Greg Gerritt Feb 7, 2014
I am researching and writing an essay tentatively entitled “Climate, Business Climate and Prosperity in Rhode Island”. Finishing it will take months, but the radio silence was getting to me. Hence this very abbreviated undocumented version. I am spending hours looking at references and figuring out how to say what each article says in 2 sentences that fit in with what else I have written. Every day as I delve deeper I find more nuance but also more confirmation of the misdirection in economic policy globally, nationally, and in my community. I am not alone in the struggle to change these policies. Every day new centers of activism arise. The specific mission of ProsperityForRI.com and the Catalyzing Prosperity project is to bring what we are learning about the economy/ecology interface globally to the policy discussions in Rhode Island, The focus of the research and writing project is to counter-act the obsession with business climate and economic growth found among Rhode Island politicians and business leaders that continues to lead us nowhere. The goal is more prosperous communities in Rhode Island. This short paper simply states what is going on without the documentation and data that will be in the final paper.
The hypothesis being explored is that the current obsession with the business climate actually harms our communities. There is very little evidence that following the prescriptions offered by the business climate indexers actually work even on their own terms, which is simply faster growth in GDP, There is evidence that following the prescriptions harm economies and communities in an astounding variety of ways, and that if we actually did the math we would find our communities are becoming less prosperous in the old industrial west as the externalities catch up to us and the technological revolutions create economic bubbles that undermine economic security for our communities
The flip side of that is the things that we have to do to keep climate change to as small a number as possible and to mitigate and adapt to the harm already in the pipeline is both much more likely to benefit our communities economically than following the business climate route, and that what we should be doing to help our communities move forward is absolutely not the business climate prescription for governance.
Beyond the business think tanks obsession with low taxes it should be noted that much of the regulatory madness in America that in some ways infuriates all of us, not just the think tanks or business community, is primarily the result of shenanigans by the same forces that obsess on the business climate. We all know the American legislation process is like sausage making, full of deals and compromises. That is politics. But the specific things the business lobbyists get into the legislation that they can not kill are often designed to make the laws harder to use effectively. The lobbyists operate under the theory that if we can make it clunky maybe we can get it undone next year. And if that fails, we cut the enforcement budget so folks have to wait a long time for permits. Then we can blame it on bad regulations, rather than accepting that developers both wanted the regulations hard to interpret so they could fudge a lot of things, and then cut the budget for enforcement and permitting so they could use the slowness of the permitting process to undermine protection of the public interest in the pursuit of greater profits.
I underpin much of my work with the understanding that due to the ecological constraints of planet Earth further damage to the ecosystems of the planet are likely to have very serious negative consequences for most of humanity, and we have already reached the point where sinks are full and resource extraction is getting more difficult and expensive as we seek ever further and deeper in a desperate race for more stuff. The reality is that yes we have more throughput, and many places around the world desperately need economic growth so that people can get enough to eat, but in the USA 99% of the growth in income is going to 1% of the population, and it is all funny money from economic shenanigans or what Herman Daly refers to as uneconomic growth, which I define as an expansion of economic activity that in aggregate does more harm than good, ecologically, socially, politically, while reducing the need for labor with nearly all growth in wealth flowing to the 1% while the overall growth rate continues to drop as urbanization and deforestation reach natural limits and inequality slows the pseudo growth machine too.
I have friends who are practioners in the alternative energy industry saying let the market decide too, make it easier to do business. Two problems, The fossil fuel lobby has more money and their subsidies include the military industrial complex that undergirds 1% power. Besides the Koch family is funding efforts around the country to make it harder to install solar and wind power. We need to change the conversation, not just have the market destroy communities and ecosystems slightly less swiftly.
Funny how it is exactly the family most responsible for climate denying propaganda in the world, people who detest real evidence and science, who are also key funders of the most outrageous business climate reports. To me it is no surprise that the business climate reports are useless as policy prescriptions because the evidence they use is as thin as the science of climate deniers, and is paid for by the same ideologues.
Dealing with climate change is likely to be the most important thing people have to do for the next 100 years. It is way too important to be left to the 1%, And since so much of what happens in our communities happens via economic activity, that economic activity is way too important to be left to the 1%. The same people advocating for the Keystone XL pipeline are the same ones telling us to follow the business climate prescriptions. No community input, no right to protest, no regulations, low taxes, military subsidies for the oil industry, lax regulations of chemicals, undo the clean water act. Allow developers to build anywhere, and then keep flood insurance payments artificially low, allowing the tax payers to subsidize the gross abandonment of common sense. That in a nutshell is the business climate prescription. Public loss, private profit and prevent dissension from getting out of hand. The ideologues of the right detest the fact that helping our communities reduce the heat index and cope with the problems created by climate change will take strong regulation of fossil fuel emissions, promotion of alternative energy, a shrinking of the military, a reduced effort to go ever further and deeper to get fossil fuels, an understanding of limits, investment in communities, improving food security, and real democracy. And they are willing to stop at nothing to maintain their power and privilege.
I read a world bank study on their forest lending programs. http://www.redd-monitor.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/ForestCODE-Jan-2013.pdf Forest dwellers tend to be the most disenfranchised, disempowered and marginalized people in their countries. Monetarily they are the poorest people, the least attached to the modern economy, though if left alone in the forest often they are more well nourished than tenant and small holder agriculturalists or slum dwellers in the cities. As forests are among the most valuable resources on the planet, and one of the most critical for the development of urban economies, the powerful have been stealing forests forever. I wrote an article analyzing the World Bank report https://prosperityforri.com/the-world-bank-sort-of-figures-it-out/
Here are some of the key findings I picked out
WB 2.79 page 56 The focus on engaging local resource users in decision-making is a vital element of resource management that holds potential for increasing synergy among the three pillars. Increased local participation in environmental management is viewed as a means to eliminate inefficiency and corruption in administration of the forestry sector while enhancing equity in the distribution of economic benefits.
WB 2.82 page 57 Across the World Bank forest-related projects in the Sahel, the failure to explicitly address asymmetrical power relationships between decentralized bodies and forestry agents is likely to reduce the ability of local groups to actually exercise decision-making power in forest management.
WB Page 100 The evolution of the partnerships towards holistic landscape-level approaches that combine forest conservation and SFM with climate change mitigation and adaptation, improved food security and climate smart agricultural development are important achievements. The Bank‘s efforts to integrate broader governance concerns and issues, including the efforts to protect and enhance the rights of indigenous forest-dependent communities, into these approaches are also recognized as important achievements.
In plain English, following the dictates of the rich and powerful, allowing business as usual makes poverty worse, harms ecosystems, and undermines democracy ion forest communities and nations. In Rhode Island it is not the residents of East Greenwich that need economic development, it is the people of our EJ communities, our communities full of Brownfields: Olneyville, Pawtucket, Central Falls, West Warwick. Old industrial places that electric power grids and automobiles made obsolete. The people of these communities are the disempowered, disenfranchised, marginalized people of Rhode Island. I would argue that just as the World Bank found that only systematic efforts to neutralize the power of the 1% so that the community could make its own decisions lead to good economic outcomes (always linked to good ecological outcomes) for the people in the community. In Rhode Island the same things apply. And that dealing with climate change is the way forward if we use the tools available.
I can assert anything I want. I have tried mightily in this short essay to avoid the details and footnotes, but ultimately a fully documented description is necessary to make a radical case break the log jam the powerful have put in our way, And to weave all of the connections that are necessary to a full understanding of the problems and the way forward. I hope to have it written by summer. In the mean time send comments and questions. greg