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Something to do with Iain’s mention of a possible wind farm on Skye, sort of…
Something to do with Iain’s mention of a possible wind farm on Skye, sort of…
I published this elsewhere, but it seems relevant, and is at least informed by my readings of Iain’s books. And lately he discussed a horrible possibility of building a wind farm on Skye, which has set me off…
The Displaced Common: it’s hard to value anything when it’s not even missing.
Social dysfunction is often a matter of misplaced Context, an easy source of leverage. Schoolyard bullies make rules that close off negotiation, and change the rules capriciously. Politicians speak within the “Overton Window,” the tacitly-defined area of currently-permissible speech, outside of which journalists dare not stray. Heads of State, presidents, prime ministers and CEOs pretend an artificially narrowed view is the whole picture, justifying horrendous acts of mass murder. It is a tradition of long, long standing. By such underhanded tricks we throw ourselves down one rathole after another, in the name of Freedom, Democracy bla bla bla, while our planet begins to roast in its own juices.
Here’s an example of how Context works. “Value Added” is a label used in pricing goods and services for sale. In the prevailing worldview, in which Profit is paramount, “Value Added” means only whatever is done that raises the return on investment (ROI), and no other value.
A tangible example illustrates this principle. If you want to put up a wind-farm, the highest Value/ROI will be gained by placing it where the wind is constant and strong, and land is less expensive.
I can see these great towers with their turning blades miles away, climbing the side of a beautiful forested mountain. That mountain is the reason this land had a higher market value, until they built those whirligigs on it. At night, the blinking red warning lights reflect on my bedroom wall. But far more dangerous, Bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor, is known to leach from the microplastics shed by the turbines, amounting to many tons a year world wide. Even trace amounts of this poison cause terrible reproductive, birth and developmental problems.
A lot of people would make these complaints, but somehow most of the public discussion centered on the comparative necessity-value of renewable energy, suggesting that we have to give up some luxuries to save our environment. As if that were the choice. As if human reproduction, much less peace of mind, were a luxury we cannot sustain. This makes sense only within the limited Context of investor confidence in high returns.
Considerations such as a lovely view, the silence of the countryside, public health, the safety of endangered species, the glory of a starry night sky, and even the lucrative tourist trade, are seen as costs, lowering Profit. Unless of course these attract investors; they they become Values.
People’s well-being, wildlife, the view, the night sky, are real Values. But not in the prevailing economic logic: under our global capital market system, only some of them are “added” in wind-generated electricity, from design and placement to power generation. The rest are “externals” not accounted for at all, and not discussed when it counts. It would be more honest to call them “Value Removed.”
Value Added: Free wind lowers costs for the power company, increasing their bottom line; Renewable energy appeals to the people who understand that fossil fuels are killing everything.
Value Removed: public health (a real value) is not a value to the utility companies, but a cost to be cut by aggressive denial; the birds (a real value) are not a value to the utility companies, but a cost to be cut by simple disregard; the view (a real value) is not a value, but a potential liability as an eyesore lowering regional property values. To date the companies have found it more profitable to apologize afterwards rather than ask first.
It’s not as if we were told they are the propellers that keep the earth turning. But lies of omission are just as misleading. Truth is being told, but not complete truth; and the promoters may not even know the whole truth, because it is outside the Context, and Context determines what we can perceive as valuable in the first place.
It’s hard to value anything when it’s not even missing.
Suppose the renewable energy industry was considered sufficiently critical to be a government function, like the US Mail. What? Oh, sorry, we’ve imposed the “Value Added” rules, it has to show a Profit to compete with private services. Well, like the Interstate Highway system then…? an aquifer…? What a terrible idea! Why would anyone think adding Profit extraction to such obvious public assets would improve anything? It’s like paying rent on your allotted number of heartbeats. Did somebody say it worked for healthcare? No. Nobody believes that now, do they?
Those of us of a certain age recall how the operation of the Interstate had to be sabotaged for years before the idea of privatization could be floated without being laughed out of existence. We had to be convinced that Government was too big, and always screwed everything up, and Business would fix it, because Competition would force the very best results for all concerned. It’s purest hokum, the government is actually very good at doing whatever the power-brokers want done. It wasn’t hard to pull off. As Dr. Pill would say: How’s that working out for ya?
But please bear with me. Suppose renewable energy was seen as a national treasure: the Wind belongs to all, just as it was in the Age of Sail, free fuel for world trade, a blessing for the common good. In that case, “Value Added” has nothing to do with Profit; it’s just anything we can think of that makes the technology, and our lives, better.
Freed from the “growth” mythology of Profit, the impacts on environment, public health, air traffic, wildlife and so on, can be the foremost concerns from design to deployment. When no Profit has to be extracted real values can drive the project from the outset, and life for everyone gets a lot better.
If the investors were all of us, instead of extracted rent monies, we would now realize the value of healthy and sustainable system lifespan, lower costs to ratepayers, the benefits to and from nature, protection of wildlife and our environment, and even property values and the lucrative tourist trade. In other words real profits, returned to the Common that is the real source of all investment anyway. And now, instead of being squirreled away in some offshore tax-haven, the returns are really returned.
The Common is powerful if honored as Context. It has been displaced under modern economic rules that have failed and failed to make our lives better, ever since they were first invented. And wasn’t that the whole point?
Yet now, the very doubtful assumption that investment must be attracted before anything truly beneficial can be accomplished, is driving the very possibility of a viable human future over the edge of a cliff.
We need to notice the magnitude of damage done when we only see Profit as absolute necessity. It is a cultural structure, not Natural Law: it can change if we will.
The Accelerating Damage
Under this structure all states are at the dubious mercy of investors, who exact severe tax and regulatory concessions just to locate a call-center or air-conditioned server-farm in any Congressional district. The pretense that this “creates jobs,” although wildly exaggerated, has politicians wearing garlic and genuflecting before hordes of lobbyists.1 It only extracts Profit from the locality, and moves on. This applies to nations of every political persuasion and configuration. Investor confidence is the primary driver of the global economy now. Down to the individual, we depend on the investors for our daily bread.
We’re all in the evolve-or-die primordial soup now.
Already there are more than a hundred million people on the move, fleeing for their lives from areas where nobody can live ever again, because of climate chaos, the land inundated, burned, dried out and/or poisoned by forces unleashed in the frantic competition for toxic energy resources.
They are ordinary people, whose ordinary lives have been shattered, and who now face exposure, starvation, violence, exploitation and terrible death, only to be cornered between the EU or US border and predatory criminal gangs. There they may be robbed (again!), raped, kidnapped, sold or murdered, before they can get to a border crossing and be incarcerated, children separated from their parents. American citizens are routinely jailed for offering them water.
Much worse is to come. Already, at least two governments have been wiping out whole populations at industrial scale, ostensibly to defeat an implacable terrorist enemy. But Context is decisive. Remember that we (including the investors) are in thrall to a cultural structure that requires us to satisfy a new investor class of unprecedented financial potency. Whatever is happening can only continue if there is sufficient ROI. Under the prevailing global market structure, none of the horror could happen otherwise; it is simply impossible.
Under the artificial structural imperative2 that investors must be satisfied first, the Common has been divided up into private preserves, and our planet is deteriorating with increasing speed and severity. There will be even more unimaginable conflict and bloodshed as a direct result.
Or, we may stop. Just stop, and turn. There is nothing preventing this but mental inertia. The momentum of our own delusions about what actually matters. Something humans once knew, and forgot, about acting as one when it counts. Herds and prides and flocks and packs and schools of fish, and maybe people again. We have externalized and replaced most of our inner processes with technologies by now, like digestion and communication. Maybe so we can survive issues of scale. Maybe, just maybe, we have reached a level of super-critical connectedness for something unprecedented, unimaginable. Something we can’t ever figure out, and won’t have to.
1 Tarun Banerjee, Michael Schwartz, and Kevin A. Young, Levers of Power: *How the 1% Rules and What the 99% Can Do about It (Verso Books)
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