Monday, May 10, 2010

Economic System versus Ecosystem

In the ecological world, survival depends on finding ways to coexist with your surroundings.  I was reminded of that coexistence this morning while riding my bike to a bus stop.  

I was peddling along at a good pace, when I saw an osprey hovering over one of the stormwater ponds the bike trail weaves around.  That voice in my head that reminds me to pay attention now and then told me I had plenty of time to catch my bus, and stop and watch the osprey for a moment, so I did.  

I was rewarded by seeing the osprey dive down one hundred feet or so through the air into the water with a splash.  Within seconds, the bird was back in the air, shaking the water from its feathers, and its talons void of a fish.  The bird took up a hovering position again, and then repeated the dive, but this time rose from the pond with what looked like a small pan fish clutched in his talons.  The bird shook the water from its feathers and flew off, presumably to feed its nest of young osprey.  Over their likely millions of years of existence, ospreys have mastered the fine art of survival in their ecosystem.  

The ongoing ecological disaster of crude oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana demonstrates unfortunately, how much we petroleum-fueled human beings have forgotten about how to coexist with our ecosystem in the past several hundred years of our experiments with industrialism.  The ongoing hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of leaking oil covering the gulf has essentially shut down the fishing industry in the impacted area, eliminating jobs and food for many people, and creating toxic conditions for many birds, fish, and other life that once thrived in that Gulf environment.  The total cost and impact of this disaster will likely never really be known or understood.

Edward Lotterman’s REAL WORLD ECONOMICS column  this week points out some of the major reason why we are able to forget about the importance of coexisting with our ecosystem in our free market economic system.  In that system, economic decisions are based on human beings weighing the monetary costs and benefits of decisions, with little if any regard for what the impact is on the ecosystem, and then acting accordingly.  Unfortunately, it has become too easy for us to forget the huge costs that our mistakes from the past have dealt us, and take on the rally cry of “drill-baby-drill” rather then the less macho “bike-baby-bike”.  Lotterman reminds us that “human nature is such that we probably will continue to re-surprise ourselves with the inevitable throughout the rest of human existence”, unless we can find a way to remind ourselves to remember our mistakes from the past.

I am not sure it is human nature that is the cause of our stupidity, but rather the stupidity of our economic system that allows us to continue to destroy our ecosystem.  

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