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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/2/14

Running Nature's Numbers

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Anti-elitist. This one really gets me. The pitting of human need against planetary need is a hardcore corporate strategy--and another of Tercek's blindspots. The evident assumption is that one precludes the other and a choice must be made between them, with weight given to major corporations as critical to eliminating hunger or creating lasting jobs.

Kareiva's mention of the timber workers in Washington state reminded me of 25 years ago, when I was engaged to assist Mendocino County in a public process designed to review and consider new proposed timber harvest regulations. (You can download a 1992 account; it's the last link on this page of my website.) The process had been worked out over two painstaking years of meetings between public officials, timber companies, and environmentalists. When it came time for public hearings on the Forest Advisory Commission (FAC) recommendations, the timber companies gave workers and their families time off, laid on lunch, and bused them to hearings wearing identical T-shirts. Every time an advocate of the new rules stood to speak, these workers stamped their feet to drown them out. We eventually found a way to give the proposal public consideration, but that's not the story here. The story here has two punchlines.

First, bait and switch. The timber companies whose representatives sat on the FAC endorsed the recommendations, which included many, many compromises by the environmentalists, then protested at the last moment that they had been railroaded and no longer supported their own report. In this tactic, they were advised by something called the "wise use movement," a corporate-backed messaging campaign to undermine environmental action.

Second, betrayal. Within a few years following the timber workers' loyal disruption of the process (in addition to drowning out the public meetings, they adopted another "wise use" tactic, collecting letters from spouses and children pleading to save their breadwinners' jobs), all the corporate timber companies had pulled out of the region, transferring jobs and operations to the global south, where wages are cheaper.

So when Kareiva gazed around the spotted owl hearing that changed his thinking and opened his heart to the assembled timber workers fearful of losing their jobs, did he understand that the decisions on the table were actually being made by corporate elites, neither by nor for the benefit of those workers? And when he thinks about corporations feeding the hungry, does he consider how much profit there is to be made in the privatization of water, the introduction of mechanized agriculture and processed foods to impoverished communities--and how much more could be done with a strong commitment to local agriculture and local enterprise? I can't imagine anything more elitist than this blindspot.

I have met environmentalists who seem to have a blindspot where a sense of possibility might be expected. Things are so messed up, they say, it is futile to resist. The only thing is to begin making plans for the coming apocalypse. Time and again, I've written about the flaws in that argument, which starts with a critique of the existing order and comes out exactly where the powers-that-be want you to be, off to the side and out of their way. I'm not a purist: it takes profit motive to operationalize Braungart's and McDonough's crade-to-cradle manufacturing; if incentives lead to significant change, I'm for them. But what's wrong with the TNC's approach is the biggest blindspot of them all, the pervasive belief that Corporation Nation has the answers, that its denizens are more practical and innovative, more logical than their counterparts in other sectors, and that if we only apply their way of thinking to the wicked problems of our time, they'll find a better way.

So here's what I want to ask: what are the data to support that proposition? I've been looking a long time, and all I've been able to find is another assumption, that if they're rich, they must be right. Really?

Time for an antidote, no? How about "Love and Happiness" by Al Green? It always works for me.

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Arlene Goldbard is a writer, speaker, social activist, and consultant who works for justice, compassion and honor in every sphere, from the interpersonal to the transnational. She is known for her provocative, independent voice and her ability to (more...)
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