“When [a] crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the idea that are lying around.”
Nowhere has Milton Friedman’s dictum applied with more force than in respect of the environment. When scientists first raised the alarm about global warming in the late 1980s, the ideas “lying around” all pertained to neoliberalism. As a result, mainstream climate action has prioritised free market mechanisms, with disastrous results.
We have, in fact, a paucity of free market solutions. Free market here meaning well, how do we introduce the incentives we desire into markets so that markets can then do their job of chewing through the problem?
Anywhere got a comprehensive carbon tax? No, well then, we’re not using the market solution to that then, are we?
No single definition of “nature positive” exists, with one study suggesting that 10 organisations using the term all define it differently.
Yet it’s a slogan generally associated with a monetary valuation of the natural world – and that’s what worries the letter’s signatories.
The call to put “a price on nature” can appeal even to environmentalists, who hope it might force businesses that treat the Earth as worthless to register its degradation on their balance sheets.
But that misunderstands what’s at stake.
To harness markets for nature, technocrats and economists must separate an ecology into its component parts and then assign values to the aspects deemed worthy of protection.
Complete bollocks. The valuation processes entirely and wholly different. We are not – because it’s impossible – trying to apply an objective value to things. Instead, we look around and try to work out what value is it that people ascribe to that thing. There’re only us chickens around to allocate values, values are therefore the value we apply. This is as true of clean water as it is dolphins or gawping at the sunset. What values do humans apply to these things?
Substitutability is invariably the point of environmental pricing: by transforming the unique components of a biosphere into abstractions as exchangeable as dollars or Euros, it facilitates processes like offsetting, so that destruction in one place can be “compensated” by investment elsewhere.
Again, complete crap. The aim is that more folk can have more value. To do this we need to know what people value so that they can have more of it. We attempt to value the environment – say – so that we can craft policies so that people get more environment, by weighing the benefits of having more against whatever else it is that we have less of.
To take a gross and stupid comparison. We could return Ukraine to steppes. Just wild rolling grasslands with three ponies on it. To do so would mean losing tens of millions of tonnes of grain a year. Well, which do we humans, in aggregate, value more? You see the point of doing the valuation?
Marketisation also has consequences for governance, taking environmental decisions away from the public and trusting them instead to the market’s invisible hand.
No, marketisation means that the only calculating machine we have that actually works – the market, the economy as a whole – chews through the implications of the prices and interventions we make. Those last two being where the politics is.
Given the glaring relationship between profit and extinction (think of the logging firms clearing the Amazon), you might wonder at the mental gymnastics required to present financialisation as an alternative to immediate government regulation.
Sigh. Financialisation is the method, the manner, by which the regulation is imposed to gain that desired end – the optimal distribution of resources.
Yet political theorist Philip Mirowski reminds us in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, one of the great commandments of neoliberalism holds that any perceived problems thrown up by markets can and must be resolved by further markets.
Ignorance. Neoliberalism – and I’m one of the acolytes, even if not a fully made up member of the priesthood – insists that markets are sometimes to often the appropriate tool to gain the end goal. Not always, markets often need to be tweaked or crowbarred into it but they are only a tool to achieve that end. Sometimes to often they’re more efficient than direct regulation, sometimes they’re not – see Garrett Hardin.
But what really marks out Jeff Sparrow as an entirely ignorant tosser is that he’s from Australia. One of the very few places in the world that has actually wholly and entirely solved one such environmental problem by the judicious use of markets suitably crowbarred. Fishing there just isn’t a live issue because it has been solved by the use of individual transferable quotas plus large no fishing zones. That’s Hardin (Marxist open access to a limited resource cannot be maintained when demand rises) plus Friedman, Hayek and all the rest of us little neoliberals. Assign property rights to the resource, plus some direct regulation in the no fishing zones, we’re done.
Sparrow actually observes the neoliberal solution working then claims that the neoliberal solution cannot work.
Tosser. Ignorant, ignorant, tosser.