[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

Re: E-M:/ Critique of "Do this. Forward it on"

Enviro-Mich message from "joonmck" <joonmck@gateway.net>

Dear EMers,

A few days ago (Wednesday, May 16th) the same "ROLL YOUR OWN BLACKOUT"
message appeared on the Sustainable Lansing listerv. Much of the wording was
similar (for example, there were suggestions to "Light a candle
to the Sungoddess, kiss and tell or not, take a stroll in the dark, invent
ghost stories, anything that's not electronic - have fun in the dark" -
compare below).

However, the Sustainable Lansing listserv contained the following paragraph:
"Read the 1999 book "Natural Capitalism" by Hawken and Lovins to learn that
conservation/high efficiency technologies already ARE on-the-shelf. If
implemented these revolutionary ideas would pay themselves off within five
years, after which we'd be pumping far less greenhouse gas into the
atmosphere and saving bucks to boot."

Delavan Spies did not include such a paragraph in his message, I think that
it is fair to say that the BLACKOUT protest would be welcomed by Mr. Hawkins
and his supporters.

While not encouraging you to BACK-OUT of the BLACK-OUT, I would encourage
you to spend the three hours of darkness reflecting on a critique of the
Hawkin's thesis (in between your kissing). To get you started I want to
share Michael Albert's critique of Hawkin's "Natural Capitalism," to get a
discussion rolling on his thesis (AKA "ROLL YOUR OWN CRITIQUE"). Too often,
I find, critical discussions of capitalism are "blacked-out" of polite

In Solidarity,

Brian McKenna
Environmentalist &
Public Citizen

Here goes:

>From the pages of Z Magazine

Natural Capitalism?

By Michael Albert
> I remember debating the potential of the environment as a radical focus
> when it was first becoming visible. Most early 1970s radicals felt
> environmentalism would be the next big spur to activism. Being fried by
> ozone depletion or gassed by industrial pollutants could certainly yield
> important activism. But there were skeptical. Elites also suffer
> environmental decay and could address environmental problems without
> addressing other social ills. Environmentalists might try to convince
> to make changes instead of organizing public militancy. They might even
> clean up for the rich at the expense of everyone else, as in cleaning up
> their beaches, their air, their resorts, and their water, while the rest
> us wallow in toxic effluvium until we drop.
> Decades later, there are indeed some approaches to addressing
> problems that deal with many injustices in society, some that carefully
> skirt non environmental injustices even pandering to the interests of
> pollution's main perpetrators, and some that brazenly enhance the
> of elites at the expense of everyone else.
> The cover story of the April issue of Mother Jones by Paul Hawken is
> "Natural Capitalism." Hawken finds symptoms of illness, describes the full
> disease, explains its cause, and proposes a remedy. The trouble is, Hawken
> confuses the issue more than he clarifies it.
> Hawken's thesis is that something called industrialism and its associated
> wrong-headed habits causes over-utilization of resources, inefficient
> squandering of productive potentials, and loss of the benefits of natural
> systems. He writes, "Commercial institutions, proud of their achievements,
> do not see that healthy living systems-clean air and water, healthy soil,
> stable climates-are integral to a functioning economy. As our living
> deteriorate, traditional forecasting and business economics become the
> equivalent of house rules on a sinking cruise ship." Hawken reveals many
> symptoms. For example:
> ".cars are barely 1 percent efficient in the sense that, for every 100
> gallons of gasoline, only one gallon actually moves the passengers.
> Likewise, only 8 to 10 percent of the energy used in heating the filament
> an incandescent light bulb actually becomes visible light.. Modern
> remains on the floor for up to 12 years, after which it remains in
> for as long as 20,000 years or more-less than .06 percent efficiency."
> "In the U.S., of the 127 million people working, 38 million work part
> and 35 million have full time work that doesn't pay enough to support a
> family." Add "the actual unemployed, who number 7.4 million, as well as
> another 7 million who are discouraged, forcibly retired, or work as
> And then, to top it off, "nineteen million people work in retail and earn
> less than $10,000 per year, usually without any health or retirement
> benefits," and over 5 million are in jails, awaiting trial, or supervised
> the criminal justice system.
> Hawken relates all the social ills he uncovers back to resource
> mis-utilization and bad accounting. For example, he makes a compelling
> that there is an immense productive capacity wasted-he says $2 trillion
> of $7 trillion in annual output-due to roadway congestion, highway
> accidents, free parking, guarding sea lanes for oil, inefficient energy
> expenditures, non-essential and fraudulent medical care, substance abuse,
> obesity treatments, air pollution related health problems, tax code
> and crime. He concludes that if we could save all this expenditure, it
> be available for education and good health care.
> Part of the problem is that Hawken has a limited view of what is wrong.
> example his waste list doesn't include lost work due to worker
> to deliver for bosses, investment in otherwise unproductive tools to
> disempower and control workers, education to limited social slots instead
> for human fulfillment and development, losses due to racist and sexist
> assumptions about whole populations, bureaucratic waste, advertizing and
> packaging to sell regardless of need, over production of private goods and
> under production of public ones, duplication of efforts, or anything else
> that points inexorably toward oppressive social relations and particularly
> oppressive class, race, or gender relations.
> Additionally, Hawken seems clueless as to the real underlying causes of
> misallocation problems he perceives. He writes "one is tempted to say that
> there is nothing wrong with capitalism except that it has never been
> Our current industrial system is based on accounting principles that would
> bankrupt any company." And "industries destroy natural capital because
> historically benefited from doing so."
> Hawken thinks the big problem is that modern industry and technology have
> untracked the minds of entrepreneurs, causing them to become habituated to
> ignoring the intrinsic value of natural systems and the importance of
> husbanding resources. Because of this (a) we are destroying the ecology
> suffering grave hardships and dangers, (b) we are immensely wasteful,
> leaving little for important social expenditures, and (c) we fail to
> human labor sufficiently, always preferring to use resources instead,
> causing unemployment. The upshot is that we (in this case presumably
> those who make corporate decisions) need to re-attune ourselves to the
> importance of husbanding natural systems and using our technical
> intelligence more wisely, and Hawken is optimistic this will happen
> he thinks it will be in capitalists' interest to wake up-Hawken says that
> will be "profitable."
> It is a comforting framework. Hawken can plead loudly and even militantly
> for change, yet never once indicate that anyone is doing anything
> oppressive. Ignorance and outmoded habits are the only problem. More,
> is no need to take on the rich and famous. The change sought is in their
> interest, too. We don't have to force elites to relent to our agenda, we
> just have to converse with them and they will see the light and do
> right-the natural way. Yes, there will have to be wiser use of taxes to
> provide proper incentives, but there is no need to mention redistributing
> wealth or power, much less changing defining institutions such as private
> ownership or allocation by means of market competition. We just have to
> capitalism plus ecological wisdom a chance. Capitalism will do fine for us
> all, once we remove the crusty anachronistic habits of resource profligacy
> that the age of steam engines hoisted on our entrepreneurs.
> There was one sentence in the article that hinted at an alternative
> understanding. I think it was a bit of a slip. Hawken never indicates that
> some people owning billions in capital and property and others owning less
> than zero is a problem, and, indeed, the idea of private ownership of
> productive assets is never questioned at all, but about allocation Hawken
> does write: "The value of natural capital is masked by a financial system
> that gives us improper information-a classic case of `garbage in, garbage
> out.' Money and prices and markets don't give us exact information about
> much our suburbs, freeways, and spandex cost."
> True enough, but why? Is this due, as Hawken argues, to holdover ideas
> the golden age of industrial growth limiting our perceptions in a wildly
> altered context? Or is it because, as more radical ecologists contend, our
> allocation system structurally imposes just these results? Let's take it a
> step at a time.
> First off, is it old habits dying hard? In fact, one of the few positive
> attributes of capitalist systems is dynamism. Habits of mind or behavior
> which are not institutionally enforced and which become anachronistic from
> the perspective of system maintenance simply disappear. An individual
> habituated to writing with a pen or a typewriter might well continue to do
> so even against the wave of new options that computers offer. But no
> capitalist workplace will stick to old ways the minute superior new ways
> fulfilling their corporate aims exist. Crusty old approaches won't live
> beyond their time because market pressures ensure a continuous compulsion
> reduce costs and increase revenues while simultaneously being sure not to
> anything that will endanger long term profits.
> Suppose an auto plant undertakes a study of a new way to make cars.
> the study comes back and shows that with the new approach the cost of
> production of each car will drop a few percent. Is the new approach
> immediately adopted? Well, how much will it cost to renovate? Suppose it
> 't much compared to the return, then will the new approach be adopted? Not
> so fast. Will the new approach spew poison into the ground water or dirty
> air into the local park? Actually, it doesn't matter what the answer to
> question is because the answer has no direct bearing on the buyer or
> and therefore does not affect costs or revenues or the decision about the
> technology. So is the new approach enacted? There is one more
> for the capitalist. Will instituting the new approach affect social
> relations over the long haul to endanger the proper rewarding of the
> difference between revenues and costs to owners alone? If so, and this can
> be because it empowers workers or it could be because it makes such an
> ecological mess that it will turn the neighborhood into an army of
> attacking the firm, forget it. The capitalist understands that it doesn't
> any good to increase next week's profits by a new production process that
> makes workers in the plant, or the union, or the entire local community,
> even the whole working class so much more powerful a bargaining agent,
> down the road they will accrue for themselves the productivity gains of
> firm, perhaps even to the point of severely threatening capital's
> In light of the above, there are many problems with Hawken's analysis.
> First, Hawken ignores that the reason markets and prices do not account
> ecological impact is that markets account only for the direct effects of
> transactions on the immediate buyers and sellers. This is all the agents
> involved learn about or have reason to care about, given the behaviors
> roles dictate. And Hawken also fails to understand that a real effort to
> seriously address this weakness of markets would counter capital's
> and expanding its dominance, though modest interventions to prevent
> calamities that would hurt capital, are, of course, what the state is
> economically for.
> Second, Hawken fails to recognize that each individual plant is not in the
> business of doing good for consumers, much less for society, but is in the
> business of making a profit for its owners and maintaining their dominant
> position, and that each business will continue to do this with a vengeance
> (or go out of business), short of being redefined into an entirely new
> or coercively restrained.
> Third, there is no understanding that the allocation of resources and
> energies to useless production rather than to socially beneficial
> is not a horrible by-product of stupid holdover habits, but an important
> virtue of the system, at least from the perspective of those who run it.
> Allocation to waste and warfare instead of social wages and welfare does
> happen because capitalists are sadists or mired in some outdated mindset
> the past. They do not spend money on useless missiles, or on systems to
> thwart their workers' initiative, or on cleaning up preventable messes,
> because they enjoy seeing poor people suffer for want of proper housing,
> health care, or education, or because they are in the habit of doing it
> can't break out. By the same token, there is no way that they are
> in seeing all these funds applied to mitigating social ills. A
> self-centered, socially oblivious outlook is imposed by nearly every
> of corporate life. As a result, capitalist care about everyone else's
> condition only insofar as everyone else's condition bears on their profits
> and power. To give the public good housing, education, health care, and
> protection against want would make society's worst off much better off,
> it would, as a by product, dramatically alter the balance of power between
> labor and capital, threatening capital's ability to scarf up profits.
> It's just like unemployment. Anyone who works knows that when unemployment
> is high and the fear of losing one's job is overwhelming, workers run
> and overtime will increase, conditions will worsen, and pay will drop. But
> when unemployment is low, and the threat to move on to a new job and leave
> the owner saddled with a hard-to-fill slot is real, workers get uppity,
> conditions improve, and pay increases. Social programs have the same
> on bargaining power and thus on the distribution of wealth, and this means
> their impact goes way beyond their immediate effect on recipients. That is
> why useless waste production is so much better from capital's perspective
> than production that betters the lot of the worst off. It doesn't even
> matter if socially beneficial production can be done with short term
> higher than the short term profits of cleaning up spillage or making
> weapons, or that social production can be done employing more people than
> high tech waste production (actually, this is a debit from capital's
> perspective). What matters is the effect not only on immediate profits,
> also on the conditions of being able to continually accrue more profits in
> the future. Indeed, this is what most things economic are ultimately
about -
> how much of the social product will go to capital, how much to the
> intermediary class of managers and other "coordinators," and how much to
> labor, and what will happen over time to the balance of power between
> classes and thus to future allocation of product among them. It isn't
> industry-meaning, presumably, that we use steam engines or computers or
> assembly lines-that establishes the criteria of judgement behind
> decisions. It is the criteria of judgement imposed by our economic
> institutions of ownership and allocation, that determines what type
> we will have, at what scale, with what products, distributed in what
> Take another example, technology. There is no such thing as a
> imperative any more than there is such thing as an industrial imperative.
> There is no anti-social bias that comes inexorably from thinking about
> technical options any more than there is an anti-ecological bias that
> derives from using industry. Neither using high tech nor thinking about it
> imposes any bias toward or away from accounting for ecological impacts.
> (Indeed, this is pretty obvious from Hawken's own article, as he spends
> of time recounting and admiring how folks are trying to turn technological
> cleverness to the task of environmental cleanliness.) The negative
> trajectories of engineering consciousness and technological artifacts
> derive instead from the defining impact of markets and private ownership.
> 's the economy stupid, doesn't mean that it is human curiosity, or
> productivity, or the desire to have lots of output-it means it is the
> associated with our production, consumption, and allocation institutions,
> and the effects they have on our behavior and interests.
> When I was a student at MIT I noticed something interesting. The school's
> design, ethos, and pedagogy were as much geared to a social outcome as an
> intellectual one. The aim was to graduate brilliant and capable problem
> solvers who would apply themselves wholeheartedly to any sufficiently
> demanding and interesting technical task they were assigned. To use an
> example Chomsky proposed at the time, if the government or a big
> asked MIT grads to design a hand gun that a peasant soldier could use to
> shoot down a B-52 (then carpet bombing Vietnam) the grads would be just as
> happy to comply as when they were asked to design a smart bomb that could
> dropped from the fast moving B-52 to blow up a dam to flood the Vietnamese

> countryside. What would ensure that all their technological creativity was
> always put to system serving rather than subversive ends was that the
> paymasters employing the engineers and providing their funds would only
> finance the former undertakings. The problem, therefore, isn't that
> about technology and science or using technology creates an anti-social
> bias, it is that pedagogy provided by capital elevates to engineer level
> only those who are largely undiscerning and won't rebel, weeding out the
> rest, and that the market system guarantees that investments in engineers'
> talents will only elicit products that reproduce social relations, not
> disrupt them.
> Hawken doesn't seem to understand any of this. Not private ownership, not
> the market system, not the state's role, not the educational system.
> structural. And so even leaving aside the fact that Hawken ignores gender
> and cultural relations, the result of his article is that he proposes a
> strategy for gaining a better economy that may yield an occasional minor
> positive adjustment, if it isn't totally bought out by corporate
> sponsorship, and that will help forestall some catastrophes (which
> capitalists would work to do even without Hawken's entreaties), but that
> will do little beyond that.
ZNet  Z Magazine

----- Original Message -----
From: Delavan Sipes <delavan@cybersol.com>
To: Enviro-Mich <enviro-mich@great-lakes.net>
Sent: Friday, May 18, 2001 9:52 AM
Subject: E-M:/ Do this. Forward it on.

> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Enviro-Mich message from "Delavan Sipes" <delavan@cybersol.com>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Enviro-Michers,
> Here's a neat little message from Yvonne Roehler of BrittenMedia in
> City, sent to me via a third party.
> The easiest way to make this effective would be to pull the main
> power switch in your home.  Even your refrigerator and freezer can stand
> that term of power outage.  Electric lights wouldn't be significant during
> these hours at that time of year, but with everything else turned off,
> would be a terrific impact.  The southern hemisphere, with the loss of
> electric lights,  would have a noticeably greater effect in that region
> because darkness would encompass the hours from 7-10PM.  Let's give it a
> try.
> Delavan
> Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2001 10:16 AM
> Subject: Do this. Forward it.
> The First Day of Summer
> JUNE 21, 2001 Thursday Eve, 7 - 10 p.m. worldwide, all time zones
> In protest of George W. Bush's energy policies and lack of emphasis on
> efficiency, conservation and alternative fuels, there will be a voluntary
> rolling blackout on the first day of Summer, June 21 at 7 p.m. - 10 p.m.
> in any time zone (this will roll it across the planet).
> It's a simple protest and a symbolic act. Turn out your lights from 7 p.m.
> until 10 p.m. (your local time) on June 21. Unplug whatever you can
> unplug in your house. Light a candle for the Sun, kiss, make love, play
> games,
> tell ghost stories, do something instead of watching television, have fun
> in the dark.
> Forward this email as widely as possible, to your government
> representatives and environmental contacts. Let them know we want global
> education, participation and funding in conservation, efficiency and
> alternative energy efforts -- and an end to over exploitation and misuse
> of the Earth's resources.
> ==============================================================
> ENVIRO-MICH:  Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
> and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action.   Archives at
> http://www.great-lakes.net/lists/enviro-mich/
> Postings to:  enviro-mich@great-lakes.net      For info, send email to
> majordomo@great-lakes.net  with a one-line message body of  "info
> ==============================================================

ENVIRO-MICH:  Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action.   Archives at

Postings to:  enviro-mich@great-lakes.net      For info, send email to
majordomo@great-lakes.net  with a one-line message body of  "info enviro-mich"