Price Less –

The following, by George Monbiot, is well worth reading and pondering as it demonstrates how another nail in civilization’s coffin is going to be driven in.

A couple of days ago I wrote a post in which I said, and quote:

“In order to continue legitimizing a system that no longer makes any sense, the Powers that rule man’s world and mind have exponentially increased their oppression of all life on earth. Everything has been given a monetary value and put on the auction block. Every drop of water, every ounce of mineral, every blade of grass and every sentient life-form has been graded and categorized as either valuable to the System or expendable.

What has value is being squeezed like a lemon until the very pips squeak. What is expendable is being systematically hunted down, collected, burned, poisoned, slaughtered. This is how a civilization ends and make no mistake, this civilization is ending.”

Examples of such surround us to the point of embarrassment, that is, if we still possessed the sense to be embarrassed about stupidity, folly and gargantuan avarice. Sadly, we no longer have that. We left it in a throw away paper cup at the stadium or on the floor at Burger King.

While thinking on these things, one could also watch this feature length documentary on our eating habits, and the consequences:

H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters
H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters
If you want to change the world, look no further than your dinner plate. According to the stirring feature-length documentary “H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters”, that’s where the potential for meaningful transformation lies within reach for all of us. The film tackles…
Watch now →

Price Less –

Price Less

Posted: 17 May 2018 10:49 PM PDT

The “natural capital” agenda is morally wrong, intellectually vacuous, and most of all counter-productive

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 15th May 2018

Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear.

This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the magic of the markets, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations.

Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”. The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge.” Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth.

The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract.

This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns. Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives.

A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

As the cognitive linguist George Lakoff points out, when you use the frames and language of your opponents, you don’t persuade them to adopt your point of view. Instead you adopt theirs, while strengthening their resistance to your objectives. Lakoff argues that the key to political success is to promote your own values, rather than appease the mindset you contest.

The natural capital agenda reinforces the notion that nature has no value unless you can extract cash from it. Dieter Helm, who chairs the government’s preposterous committee, makes this point explicit: the idea that nature has intrinsic value, independent of what humans can take from it, he says, is “dangerous”. But this dangerous idea has been the motivating force of all successful environmental campaigns.

The commonest response to the case I’m making is that we can use both intrinsic and extrinsic arguments for protecting nature. The natural capital agenda, its defenders say, is “an additional weapon in the fight to protect the countryside”. But it does not add, it subtracts. As the philosopher Michael Sandel argues in What Money Can’t Buy, market values crowd out non-market values. Markets change the meaning of the things we discuss, replacing moral obligations with commercial relationships. This process corrupts and degrades our intrinsic values and empties public life of moral argument.

It is also, his examples show, counterproductive: financial incentives undermine our motivation to act for the public good. “Altruism, generosity, solidarity and civic spirit are … like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise. One of the defects of the market-driven society is it lets these virtues languish.”

So who will resist this parched, destructive mindset? Not, it seems, the big conservation groups. In this month’s BBC Wildlife magazine, Tony Juniper – who in other respects is an admirable defender of the living world – reveals that he will use his new post as head of campaigns at WWF to promote the natural capital agenda.

Perhaps he is unaware that in 2014 WWF commissioned research to test this approach. It showed that when people were reminded of the intrinsic value of nature, they were more likely to defend the living planet and support WWF than when they were exposed to instrumental and financial arguments. It also discovered that using both arguments together produced the same result as using the financial argument alone: the natural capital agenda, in other words, undermined people’s intrinsic motivation.

Has this been forgotten? Sometimes I wonder whether anything is learnt in conservation, or whether the big NGOs are forever destined to follow a circular track, endlessly repeating their mistakes. Rather than contributing to the alienation and disenchantment the commercial mindset fosters, they should help to enrich our relationship with the living world.

The natural capital agenda is the definitive expression of our disengagement from the living world. First we lose our wildlife and natural wonders. Then we lose our connections with what remains of life on Earth. Then we lose the words that described what we once knew. Then we call it capital and give it a price. This approach is morally wrong, intellectually vacuous, emotionally alienating and self-defeating.

Those of us who are motivated by love for the living planet should not hesitate to say so. Never underestimate the power of intrinsic values. They inspire every struggle for a better world.

30 thoughts on “Price Less –

  1. rawgod

    Nature is priceless. Life is priceless. Put a monetary value on either, and they become worthless.
    Excellent post, George, and thank you for the reblog, S’T. I had no idea about the “natural capital” crowd.


  2. kertsen

    I did not know about this remarkable thinker but then I live in a shallow world compared to this man. He takes some digesting and speaks as if he is imbued with fire singeing his audience. It’s good to be pushed off balance.


    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Kertsen. George Monbiot is one of our deep thinkers, indeed and that is why I subscribe to his Guardian column.


  3. Phil Huston

    More simple truths beaten into example casserole. Music makes you smarter. Art makes you smarter. Engaging with other, or similar forms of life engages you with your environs. Tapping glass with daily minutia does not. We are tactile beings. Seeing, hearing, touching. Meet a horse, or an armadillo, and you made a friend. You might not eat together, but you live together. One people, on planet, one day. And you’re right. If we were to listen to the planet it will provide for us. Without bloodshed or slaughter or contamination. Antibiotics scare me a lot more than volcanoes.


      1. kertsen

        Operations were performed before the 1940ties but they were much more risky and today’s delicate heart operations would be unlikely to be viable. I had my appendix removed in 1966 when I was 24 , I could have survived who knows. The population of the world in 1945 when antibiotics started was about 2.2 billion so we did quite well without them. Progress is inevitable but we must pay the price of reliance.


      2. Sha'Tara Post author

        The major problem with antibiotics is they weaken the immune system, as do a great variety of manufactured drugs. I’ve had a couple of tetanus shots in my life, usually because they were “de rigeur” for certain job positions but I’m sure I would have done quite will without them. I won’t take drugs of any kind. At 71, I’ve lived in both, country and city. I’ve never had a surgical intervention and I have all my organs, including appendix, tonsils and whatever else the slash, cut and pull out money-grabbing fellowship deems unnecessary and dangerous to the human body! I’m so sorry to disappoint them by being so damned healthy – not!

        Our greatest physical challenge today is growing mutated bodies that will not just survive, but thrive in an increasingly artificially poisoned and stressful environment.


  4. katharineotto

    Thank you, Sha’Tara.
    I’ve been trying to get a handle on this, myself. The best things in life really are free, but it takes practice to see it that way, so brainwashed are we by social expectations, convention, and our “consumerist” society.

    The food documentary depressed me, and I’m left wondering what’s safe to eat. My dentist has forbidden lemonade and sugar, but who needs teeth if all food is poisonous? Considering the fact that the world is overrun with GMO foods, herbicides, insecticides, and other “enhancers,” even so-called “organic” foods are questionable.

    I feed the deer that come into my yard, but since more than 80% of corn is GM these days, I wonder if I’m doing them a disservice. Same with my pet chickens.

    Speaking of, watching animals is the best way I’ve found to link with nature. They need no money or opposable thumbs to appreciate the intrinsic value of life and nature.


    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Katherine. Our challenge now, globally, is to turn our backs on capitalism because we should be able to see it is a false belief and a killer religion. How can we, supposed intelligent creatures, accept a $ symbol as having more value than a child; than a million lives; than an entire world? That is certifiable insanity. Can’t we see how the capitalist ponzi scheme and scam is turning us all into heartless, thoughtless, horribly violent creatures and into zombies? Is it too late to break the addiction? We have the antidote within our own minds and hearts, why won’t we use it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. katharineotto

        I think it’s happening in subtle ways, but maybe the most effective people are the least flamboyant, who quietly do their parts without fanfare. For instance, I believe the true “environmentalists” are out in the environment, appreciating it, not spending their time in meetings fighting over legislation (although that seems necessary, too).


    2. kertsen

      The RSPB say bread should be banned as a bird food because it damages chicks chance of survival to adulthood. A curious change when we keep hearing bread is the staff of life ; but I suppose bread is better than no food at all. In years long gone bread was always thrown out to the birds sometimes Mum cooked a bread pudding with the left over stale bread.
      ‘ Those were the days my friend ,
      We thought they’d never end.’

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sha'Tara Post author

        Thanks for that comment, Kertsen. Again we must look at our modern, chemical age against the olden times when things were as advertised. When bread was baked from grains grown in our own fields, it was a healthy substance and indeed, life sustaining. Then came the manufacturers, their hired “scientific” agents and the ensuing chemical additives. The same can be said of cigarettes and smoking. Once it was a gentle, calming, relatively mild drug. Men and woman would fill their pipes at noon breaks or in the evening and calmly inhale the fragrance. We kids loved the smell of the burning tobacco – the real thing. Then came the addictive drugs. A good, fun movie to watch on this is “Thank You for Smoking”. Another great docu-movie that makes a great point about modern foods is “Super Size Me”.


      2. katharineotto

        I think animals are smart enough to avoid things that harm them, most of the time. It’s called “taste aversion learning.” My chickens amaze me. They love scratching around in the compost heap, the smellier the better. Yet they never seem to get sick from what they eat.


      3. kertsen

        There is a new scientific hypothesis that many children in the wealthy world lack exposure to bacteria and viruses due to super – hygiene.
        This prevents the normal development of the immune system increasing the chance of infection. Your chickens seem to prove this and perhaps we should all wallow in the mud a bit more . We have chickens and I give them potatoes peelings that have been softened in the microwave and cut up cabbage leaves a practice frowned upon by Defra.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Sha'Tara Post author

        Yes, super hygiene and air conditioning are contributors to a weakened immune system, along with all the chemicals used on land, air, water, food and to make closed environments smell better. Our “good life” is killing us. Even if we exist longer we’re not really living, just spending time as spectators and energy fighting a deadly chemical enemy.  On the old homestead there were never enough kitchen scraps to satisfy the animals. Nothing was wasted.


      5. katharineotto

        I’ve spent my life stomping around in the mud and digging in dirt, but my health problems have come from accidents and stress, not from infection. I’ve heard about that hypothesis and believe it. Not only are some kids super-sensitive to environmental microorganisms, modern medicine’s antibiotics, herbicides, and pesticides are probably selecting out for the most virulent ones.


  5. colettebytes

    Great Post. I shall watch HOPE when I have more data available. I am behind on this year’s documentaries, but know the message anyway.
    Only hope more people get it soon.
    The Vegan movement is the fastest growing food movement right now and is exponentially growing amongst the young. We can Hope!
    George Monbiot is a great read and a huge advocate for ‘Rewilding Britain,’ a movement that is bringing back iconic species like the otter, beaver, wolf (soon but has opposition from farmers), boar and other creatures extinct here in the UK.😊


    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Hiding out in the wilds of Great Britain, huh? Great idea, that. Hope you found yourself a nice, quiet island to hide in. Are you a vegan then? I’m vegetarian myself, still eating cheese and yogurt and besides raw vegetables, surviving and thriving on my own home made concoction of whey powder, hemp seeds and whatever I think of throwing in the mix…


      1. colettebytes

        Yes Sha’Tara. I used to live in Canada, in the usual 9-5 fashion (actually more like 8am-10pm). I am free now, wandering the more wild places in England via Canals and Rivers in our home. A Narrowboat!
        Yes, I am Vegan and I eschew makeup, hair dye or any of those sorts of things. I have a little jewelry but rarely wear it
        (my energy prevents it, and wrist watches fail to work on my body). I am a plain Jane. My hair is long, but I do not dress like a hippy…just happy in Jeans and T-shirt most of the time.
        My husband is the cook and bottlewasher, and outside and engine maintenance. I do laundry and cleaning, sewing and mending. That may sound a bit too traditional for you, but we can swap too. I can steer our vessel or do the heavy work of lock operation…we take turns on that. It works. We moor up in wild spaces as much as possible and avoid crowds like the plague.
        I hope that gives you a bit of a picture of me.😉


      2. colettebytes

        Well, its everyone’s. Is that really what you saw.😂😂😂
        I thought it conveyed…”look how beautiful our world is…”
        Perhaps the difference between “glass half empty” and ‘glass half full.”
        Anyway, that’s about the most of me I’m willing to show in a public arena like this. Identity theft is so awful and I have read that the spamming attacks are for that reason (here on WordPress), so I am careful. On that note…the Happy Engineers have said they have written some code to stop the latest bunch (the one’s that hit Roger’s site and a few others).😊


      3. Sha'Tara Post author

        My Teacher, YLea, a master of pithy sayings, taught me this: ‘When none of it matters, it will all be yours.’ (To which I added silently, ‘But will I want it then?’) Everything belongs to the detached individual through empathy. It’s not possessive, its taking responsibility for all of it. As to the spammers, they only make me laugh – I don’t do much internet, mostly email and I don’t use web mails, just Thunderbird, the most amazing email open source program available. Between Firefox, Thunderbird and Akismet, not much slips by and what does I use my divine prerogative and confine them to the depths of Spam where they are tortured into eternity! Oh yes, I also use Linux Mint as my operating system (except when on the smart phone) so no need to worry about viruses and other nasties. Let AI fight AI!


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