Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- George Monbiot writes that contrary to the theory that wealth is a precondition to environmental standards, increased consumption tends to correlate to disregard for the our impact on the environment:
For years we've been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.

The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn't just apply to guilt.

Perhaps that's the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.

The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it's hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.

So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.

All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.
- But then, it's hard to say our problem lies solely with an exclusive focus on human needs when xkcd points out the EPA's valuation of oil reserves as exceeding that of humanity.

- Meanwhile, Tim McDonnell interviews Ken Silverstein about his reporting from the world of oil fixers.

- Felix Salmon discusses why salaries should be open to scrutiny rather than remaining hidden. But in addition to Salmon's focus on transparency, I'd point out one additional reason why we should favour greater disclosure of what people make: if CEOs have managed to improve their bargaining power and claim a larger share of income based on greater knowledge of what their counterparts are making, the same principle might well apply further down the income scale as well.

- Toby Sanger takes a look at the real effects of Tim Hudak's slash-and-burn plans for Ontario. And Linda McQuaig writes about the utter implausibility of Hudak's associated promises:
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak claims he has a plan that will create One Million Jobs. Everywhere he goes in the current election campaign, he stands in front of a backdrop that proclaims One Million Jobs.

Nowhere does he mention that those jobs are imaginary.

His job creation strategy is based heavily on the notion that cutting corporate taxes causes businesses to create jobs — a theory that relies, according to Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, on the “confidence fairy.”

It’s a striking comment on how far to the right the mainstream media has drifted that Hudak’s ‘plan’ is being treated somewhat seriously.

While media commentators have expressed skepticism, they still refer to the plan as “bold” — an adjective that gives it more credence than, for instance, “nutty” would.

Well, yes, bold it is — in the same way that it would be bold for Hudak to say he’ll create one million jobs by cutting Ontarians’ consumption of French fries.
- Finally, Andrew Coyne makes the case for mandatory voting as part of a larger recognition of our civic responsibilities:
The argument for compulsory voting is analogous to that for taxation. No doubt, if paying for public services were voluntary, many people would do so, purely out of a sense of civic duty. But many more would not, reasoning that the first group’s willingness to pay would still ensure these services were provided — only to find their own numbers were so great that the services they had hoped to “free ride” on were unavailable. So instead we force everyone to pay, for services everyone receives.

The same applies to the vote. Voting isn’t like buying a soft drink. When you cast your vote, you aren’t just making a choice about you and your needs. You’re helping to make a collective decision about providing for everybody’s needs. The broader the sample of voters, the more representative of everybody it is likely to be — rather like the census — and the greater the combined stock of experiences and insights brought to bear. Conversely, if some “free ride” on others’ willingness to vote, the whole of the community suffers.

You owe your fellow citizens your counsel, in other words. You benefit because they vote. You owe them no less in return — just as you owe them your share of the cost of public services. We ask very little of citizens in a democracy. Showing up to vote once every four or five years hardly seems much of an imposition. We’re not talking about throwing anybody in jail: a small fine would suffice, or perhaps a tax credit or some such positive incentive for compliance. You could still decline the ballot, or spoil it, or otherwise register your dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. You just wouldn’t be able to sit on your duff.

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