Blog: Plan B Ch. 10/Earth Charter

Chapter 10 may be my favorite chapter of Plan B 4.0 and favorite reading of the entire course. Instead of being full of rhetoric and sensationalism it’s grounded in reality and suggest practical steps we can take that are actually plausibly possible.

It’s hard to narrow down the chapter to one quote but the portion on tax shifting was by far the best part, in my opinion. “Cutting income taxes while increasing gasoline taxes would lead to more rapid economic growth, less traffic congestion, safer roads, and reduced risk of global warming – all without jeopardizing long-term fiscal solvency.” (pg 246) This plan would appeal to the left by increasing gasoline taxes which will help the environment and to the right by offsetting that increase in taxes with a decrease in income taxes. The danger with this plan is that the left doesn’t get on board because the gasoline tax is one of the most regressive taxes we employ. Raising it would hurt the poor more than the rich. However, taxing is most efficient when the tax is localized – people who use more gasoline are releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere and by making them pick up more of the tab we’re disincentivizing the wanton use of gasoline and therefore reducing externalities – so a system more similar to Cap and Trade may be more palatable politically.

dog-and-otterWhy can’t we be friends?

Principle 1 of the Earth Charter says that we should “[r]ecognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.” (1a) This is straight out of Aldo Leopold’s reading about The Land Ethic: “One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Wildflowers and songbirds are examples. […] Yet these creatures are members of the biotic community, and if (as I believe) its stability depends on its integrity, they are entitled to continuance.” (pg 65) While I still strongly disagree that the assertion that a songbird has no economic value is wildly incorrect, the point as a whole is a good one. A person who values fellow people depending on what they can do for him would be considered cold and cruel, the same should be true of a person who views other living things that way.

Why can’t we be friends?

Principle 2 of the Earth Charter says that we should “[p]romote the development, adoption, and equitable transfer of environmentally sound technologies.” (7c) This reminded me of when Lester Brown said “Raising irrigation efficiency typically means shifting from the less efficient flood or furrow systems to overhead sprinklers or drip irrigation, the gold standard of irrigation efficiency.” (pg 223) This might seem like something that only a large corporation or act of Congress can change, but each individual person can do their part to incentivize the use of more environmentally sound technology by voting with their dollars and buying from companies with good environmental reputations and not buying from companies with poor environmental reputations.

The color of your skin don’t matter to me

Principle 3 of the Earth Charter says that we should “[e]radicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.” (9) Again, Lester Brown has an entire chapter dedicated to this titled ‘Eradicating Poverty and Stabilizing Population.’ One of the ways he suggests we can do this is by massive debt forgiveness for developing countries: “A few years ago, for example, when sub-Saharan Africa was spending four times as much on debt servicing as it spent on health care, debt forgiveness was the key to boosting living standards in this last major bastion of poverty. […] The year after the Gleneagles meeting [where the heads of the G-8 industrial countries agreed to cancel the multilateral debt that a number of the countries owed to the World Bank, the IMF, and the African Development Bank], Oxfam International reported that the IMF had eliminated the debts owed by 19 countries, the first major step toward the debt relief goal set at the G-8 meeting. For Zambia, the $6 billion of debt relief enabled President Levy Mwanawasa to announce that basic health care would be now free.” (pg 189) This is an example of exactly the type of action that Principle 3 encourages. On balance, that $6 billion does far more good in Zambia then it ever could in Britain, France, or the United States.

As long as we can live in harmony

Principle Four of the Earth Charter says that, “…peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.” (16f)  David Orr talked about the same thing when he said “at some level of alertness and maturity, we respond with awe to the natural world independent of any instinctual conditional conditioning. […] [Albert Schweitzer] described this response as ‘reverence for life’ arising from the awareness of the unfathomable mystery of life itself. […] Schweitzer regarded reverence for life as the only possible basis for a philosophy on which civilization might be restored from the decay he saw throughout the modern world.” (pg 194-195)  I think there is certainly a correlation between a person respecting his or her fellow people and that person being environmentally responsible.  And furthermore, having a ‘reverence for life’ can only assist you through your life as you face ethical dilemmas.

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