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#729 - A Vision Statement -- Part 3 and Prize for Grass-roots Leadership, 18-Jul-2001

PRIZE FOR GRASS-ROOTS LEADERSHIP

The Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute are seeking
nominations of community leaders across the country who are
successfully tackling tough social problems for the Leadership
for a Changing World program. Twenty outstanding social justice
leaders and leadership teams that are not broadly known beyond
their immediate community or field will receive awards of
$100,000 to advance their work, plus $30,000 for supporting
activities.

Nominations will be accepted by the Advocacy Institute through
January 4, 2002. Leaders must be nominated by someone who is well
acquainted with their work and can attest to their
qualifications.

To find out who the 2001 Leadership for a Changing World awardees
are, to download a nomination brochure, or for more information
on the program, go to www.leadershipforchange.org. Specific
questions can be submitted via E-mail
(info@leadershipforchange.org), phone (202) 777-7560, or by
writing to Leadership for a Changing World, Advocacy Institute,
1629 K St., NW Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006-1629.

Can people reach agreement about what a sustainable and desirable
U.S. might be like? (See REHN #727, #728, http://iee.umces.edu/ESDA/,
and http://www.futuresearch.net.)

Here is part 3 of a draft vision statement issued by a group that
has tentatively named itself ESDA -- Envisioning a Sustainable
and Desirable America. The ESDA group says, "We hope you can take
the time to read our vision, and offer us your comments. Would
you like to live in this world? Are there elements of our vision
with which you disagree? Are important pieces missing? Please
send your feedback to farley@cbl.umces.edu," the E-mail address
of Josh Farley at University of Maryland.

The draft vision statement is organized into five parts:
Worldviews, Built Capital, Natural Capital, Human Capital and
Social Capital. In our last installment, we began publishing the
"Built Capital" section, which continues here:

INDUSTRY (continued): Markets and competition of course will
still play an important role. Industries will be free to sell to
distant communities, though having to pay the full cost of
transportation will provide a natural barrier to this. Still,
this threat of competition will mean that communities need not
rely solely on the good will of local industries to keep prices
low. Trade secrets will play less of a role in competition than
in the past due to the resurgence of sharing information. The
development of Linux today shows that freely sharing knowledge
can lead to more rapid technological innovation than the profit
motive provided by privatizing knowledge through patents. The
problems with patents will become more obvious with the
tremendous growth in green technologies. Green technologies will
prove themselves capable of slowing climate change, reducing
pollution, and decreasing our demands on scarce ecosystem
resources. However, they will only be able to achieve these goals
if used on a large scale. Patents on these technologies and the
monopoly profits they imply will mean that much of the world will
be unable to afford them. The global community will come to
realize that it cannot afford the price of people not using these
technologies. Fortunately, the free flow of information inspired
by the Linux revolution will lead to impressive new innovations,
often making patents obsolete.

Some industries will retain substantial economies of scale, using
fewer resources per unit when produced in enormous factories.
This may be the case for solar cells, for example. Large
corporations may still exist to produce such goods, but will be
subject to government regulation. Corporate charters will be
issued for the short term only, and renewal will be tied to
responsible action on the part of the corporation.

NEW CONSTRUCTION : With scarcer resources, the practice of
destroying still useful buildings to build others on the same
site will diminish, and shrinking populations will further
decrease the need for new construction, but from time to time new
buildings will still be required. Ecological design will be the
dominant principle, but can lead to dramatically different
outcomes. For example, some buildings will be designed for
permanence, and must meet the needs of several generations. More
temporary structures will be designed to be recyclable and/or
biodegradable. For example, straw bale houses with stucco and
thatch roofs will have modular electric and plumbing systems that
are easy to remove. The remaining structure can then be knocked
down and plowed under, enriching the local soil.

III. NATURAL CAPITAL

Natural capital is all of the goods and services provided by
nature that contribute to the well-being of humans and every
other species on the planet. This includes both mineral and
biological raw materials, renewable (solar and tidal) energy and
fossil fuels, waste assimilation capacity, and vital life support
functions (such as global climate regulation) provided by
well-functioning ecosystems.

In America 2100 the absolute essentiality of natural capital will
be so completely accepted that it will be taken for granted that
we must protect it if we are to survive and thrive as a species.
Any school child will be able to tell you that you cannot make
something from nothing, so that all economic production must
ultimately depend on raw material inputs. Economic production is
a process of transformation, and all transformation requires
energy inputs. It is equally impossible to make nothing from
something, so that every time we use raw materials to make
something, when that product eventually wears out, it returns to
nature as waste. It is therefore incumbent upon us to make sure
that those wastes can be processed by the planet's ecosystems.
Waste absorption capacity is only one of many critical but still
scarcely understood services provided by intact ecosystems. These
services include regulation of atmospheric gasses, regulation of
water cycles and the provision of clean water, stabilization of
the global climate, protection from ultra-violet radiation, and
the sustenance of global biodiversity, among many others. Without
these services, human life itself would be impossible.

While by 2100 we will have made substantial efforts to protect
ecosystem services, uncontrolled human economic activity will
still have the capacity to damage them sufficiently to threaten
our civilization. Obviously, well-functioning ecosystems are
composed of the same plants and animals that serve as raw
material inputs to the economy, and all else being equal,
increasing raw material inputs means diminished ecosystem
services. Extraction of renewable raw materials directly
diminishes ecosystem services, while the extraction of mineral
resources unavoidably causes collateral damage to ecosystems.
Ecosystem services are also threatened of course by waste
outputs. While waste outputs from renewable resources are in
general fairly readily assimilated and broken down by healthy
ecosystems, ecosystems have not evolved a similar capacity to
break down waste products from mining and industry, concentrated
metals, fossil fuels and synthesized chemicals. America in 2100
will have dramatically decreased its reliance on these
slow-to-assimilate materials, but pollutants do not respect
political boundaries, and we will still suffer from the impacts
of their use in other countries.

Natural capital is also economically important because it
provides so many insights into the production process. The more
we learn about how nature produces, the more we will realize the
inefficiency, toxicity and wastefulness of current production
techniques. In 2100, it will become a standard approach when
seeking to solve a production problem to examine healthy
ecosystems and strive to understand how they 'solve' similar
problems.

A recognition and high level of awareness of the importance of
natural capital will lead to dramatic changes in the way it is
treated. The negative environmental impacts of non-renewable
resource use, even more than their growing scarcity, will have
forced us to substitute renewable resources for non-renewables,
reversing the trend that began with the industrial revolution and
making renewables more valuable than ever. Passive investment in
natural capital stocks -- i.e., simply letting systems grow
through their own reproductive capacity -- will be insufficient
to meet our needs. Active investment will be required. America
will be actively engaged in restoring and rebuilding its natural
capital stocks by planting forests, restoring wetlands and
increasing soil fertility. The former philosophy of natural
capital as free goods provided by nature will have disappeared.
This change will have required and inspired significant
institutional changes.

For example, notions of property rights to natural capital will
change. Most forms of natural capital will be recognized as
intergenerational assets. Legislation will explicitly prohibit
Americans from extracting renewable resources beyond the rate at
which they can replenish themselves, and of leaving future
populations dependent for survival on non-renewable resources in
danger of exhaustion and for which no substitutes exist. This
legislation will extend to imported products as well. Property
rights to land will be explicitly extended to future generations,
and there will be steep fines or even criminal penalties for
leaving land in worse condition than when it was purchased. While
ecological factors will determine the total amount of natural
capital that we can safely deplete, market forces will still
determine how that natural capital should be allocated. In
addition to these fixed limits on resource use, green taxes force
both consumers and producers to pay for the damage caused by
resource depletion and waste emission. When these costs are
unknown, those undertaking potentially harmful activities will be
forced to purchase bonds or insurance that guarantee
reimbursement to society for whatever damages do occur.

These policies will dramatically increase the costs of degrading
natural capital. As a result, America will be rapidly weaning
itself from dependence on non-renewable resources, having
developed renewable substitutes for most of them. America will
become a global leader in green technology. We will be well on
the way in our transition to the 'carbohydrate' economy. This
term is actually a bit of a misnomer. While we will rely heavily
on carbohydrates produced by plants as a feedstock for many
industrial processes that currently rely on hydrocarbons, our
ability to build non-toxic, biodegradable carbon polymers from
CO2 extracted directly from the atmosphere will actually be more
important. As this technology comes into its own, we expect that
in the long run, it will help to stabilize and even reduce
atmospheric CO2. Whether or not we will be able to reduce global
warming faster than many threatened species and ecosystems go
extinct or adapt will still be an open question, but with growing
cause for optimism.

Our understanding of ecosystem function will have exploded by
2100, and we will continue to discover new ecosystem services.
Yet for every puzzle we solve, we will uncover three others. And
we will remain unable to accurately predict impacts of human
activities on specific ecosystems, in part because of ongoing
changes induced by continued global warming. While the rate of
warming will have slowed, ecosystems will still be slowly
adapting to its impacts. The precautionary principle therefore
will play a critical role in deciding how we treat the
environment when there is doubt over the potential impact of
resource extraction or waste emissions on ecosystem goods and
services, we will choose to err on the side of caution.

Continuing ecological restoration efforts will have begun to
reverse the massive degradation of 1950-2050, but continued
global warming will still threaten dangerous disruptions in
ecosystem services. In keeping with the precautionary principle,
Americans will consider it an imperative to develop extensive
ecological buffers. If global warming leads to dramatic changes
in weather patterns and climates, plant and animal communities
may only be able to survive if they have uninterrupted wildlife
corridors through which to migrate to more favorable climates.
Also, almost total reliance on renewable resources will require
high sustainable yields of raw materials that can only be
provided by vast areas of healthy ecosystems.

[To be continued.]