My understanding of the Tragedy of the Commons leads me to two surprising conclusions. I join the outrage at Bolsonaro’s rainforest destruction, but the forces driving it are formidable. (Thank you Victoria Smith, per Facebook)
Growth remains the unquestioned global orthodoxy for creating wealth. Sharing is a separate issue. If it makes sense to increase the overall stock of wealth, buccaneers must be given free rein, however short term, and whatever the damage to environments or communities. The world is still organized on that assumption, as witness The Ogoni in Nigeria and the banned ‘Rang Tan’ advert. The only difference between those (and many other) ‘Capitalist’ outrages and this one in Brazil is the sheer scale, and hence the threat to the entire ecosphere.
There has been a chorus of possible ripostes, mainly sanctions. They would need to be widespread and consistent, but that presupposes a world with a coherent, consensual, ecologically sustainable view. The only real solution is for profits to be no longer assured. The eventual answer will include threats and promises, hence one of the surprises.
My response to the 1972 Limits to Growth warnings was that an unconditional basic income (UBI), would give everyone the choice of what was essential for them – what not to buy. If associated with an eco-limits narrative, I believe (but cannot prove until it is tried) that this would have led to a mind set change – a paradigm shift – leading to a gradual reduction to ecologically sustainable levels of economic activity. This would be reinforced if at the same time governments priced goods according to their ecological footprint, more likely once all individuals had what Spirit Level co-author Richard Wilkinson called, in an earlier book, “An identity of interest when dealing with ecological problems”. This would not prevent egregious capitalist ventures, but it would make them less attractive.
In 1973, this strategy could have been tried in one country. If unsuccessful, it could have been terminated, but if correct, that country would have developed a trading advantage: ‘Buddhist’ in its internal material demands, but still capable of selling the rest of the world’s unabated demands. But the threat is now urgent. A UBI in as many individual countries as possible would be better than nothing, but only a world Basic Income has any chance now of threatening those cattle-ranching profits within the IPCC time limit.
But we are where we are. A world basic income will need to be in conjunction with birth control infrastructure for impoverished nations whose only current solution to too many births is migration to places where they are no longer welcome. If anyone thinks this flies in the face of cultural traditions, I would ask what price those traditions once the ecosphere has been wrecked?
The UBI will give everyone basic needs in return for observing ecological limits. But the other side of the coin is the question of ecological assets. Brazil has just accelerated destruction of a huge ecological asset. The rest of the world, at least the prosperous parts of it, could simply pay the ranchers, and anyone else destroying rainforest, enough to persuade them to leave it alone. This would take into account the reduction in demand as the rest of the world adjusts to ecological realities.
Oddly enough, Brazil does have a proto UBI – the Bolsa Familia, but being limited to low income levels its demand on taxation from the rich is minimal. But the main difficulty with this offer to those committing ecocide is that Bolsonaro’s agenda is so far removed from an ecological one.
One of the consequences driving the Tragedy of the Commons is that no one dare be at a competitive disadvantage. There is far too much steel production world-wide, driven by growthist logic, but apart from that it is not Britain’s fault. I have grave misgivings at the idea of British steel production not being under British control, whatever it costs taxpayers, or the environment.
This is the opposite of what we Greens should be saying, but Britain must not be at the mercy of others. They will have none if their own survival is at stake.