by the way, with a push to produce smaller and more energy-efficient cars, but you can see by the monsters on the road today that didn’t catch on.
And scroll even further back when America first sent its Big Oil companies over there to produce crude oil cheaper and with the risk to the environment transferred to their habitats, not ours.
The oil business is messy. And transport is scary. When we shuffled it to the Middle East, we exported that problem way off to a land where oil production was less regulated, to lands we didn’t care much about, and we could bring the icky gooey stuff to the U.S. using giant ocean tankers to ports that were fairly isolated from people’s backyards.
All was well.
But with the move to domestic production, a large part of it is taking place in the land-locked Dakotas and central Canada. Transporting it to refineries near major markets is problematic. It could be hauled on railroad cars through the backyards of America, but regulators knew better than to try that. So they’ve resorted to pipelines across rural America where leakage might go unnoticed.
Standing Rock: Much Ado, Then Nothing
More than 72,000 miles of crude oil pipeline has been successfully strung across the country even though each thousand miles has drawn much resistance from the proportionately small number of environmentalists who fight on our behalf. Whether we appreciate it or not.
Before the Dakota Access Pipeline, it was the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Montana, which was defeated. Only to be rerouted and completed anyway.
Environmentalists have a lot of trouble getting the attention of gas-guzzling Americans. They wait impatiently for opportunities to break through the apathy long enough to make their voices heard. The protests at Standing Rock made for great theater.
The Dakota pipeline was being built in the same way as the intercontinental railroads; starting on one end at its destination of Patoka, Illinois, northwest through Iowa, and from the other end starting in the Bakken shale area of North Dakota.
It was nearly completed when the white citizens in one community took legal action and the pipeline was rerouted to pass between a Sioux Indian reservation and lands the Sioux believed were loaded with sacred burial grounds. It would also cross under the Missouri River, upstream from where the Sioux fish, not for sport but for food to supplement an impoverished existence.
They had once owned the land by treaty, but as usual, what the government gave, it took away.
It was a classic example of shifting the risk from the haves to the have nots.
The protests were hellish and graphic and lasted a year. But when unrestrained capitalists took over Washington, that was that. The pipeline now carries 470,000 barrels of crude past the reservation every day. No leaks so far.
All that fuss over a potential oil spill here and there; but now that the deed is done, there’s no longer a whimper out of the consuming public. Protests make good press but in the long run what Americans really care about is the availability and price of gas at the pump.
The same thing happens when there’s a major oil spill out in the Gulf of Mexico that becomes evident when oil-covered sea life floats to shore. There’s a period of public outcry and then nothing.
Pedal to the Metal Past Smokestacks
The larger issue of air pollution is far more obvious. Yet people motor past the belching coal-fired smoke stacks, clicking tongues and pushing their pedals to the metal without giving a thought to their own culpability.
I used to believe in the market force and five years ago I started a Facebook group with the wishful title, WE Are The Market Force. It wasn’t meant to be a statement of fact but a declaration that we could be the market force again. In truth, we are no longer the market force. Profit is the driver.
After five years of participating in continuous chat, my resolve weakened. Why? Because the only solution offered involved finger pointing and begging with hat in hand.
Well, we need to curl that finger around to point at ourselves. And we need to do more than moan and groan. That was my thought when I decided to develop NotMyEconomics and I believe once more that we can be the market force again.
But first we need to face up to our responsibility and take our economy back.
Meanwhile, we are shown waste-water flushing into what we thought was clean water and we can’t help but notice all the hype about our genetically modified food supply. We hiss but we fain impotence, waiting for the government to do something about it.
The Mystery of GMOs
If that isn’t false hope, it’s denial. In the case of GMOs, we don’t really know whether they are harmful to our health or not. The Food and Drug Administration refuses to run tests to determine risks and the manufacturers are unrestrained and unwilling to do voluntary testing. If they did, I don’t know we could trust it. And we let it go at that.
And in fact, GMOs may produce the next wonder drugs. Who knows? The outcome of testing could actually show a lack of risk and open the door to new products that would serve humanity.
Hellen Keller International is sponsoring research to see if rice can be genetically altered to contain vitamin A, a product that could save some 500,000 children worldwide who go blind from vitamin A deficiency.
The pharmaceutical industry is also toying with GMOs in search of new treatments, or is it new products?
However, the main purpose of GMOs to date is primarily to develop resistance to insects, weeds or diseases, or to require less water to grow. All of which benefits the producer, not the consumer.
Even so, the greater issue isn’t so much about the risk-benefit ratio as it is about the lack of independent testing and regulation. In this case, the marketing is half helpful. Manufacturers are happy to announce their products contain NO GMOs, never had them, never will. But in products containing GMOs, they are largely hidden.
The bottom line is that we, as a society, are reckless, casual or disengaged regarding threats to our environment and our health.
I’m one who is not easily alarmed by the latest scare, but when I learned that a hidden benefit to Big Agriculture is increasing the disadvantage of the fading independent farmer, I got mad. Designer produce doesn’t pass its characteristics on to the seed. Which means the gathering and reuse of heirloom seeds goes down and the seed market for the chemical and seed companies goes up.
We Can Make a Difference
We need to become more than periodic and casual resistors against this kind of economic injustice. Not just about the money but about the environment, our health and our way of life.
We can make a difference by becoming a responsible market force again. Instead of being played by the system, we will play it. We will become socially and economically responsible indie capitalists. When we bring our economics back home again, we will become everyday warriors, aware of what’s happening around us and how it affects us every minute of the day. We will own our own economics.
Please move on to
Robots R Us