Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Ecology of Commerce - Paul Hawken

I just finished reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken which my girlfriend bought me for my birthday last week.

It was a good read if you're into economics and the environment and you like to think about shaking things up and making the world a better place. However, I found many of the major concepts in the book to be a little too idealistic to make it to the real world without being forced in some major ways. I'm not sure who could or would step up to the challenge and force some of these concepts into practice, such as a shift toward green taxes in place of income taxes and a large reduction in military spending. If they could be implemented, there is little doubt in my mind that they would help us move towards a more sustainable economy that doesn't completely destroy the planet in the name of ever larger profits, meaningless products and never ending conflicts. Large corporations wield so much power in our current political system that making the large changes that are suggested in the book isn't a likely scenario.

One key part of the plan that doesn't seem practical on a long term basis is the entire concept of green taxes. My particular problem with them is that the government in America seems to be inclined to just keep getting bigger and more out of control and the overwhelming majority of Americans don't care or don't know how to change anything. The idea of adding green taxes into the mix but taking out income taxes in an equal amount to encourage work but discourage the use of resources seems like a good idea on paper. However, I'm sure that instead of taking away income taxes in favor of green taxes, we'll end up with both and much less real money in our pockets which will just hasten the downward spiral.

The book also seemed to place the lion's share of both improving the economy and the condition of the environment upon the idea that business (and the government) had to make gigantic sweeping changes that would (at the very least, in the short term) cause them to lose money. It also made the assumption that human nature was something that could be retrained into a state where people didn't over-consume and would be satisfied with a more simple life. I'm not sure that there is any way to go back to a more simple life at this stage of the game.

My views on the future are not all gloom and doom, though. I do think that we do need to start heading toward a direction where our progress into the future is much more sustainable. However, I am coming to the point of understanding that little changes that individuals can make such as separating out their recyclables and driving hybrid cars hundreds of miles to work aren't enough to do much good in the big picture. We do need to work out ways of improving the world we live in that do more than put a little dent in the problem. We need to start looking at the bigger picture.

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