Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crisis of Debt: Options

To meet our obligations to the biosphere and save it (and us) from extinction, we must decrease our consumption relative to income, providing more goods and services than we use. To do so, we can reduce consumption, increase income, or both. These actions can be done either forcibly or voluntarily.

Forcible reduction of consumption can be done either by other people or by external conditions. Laws, taxes, and military action are ways that people can impose limits. External conditions include having fixed supplies of whatever is being consumed. A composite of the two approaches involves the law of supply and demand in economics, which drives up the price (the amount of work necessary to get more of something) by having too high a demand or too little supply, or both.

Getting people to voluntarily reduce consumption usually involves convincing them through education and experience that they will be better off doing so than continuing their current behavior. They must not only know it, but feel it, and with frequent enough feedback that they believe the transition is more painless than not making the transition.

People can get higher income by working harder (for one customer, or the same amount for multiple customers); increasing the value of their labor; or finding customers who will pay more for their labor. Where there is a choice of many customers, increasing income is voluntary; where the choice is limited, such as with a single customer, it may be involuntary. In the context of the biosphere, “customers” are other species; and increasing income might include providing services such as the repair of existing damage, increasing genetic diversity, and expanding the biosphere to include other planets (and potentially reduce the load on this one). “Products” that could increase income include clean water and air (less pollution) and habitat useful to other species.

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