The False Prohpet Motive: Greed is (not) good for the planet

By Tim Bearly
Reader Contributor

For countless millennia we homo sapiens have maintained our dominion over nature. We’ve penetrated every corner of the globe, cultivating plants and domesticating animals along the way. We’ve developed the technology to help us survive the frigid cold and blistering heat. Our advancements in science have significantly increased the length and quality of our lives. No doubt, self-interest has played a major role in many of our greatest achievements. But now, in the 21st century, it seems that the same self-interest and blind ambition that brought about our success may ultimately bring about our demise. 

Our evolutionary baggage weighs like a boulder on our shoulders. Natural selection has designed us to consume and exploit without regard. Our compulsion to devour the Earth’s resources appears to be much stronger than our compulsion to rationally contemplate our future. And even with the knowledge that our species will likely perish unless we change our ways, we continue, like lemmings, to mindlessly rush toward the precipice of our own destruction.

Like a scion of privilege charging up his mommy’s credit card with no concern for cost, we’ve overexploited our planet’s natural resources with little consideration for long- term consequences. “Someone else will pay for it,” has been our rationale. Indeed, mommy will pay for it. But our Mother Earth is beginning to lose her patience with our erroneous assumption of an endless supply.

According to some free market economists, the “invisible hand” and the “profit motive” should produce a proverbial rising tide which will allegedly lift all the boats (i.e. everyone will prosper). Perhaps that’s true (certainly the rising tide part), but private enterprise has no incentive to care about the biosphere. It is the profit motive that got us into this mess, so more faith in the marketplace will only serve to perpetuate the environmental problems we face. The notion that the market will resolve all things is antiquated and fallacious.

“Wait a minute,” the market fundamentalist interjects. “I thought that as long as it’s good for the economy it must be good for us, right?”

A further investigation into how corporations function will prove this to be an unsound assumption.

It is no secret that corporations are in business for one purpose — to make a profit. And let’s face it: caring about the environment, well, that’s just not very profitable. Sometimes raking in large profits requires destabilizing the global climate, or driving many species to extinction, or destroying the rainforests (which only compounds our climate problem), or increasing cancer rates, or starting a war, and the list goes on. This is the dark side of the blessed profit motive—the elephant in the room that the elephants (yes, even the donkeys) don’t want to talk about.

Campaign contributions (bribes) are spent on politicians (puppets), who are very adept at cherry picking certain regulations that seem absurd or intrusive, and then saying, “See, don’t you hate government regulations?” Indeed, no one wants the government telling them what to do, but we must be able to find a balance between self-interest and self-sacrifice.

“We the people” are the only force strong enough to end the destruction of our planet. Certainly, as consumers, we share some of the blame. Just as a corporation wants to make as much profit as it can, we also want to save as much money as we can, consequently we buy cheap products from companies that contribute to our environmental problems. All of us, not just the multinationals, are guilty of disregarding the externalities of our global industrial society. For this same reason we cannot rely on a private sector solution. Individualism will fail whenever there is money involved. We need a collectivist approach when it comes to the health of our planet.

We are at a crossroads. Is there a simple solution to the crisis we face? No. But we can’t begin to solve our problems if we continue living like ostriches with our heads buried in the sand. We must acknowledge that our current habit of conspicuous consumption has proven to be wholly unsustainable.

The invisible hand has slapped around Mother Earth for far too long, leaving her with lasting scars from the abuse. She’s fed up, and she just taken a million-dollar life insurance policy out on us (I watch enough Dateline to know that’s not a good sign). Will the coroner rule it a homicide or a suicide? Needless to say, it’s high time we reverse our course.

Dr. Timothy Bearly, GeD, is an autodidact who attended the prestigious Barnes and Noble University in Riverside, Calif., before moving to North Idaho, where he continues his studies at the Sandpoint Library.

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