Earth Inc.’s Bankruptcy: How language can help save the world

To evaluate the Economy’s performance and its prospects, both its capital position as well as its income picture need to be scrutinized. Global GDP growth simply measures how much more profit happened this year compared to last year, and contains no insights about the Earth Inc.’s capital position. But changing the language used to describe these situations and preconceived cultural baggage, new tools can be developed to guide perspectives to a positive area.

Words are the basis of opinions
A word conveys more than just its dictionary meaning given that its synonyms can prompt different strings of associations. Any collection of such associations gives rise to a basic interpretation like “good”, “no good”, “sexy”, “trustworthy”, “fun” and such. The interpretation then forms the basis of an opinion like “I dig this” or “Can’t trust that”. Opinions, once established, subconsciously filter one’s boundless imagination and information intake to select and further process only those thoughts that conform with the established opinion.

Such avoidance of unintended and unwanted associations in the process of building brands awareness is also the reason why advertisers work with psychologists. Also pollsters know about this and are sure to pay very careful attention to the phrasing of their questions and the context within which they appear. Interviewees are likely to answer differently when asked about contentious issues, depending on what associations arise when reading the question.

Opinions determine what a person notices
The Economy has come to exemplify such a contentious issue. Some minds absorb the word “Economy” and think of the means to realise their hopes and aspirations, their way to pay their kids’ college and their own retirement. “Development” of the Economy then becomes associated with fulfilling desires, and a firm support in sustaining hopes towards a better future. “Development” thus becomes associated with warm wishes and prospects for a better future. People will regard “development” as desirable.

So, people have been led to opine that a healthy economy is the carrier of their hopes, their children’s hopes, democracy, freedom and happiness world-wide. No message, no image, no thought or association will pass that filter to show the believer in the Economy that “development” is hurting her. However, “development” is hurting her, and also hurting others, hurting feedstock animals, hurting nature, hurting clean air, hurting clean water, hurting lifestyles, hurting the oceans, hurting their children’s futures, hurting education, hurting democracy, hurting freedom, AND hurting people’s capital position.

Well, actually most people do know all this because they have been told so for years. In the news, movies, magazines, and newspapers they have been loaded up on information about the inter-relationships between the Economy, careerism, disease, social dysfunction, campaign contributions, and third world issues. What’s more, they have experienced it with their own senses as sprawl, as smog, as “no swimming” signs on the beach, as smelly rivers, as water shortages, as nuclear power accidents, as work-stress related illnesses, violent schools, as cruel prisons without rehabilitation programs, as oil spills, as clear-cuts, as the bio-industry, and as laws against preventative medicine.

How come, if they already know it, they can’t face and accept the wider ramifications of the relationship between causes and consequences?

Cognitive Dissonance and the consumer
In psychology the name for what happens when an individual when he is faced with an intense and undeniable refutation of an opinion is “cognitive dissonance”. For example, a WASP boy, brought up to despise blacks and gays for some range of reasons, sees his dear drowning father’s life courageously saved by a very black transvestite in matching pink pumps and lipstick. The combination of “knowing” that all blacks are bad, while simultaneously knowing that not ALL blacks are bad creates a tension in the boys mind, which is called a cognitive dissonance. The kid may deal with this in several ways.

How does the consumer deal with this cognitive dissonance? She “knows” that the Economy is the carrier of all things yummie, and that “development” is a measure of how quickly things are getting yummier in her life. She also knows that her lovely new car deeply indebted her. She knows that this extra debt means she will have to spend more time working hard. She also knows that she would rather spend that time with her lover, and her kid who is now in day care. She knows prolonged day care creates bullies. She knows that more work will aggravate her RSI. She knows that her two jobs are cutting into her sleep, making her feel listless. She knows that the car’s exhaust contributes to the smog that intensifies her child’s asthma. She knows that the gasoline she pumps probably came from some third world country where indigenous people were shot or made refugees, and where virgin rainforest or ocean floor was defiled to pump the oil. She knows that oil companies obtain their rights to pump oil by bribing, colluding with, and sustaining corrupt politicians from Asia, and Africa to Alaska. She knows that corrupt politicians do not act democratically, but cleptocratically. She knows that corruption, lying and stealing are bad.

She really does know that economic development results in widespread and deep suffering caused by the collusion of the business elite and their crony politicians. Certainly the global economic development has undeniably led to sustained and intense undesirable experiences in her life. Nevertheless, she simultaneously really believes that the Economy is there to help her find happiness and that the greater economic development is, the more likely it is that she will find happiness.

The Consumption Kick
Surveys clearly indicate that there is no correlation between the number of electronic gadgets and large consumer items and the perceived happiness of the owners. Surveys also clearly indicate that the act of purchasing such an item is perceived as greatly gratifying by owners. The consumers’ delight does not therefore come from owning a coveted item, the “kick” is achieved in the act of buying it. We all love our kicks, and the consumer’s kicks are correlated with economic development. The consumer feels the connection between how kickin’ things are and how fast the Economy is growing. Ubiquitous advertising combined with selective corporate-paid-for news further shape, confirm, and fortify the kick from consumption. The corporate “consume our stuff, and you will get this kick” messages are alternated with politicians’ “grow the Economy or loose all your kicks” messages.

Consumption Junkies
Addiction is defined as taking a drug habitually and being unable to stop taking the drug without incurring adverse effects. We know from drug addictions that sufferers will continue satisfying their habits despite the resulting disintegration of family, faltering health, and scorned friends. Consumption addicts won’t give up their kicks in the face of work-related stress and the resulting heart problems. The consumerist won’t choose to spend time with spouse and kids, just to sustain the income that pays his habit. The consumption addict will continue spending on kicks that he knows destroys things he loves or finds important like pristine nature, clean air & water, open spaces, and private time. Junkies!

Detoxing
So, they’re junkies, but how to get the poor bastards to detox? Pointing out why and how economic development gets real ugly simply provokes a cognitive dissonance and the belief in the Economy prevails. It prevails because the word “development” is associated with buying all the lovely products that give kicks, and because the desire for kicks is reinforced by hundreds of billions of dollars spent on advertising each year. Never mind pointing out that the income that they work for to buy kicks is mostly spent on advertising geared towards making them want to buy more kicks. Feeling being taken advantage of, used, and even guilty, is easily solved with more consumption. This is how addicts deal with emotional distress, they pander to their addictions. Any stress left after buying a new kitchen may be interpreted as the fault of some politician or some asshole employer, but never the Economy or its “development”.

The Economy is beyond reproach and its development is the basis of hope. Giving up the belief in the goodness of economic development has a deep psychological impact that needs to fight all the positive associations ingrained by each consumptive act and each commercial and each corrupt politician’s speech. That is to say, unless those proposing a world-wide detox from consumerism have the funds and the public access to bombard consumerists globally with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of awareness advertising, this situation will not change. The associations between economic development and “good” are just too strong. That is not to say that all awareness campaigns are useless, but that one shouldn’t expect too much more than marginal effects from such campaigns. The effect will correspond to the marginal ad volume compared to mainstream advertising.

So, how can we frame a set of messages that could lead to people wanting to detox from consumerism and to stop themselves from contributing to the suffering they impose on themselves, on strangers, on animals, on nature, and on their loved ones. How do we frame a set of solutions that will make people want to embrace time with their kids to play with them and teach them, to embrace time with their friends to celebrate the joy of life, to embrace their lovers to feel satisfied and loved and appreciated, to embrace time exercising to feel healthy and robust, to spend time eating well to feel healthy and energetic, and to embrace time simply doing nothing to feel rested and relaxed.

How?

Flanking Opinions with Synonyms
Well, let’s start by stopping our attack on the Economy and its development. Opinions are so firmly set that they have become religious. Ever try to show a Jesus freak the Light by dissing her God? Forget it. The same goes for the consumption freak’s belief in the Economy. So, we need to find an area of discussion that does not clash with the belief in economic development. We need to foster awareness that does not even mention the Economy or development. We should speak of things as they are, rather than as they are named, glamorised, or propagandised in the mainstream media.

When the World Bank says they’re going to help develop a country, we shouldn’t try to convince anyone that development is bad, that’s useless. When we oppose the World Bank by demonstrating how its specific projects bring pain to those it is trying to help, people can listen because the World Bank has no religious stature like the Economy. “Development is killing the Earth” shouldn’t be our rebuke to the World Bank’s opinion that it is through economic development, that rich countries should help poor ones climb out of their misery. Rather, we should point out that their road projects are less efficient in developing a country’s transportation infrastructure than railway projects, we should patiently explain why sustainable energy is more effective for a developing country than for us to pump and ship away their oil. We should point out that nuclear reactors shouldn’t be built next to live volcanoes. When we counter in this manner, we force the believer to explain why roads are better than railways, why oil is better than solar power, and why a nuclear reactor should be located next to volcanoes. The only true reason is that roads beckon cars, which GM and Mercedes can sell to them, that oil makes Shell, and Exxon-Mobil richer, and that a nuclear reactors next to a volcano benefits Westinghouse. See, this way the argument switches from the pros and cons of development to issues under a different name. Issues to which people suddenly become susceptible.

GDP vs. the Economy
When you tell people the Economy is at fault for anything, you’re ridiculed. When you tell them GDP as the measure of development is flawed, suddenly you’re just dissing accountants, rather than their new God, and most people have no preconceptions that keep them from dissing accountants.

What’s more, they have recently seen the dot.com business story, so they already have seen that even seemingly successful high-flyers go nowhere fast without capital. It is therefore easy to explain that a measure of capital is needed to measure the health of the Economy. To evaluate the Economy’s performance and its prospects, both its capital position as well as its income picture need to be scrutinised. Global GDP growth simply measures how much more profit happened this year compared to last year, and contains no insights about the Earth Inc.’s capital position.

Bankruptcy
What the Economy can go bankrupt? Sure, what do you think UN-sustainable means! It means that “business as usual” at Earth Inc. cannot be an ongoing business. It will stop because it will run out of capital. It will run out of capital because its capital not being managed sustainably. I am not talking cash capital here since you can always print more cash.

Natural Capital
Let’s spread the concept of natural capital as THE capital of Earth Inc., and as the basis for cash capital, since it is more fundamental than cash capital. Natural capital is the basis of all consumption, everywhere. You can only print paper cash if you have paper. Paper comes from trees, which live from the ground and the weather. Both the ground and the weather are the products hundreds of thousands of bugs, worms, bacteria, and moulds per cubic meter. These creatures eat and secrete in great inter-connected webs called eco-systems. Ecosystems exist and fully interconnect everywhere on land and in oceans. Some of these countless organisms’ secretions are food for others, while some secretions regulate the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen cycles that determine the local and global weather.

These little lifeforms are thus the basis of all consumption everywhere and by everything, including us. Since consumption lies at the basis of profit, natural capital forms the basis of all profit as well. Try to think of as many things that would exist without any eco-systems as you can…Uranium, sunlight, rock, sulphur, pure water, salt, metal ore, etc. and think of how gratifying your consumptive life would be without ecosystems. The micro-organisms, round worms and beetles that form the basis of ecosystems are our natural capital. Without them everything stops. If there is 0.0 nature, there can be no consumption, and without consumption there can be no profit. When Earth Inc. stops making a profit and has no capital, it is bankrupt.

You can point out to the believer in the Economy that if through bad accounting and mismanagement Earth Inc. goes bust, there is nowhere else to go in this solar system, and you won’t even get to sue the neo-colonialist leaders for misrepresentation.

Natural Capital Injections
So, you can tell the believer: “You want to save the Economy, me too”. This sounds right in the believers’ ears. It’s pro-Economy, its positive, it’s hopeful, it meshes with politician’s rhetoric, and yet it invites common sense. “Let’s start building capital and make Earth Inc. healthy. How do we build our “natural capital”? Clearly, we need to make it possible for the little creatures that give rise to eco-systems to live and prosper. We need to clean up, dredge up toxins-laced river beds, filter oils from lakes, plant trees fucking everywhere, and control global warming. You get the picture right”?

The Destroyer Culture
Let’s spread concepts like the “destroyer culture”, where we associate the current GDP growth with the destruction of so many things dear, including ecosystems-based natural capital. We should use the “destroyer culture” rather than economic development. It means the same thing, but it doesn’t bump into preconceptions. People can’t argue that we are not destroying Earth Inc., because they know we are. New associations will be generated linking the destroyer culture to our actions and in-actions, our beliefs, and our habits. Do you want to be a destroyer of (natural) capital or a good economic citizen?

Recovered consumption addicts may scoff at the prospect of becoming a good economic citizen, but they do not need to be convinced anymore! Their habits already attempt to minimalise the destructive impact, the ecocidal footprint of their existence. Nevertheless, we need a common frame of reference with the junkies to explain the motivations for promoting public transportation, sprawl control, pesticide reduction, sustainable wood harvesting, and defeating free trade.

The measure of an ecosystem’s (our natural capital’s) health is bio-diversity, the variety or numbers of species making up an ecosystem. Earth Inc. is actively wasting opportunities for all its little creatures, that make up ecosystems, to thrive. The destroyer culture converts natural capital to cash by clearing ancient forests for toilet paper sales, by building parking lots to accommodate car sales, by running mechanised mono-crop farms to avoid cash labour costs, by poisoning groundwater to avoid cash clean-up costs, by overusing fertilisers to increase cash from crop sales, by overusing antibiotics in hog farms to increase pork sales, by burning rainforest to feed cows for hamburger sales, by depleting the ozone layer for no good reason, by causing soil depletion and erosion with cash cost efficient intensive farming, by using anything other than renewable energy to avoid power sector restructuring costs, by spilling oil to avoid cash safety measure costs, by mining coral reefs to make cement to build hotels, and many many more ways. All these activities destroy bio-diversity, and inhibit Earth Inc.’s ecosystems’ health that provides for our consumption choices and ultimately the profits that sustain Earth Inc. That’s the motivation!

At least, when you tell the believers in the Economy that it is all just to save the Economy, they are already on your side. They may be confused about the approach, given that they really did think that free trade was pro-Economy, but the GDP vs. natural capital explanation goes a long way in breaking open the closed mind.

Agricultural Strip-mining vs. Farming
Let’s narrow the definition of a farm to those establishments where food is grown without borrowing technologies from the destroyer culture. See, healthy soil contains countless micro-organisms, that in conjunction with plants, use the energy from the sun to convert carbon, nitrogen and oxygen into nutrients for each other and for plants. At farms these micro-organisms are cherished as the foundation of farming, preserved and cultured as the natural capital of a farm. Thus farms are places where sunlight is converted to food, meaning that farms can remain viable and sustainable as long as the sun keeps shining.

Let’s properly place other “agri” businesses into their proper category: strip mines! Strip mines are businesses that extract commodities from the surface of the Earth. Agricultural strip mines, like all mines, are depleted after a certain point. When a crop is grown for human or animal consumption with any other than a sustainable technology, each harvest load contains a little bit more of the soil’s nutrients than what was (re)generated by sunlight. Thus, harvest after harvest, the soil in agricultural strip-mines surrenders a little more of its nutrients. Nutrients are thus transported away, later to be deposited via human guts into the sewage systems or untreated into the seas. Agricultural strip-mines extract nutrients for human food from natural capital by destroying the natural capital and then flushing the nutrients obtained into the seas.

Soil nutrients nurture the diversity and abundance of soil ecosystems. These can, in turn, replenish said nutrients to feed the plants that feed us, or to feed the plants that feed the animals that feed us. Either way, the micro-organisms, insects, fungi, and worms that process and excrete these nutrients into soil are the basis of all food from soil, natural capital. Therefore, when mining renders the level of nutrients insufficient to support a healthy soil eco-system, the agricultural mine’s soil becomes ever poorer: natural capital meets the destroyer culture.

With time, the soil’s progressively depleted nutrient profile only allows additional harvests with the aid of increasingly more artificial fertilisers. Artificial fertiliser is a powerful extraction tool helping the agricultural mineworkers to continue extracting soil nutrients long after the soil’s bio-diversity is too impoverished to grow food crops efficiently enough to run an agri-mining business. Since more and different natural soil nutrients continue to be extracted with each harvest than added with artificial fertiliusers, the soil’s ecosystem continues to become more frail. Soil and crop yield thus degrade to where even fertiliser doesn’t work anymore, and just about nothing will grow.

Nothing?

Soil with little growing on or through it has little to keep it from being swept far and away by the wind or by the rain into nearby streams, rivers and ultimately the sea. This process is called erosion, and is caused by strip-mining (overgrazing & intensive “farming”). Erosion leads to desertification. Please remember the American dustbowl in the 1930’s, and the fact that now arid and dust-blown north Africa used to be forest before being strip-mined of its trees and then soil nutrients. The former huge Russian “breadbasked” is eroded by wind so that each year between 500,000 and 1,500,000 hectares of former prime cropland, now a dustbowl, are abandoned. In Australia, the equivalent of 3.5 million dump trucks of topsoil are irretrievably washed into the Great Barrier Reef each year. So not only the land, but the inner Great Barrier Reef, and the rivers and streams in between are dying too. It’s all connected you know.

Buying food from strip-mines
So, although farming and agricultural strip-mining do share aspects in that both yield food, it becomes useful to distinguish these two when considering what to buy to eat. When you buy food from a farm, your money supports farming, a process that primarily results in just food and labor.

First of all, when you buy food from a strip-mine, remember that it was raised from nutrient impoverished soil. Such food can’t therefore convey all the nutritional benefits to you as its healthy cousins would have. Then, as you thoroughly rinse the pesticides off your strip-mined food, please consider the strip-mine workers’ and their families’ plight. The pesticides are as bad for you and the agri-mine workers as they are bad for the increasingly resistant “pests”. However, all you get is malnourished and susceptible to allergies, while the migrant workers have to live in pesticide-marinated- everything, and eat it, and deal with the cancer from it.

When you buy food from a strip-mine, the money you spend supports a process that yields food, sort of, but, also results in soil ecosystem destruction, which leads to erosion and desertification. The erosion run-off of soil nutrients, fertilizer & pesticide combinations end up in fresh water streams, accumulate in lakes or run into the oceans. High concentrations of soil nutrients, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers kill fish, and lead to alga blooms. The alga blooms use up all the oxygen and everything dies.

Everything?

There is an 18,000 km² deadzone, right in the middle of the United States’ most important commercial and recreational fisheries (so big it would take you a year to walk around it). The agricultural strip-mining operations along the Mississippi cause the fertilizer rich and toxic soil to run-off into Gulf of Mexico and cause the deadzone. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, this deadzone could threaten the Economy of this region of the Gulf. What buying strip-mined food is bad for the Economy? Yes, and it is really bad for natural capital as well.

So when you talk to your friends about why you buy your food at the organic food store rather in the prettily lit shiny supermarkets, you can explain that agricultural strip-mining is an ecocidal process that yields toxic food, while farming is cool and nutritious. When you tell your colleagues about the same, you could mention that strip-mining natural capital and then flushing it through the toilet into the sea is wasteful. Certainly they understand that being wasteful is bad for Earth Inc.?

When your friends ask you why you pay more for food than you need to, you can explain that you spend the extra money to prevent transnational strip mining companies from getting even richer and more powerful, to prevent them from strip-mining even more from Earth and buying even more political representation.

When deciding where to buy your food, you can remember that farming preserves natural capital while providing you with healthy food. You can also remember that agricultural strip-mining allows toxins into our food chain while destroying natural capital big time. You may wonder if you desire ecocide and impoverished toxic food rather than “just” food. Hmmm… McDonalds anyone?

Neo-colonialism
Let’s spread the use of concepts like neo-colonialism. We know what it stands for: extracting riches from less powerful countries and peoples. It’s sort of like mining, always take more than you return, except the mess. We have rightly been taught to associate colonialism with, violent oppression, and disgustingly rich white men with a bigger love for power and greed than conscience and human dignity. So, let’s stop using the word globalisation, it makes people think of their beloved economic development. Both Neo-colonialism and globalisation mean the same, so lets steer the discussion away from political rhetoric and into reality.

The WTO’s mission is not to break down any and all trade barriers. Rather, the WTO job is to break down only those trade barriers that aren’t beneficial to the rich countries that control the WTO. The WTO claims to make the sacred free-market Economy, democracy and hopes for happiness available to all global citizens, and people love it. They will get everybody hooked on the same kicks, what a prospect. Cool huh dude, one global nation under Nike! Well, everywhere neo-colonialists show up to, people get oppressed and poorer.

When the WB and WTO come to town and start mining local wealth, this happens too. The WB can dictate to a poor country that unless WTO requirements are met, no aid loans are made. A less powerful country can thus be left no choice than to open up its markets to the neo-colonialists’ controlled cash capital investments and trade flows. This foreign capital flows in and buys land and farms and replaces these with agri-mines, factories, and sweatshops. Destroyer culture technologies, in the short term, increase the production output of the land. These production efficiency increases are expressed in cash or crop yields per hectare of land used, and not in cash or crop per natural capital used. The country’s newly gained production output is exported, and the foreign exchange thus received is used to pay back its WB loans. However, all the extra production is more expensive than local farmers, factory and sweatshop workers can afford, so the actual quality of life decreases for the lower and middle class. The upper class does very well though and thus, the destroyer culture takes hold and starts mining natural capital, for shipment into the first world for consumption, there to be flushed through toilets or dumped in landfills. The extra income generated by the neo-colonialised countries is spent on WB loan and interest repayments and thus ends back up in the neo-colonialists’ pockets.

India tried the WTO route and within 5 years, its agrarian output increased by a whopping 70%, which yielded 1.3 billion dollars in export revenue. However, the destroyer culture’s business climate led to local food prices increasing by 63%, and the daily quota for the intake of rice dropped from 82 grams per day to 52 grams. In Mexico, hundreds of desperate women and hungry children finally resorted to robbing grain shipments by rail from Mexico to America. Why does all the food leave the country when people are hungry? In Jordan, street fights erupted after WTO policies demanded that bread be tripled in price. Who pockets all the extra money, Monsanto, Coca Cola, Nike, Chiquita, and the politicians they pay off. Who gets to consume all the extra products, the destroyers, and yup that’s most of us. Who gets it in the pants, the neo-colonialised nations. How can this happen? WTO / WB / IMF / NAFTA / IFC / EBRD, and their neo-colonialist policies make it so.

Exposure
How can we expose the inextricably entwined relationships between consumption addiction, the exploitation of poor countries & peoples and the unsustainable destruction of natural capital.

Some of us are getting tear-gassed by thousands of heavily armed police, shooting fist-size rubber bullets at point blank range and shattering bones of the unarmed in the name of protecting the Economy and promoting democracy, while the neo-colonialist leaders are fenced off to carry out their secret deliberations. Respect to them in Seattle, Prague, Davos, Quebec City and future battle grounds!

As for the rest of us, let’s try to provoke new insights in our neighbours by talking about the wider physiological and psychological health risks of consumption addiction. Let’s talk to our friends about the destroyer culture, rather economic development. Let’s talk about the differences between farming and agri-mining. Let’s focus on neo-colonialism, and ignore the mass-media euphemism “economic development aid”. Let’s talk to our colleagues about cash capital and distinguish it from natural capital. Let’s keep discussing Earth Inc.’s looming bankruptcy instead of just the Economy to explain why we need to look at natural capital in addition to GNP to determine the health of the Economy. People will see the logic, they’re not dumb, just opinionated, and opinions can be flanked by avoiding the words that prompt them.

Let’s talk to ourselves about enjoying the subsidies for the destroyers and the neo-colonialists that make heating oil and gasoline artificially cheap, but solar panels expensive. The agri-mine aid that makes processed, treated, and imported strip-mine food cheap, and locally farmed food expensive. Let’s teach ourselves to think in terms of what effect government policies will have on natural capital as a litmus test about whom to back. I mean do you want to commercially or politically support those who think old-growth forests on public lands should be given away so some fat stinking-rich destroyer can make extra profits on toilet paper? Let’s investigate how behaving like destroyers in a neo-colonial world effects our own personal quality of life, our health, our spare time, and our happiness.

Recommended reading:
The web of life – Fritjof Kapra
Natural Capitalism – Paul Hawken
NoLogo – Naomi Klein
Biodiversity – Smithsonian Institution



The Sweaty Smiley Collective is a group of people committed to the idea that fun & games and
gratification through sex, drugs, music, aesthetics, and general hedonism are the real goal in life,
while the global DNA preservation, consciousness, love, and socio-political awareness, are all
just the ONLY, enlightened self-interested means to that end. Yes! pleasure is good and best
enjoyed intensely, such that our lifestyle leads to sweating and smiling enough to stop messing
with each other and nature at large 🙂

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Author: Justin Bryant

News Service: Sweaty Smiley Collective