Footprint Charges For A Sustainable Economy – A New Social Contract

(Opinion piece by Anand Gandharva.)

How a new social contract based on individual and collective footprint charges can reinforce a sustainable economy.

We live in a consumerist society. Individual will and responsibility, but collective purpose. Ideal?
No, not all is well.

Humans are tied to nature and exist because of it. It may be useful, awe-inspiring, poetic, a science marvel, and beautiful, artistic wonder, but it is also a tough world.

Footprint Charges For A Sustainable Economy – A New Social Contract

The sectors that supply sustenance, products and services should obey stewardship laws. If one gets the OK to use the environment, one pays for the privilege and obeys the laws.

Sensible rules, no abuse of common good or special favours: laws apply to all.

But what is the ‘common good’?

And that can be a problem. E.g., define mining rights, logging or farming method.

For example, the careless grower in wheat farming areas, causing soils to erode by deep ploughing, exposing and loosening the ground to darken the land in dust storms, may push out responsible farmers.

The reason? Simple, the bread can be cheaper. We do not charge for, and the customer king often does not factor in, stewardship and quality. Especially when environmental rules interfere with earning capacity.

We want to stretch the money as far as possible and often end up cashing in on environments.

Governments may not interfere.

It needs laws. Consumers often need to buy the lowest prices, but governments must set rules.

It is not fully fair to ask this of producers and service providers only: they offer jobs and seek profits and may perish in market pressures chasing customer satisfaction.

For example, a home may appear cheaper on the market, in capital costs, when it is a recurrent cost nightmare: electricity, flood zone damages, cheap cladding that can catch fire, skimping on cement etc. Standards in the building industry must be set.

States regulate food safety to ensure as best as possible, no one gets poisoned.

Abiding market forces, small farms raising poultry have been replaced by huge chicken gulags, where sickly fowl may live debeaked on penicillin for up to a year in a cage before they are slaughtered. It is grizzly and dehumanising but unseen.

Supermarket shelves for caged eggs and frozen chicken still thrive. Medical advice commercialised. Butchers hidden from sensitive eyes.

One can point out the horrible fate of animals, but as easily argued, the population continues to explode and (cheap) food is available.

This was not a universal issue before, but there are now eight billion people on Earth.

Population and technological growth, as well as facilitating integration of humanity in a Global Village and interplanetary people in the Space Age, demand a change in ethics.

Curtailing population growth has benefits, but the real problem is unrestrained resource use.

The United Nations and employer group, the World Economic Forum, calls for a new social contract to avert biosphere and economic collapse. What may that look like?

Focus On Human Nature

There is no strong link between diet and a fine personality. DNA is a gift of birth.

The truth may depend on the beholder. There are many ideas about nature’s origin and function, but we can agree that all want to breathe for however long one has.

If the desire of one interferes with the ability of another to exist, there is a problem.

Luckily, computers can now measure the impact of one’s consumption: the trail of footsteps.

The word ‘footprint’ came in new use with CO2, the often-invisible exhaust, yet also an essential part of life. We cannot see it but can die from it. People disagree on its danger.

No one of sound mind would sit long in a running fossil fuel car in a closed garage and live to tell the tale, but in Earth’s thin air envelope, extra CO2 supposedly is recycled by trees, soils and oceans. Or is it driving global warming?

Worrying that CO2 is rising is considered by some to be fake industry news: the ice on Earth’s poles melts every year, and some volcanos can release more CO2 in one explosion than 30 years of fossil fuel cars.
Maybe people are accelerating natural cycles?

And that’s the secret of footprints. One’s beliefs should be treated with dignity but measured.

We are individuals and have earned a right to believe what we wish and do what we want: but there are consequences.

User Pay: Equitable Accountability

In the past, when someone ‘poached’, they could be held to account. The same applies here. Whosoever takes from the common estate needs to get clearance. Why a free ride?

E.g., the log profit is sufficient to harvest forests and make government and business income. Why forsake natural abundance?

Using nature’s regeneration means lower taxes, more public servants, local jobs… and use of council roads, bridges, and homeless wildlife.

The timber industry enjoys regrowth benefits, and so does the taxpayer, wood producer, buyer and shop. Are we in it together? What about horses, tigers, birds, fish, etc.?

Why protesters? The free market is supposed to be a wonderful thing, but it may be a pyramid scheme that has been abusing environments.

Why not charge the true cost for environmental use? It is not a free asset but an inheritance. One that needs polishing rather than spoiling. What is it worth?

Yet to be correctly calculated by government economists, but roughly estimated by the World Economic Forum in Davos needing 10 trillion dollars‘ p.a. of planetary reconstruction investment, creating 395 million jobs and paying back through productivity.

We should pay for maintaining biodiversity. It allows for future harvests, like healthy soil or bees fertilising crops, and so on. Sensible investments, like looking after one’s home.

It is not a tree hugger’s dream but a duty of right thinking: we have been cutting holes in the fabric of our parachute.

To avoid a hard landing, all products and services that use nature (including air) should pay extra for exclusive land use, water, etc., including any farming, service and manufacturing products, attract a surcharge of an estimated 8%, instead of cost shifting to next generations.

The retail/wholesale price should reflect this charge. Revenues are to be placed in and distributed by Global Village environment accounts.

User Pay: Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economics

Charging extra for things is never popular, but it can be effective. Think of phasing out addictive tobacco products. It is not (yet) outlawing the habit but charging for actual social costs.

The exact amounts of environmental maintenance can be calculated on footprints and levied by a Department of Environmental Economics.

Paying extra could reduce incomes, and no one wants that, but slabs of income are now used to fund unnecessary habits.

The change from animal to plant proteins is enough to fund Earth’s rehabilitation over time and secure intergenerational economic security.

Applying ecological economics is an indispensable discipline for maintaining environments.

Earth is limited. What was normal and inexhaustible in the past with lower populations is now scarce.

Conventional economics fails to account for the full value of natural resources.

It should widely be examined in many disciplines and institutions, but ecological economics is already studied.

Everybody has received artificially low, subsidised prices to cater to the customer king, who is also the voter. Short-term gain, long-term pain. Unsustainable.

One answer lies in urging people to give up on mammal consumption, an unnecessary, cruel, destructive, genetically unethical and increasingly expensive habit that uses at least three times more land and resources than plants, feeds people predatory chemicals, undermines good government and adds to health costs.

Sure, some ecologies can only be of economic value through grazing, but that excludes the importance of leaving the land as wilderness. Yes, there is more short-term profit in cultivating fallow land, but at long-term losses.

There are also various jobs/incomes dependent on these industries. They need to be given time, possibly assistance, to adjust to a new situation of being phased out.

The many drugs and deficits in consuming animal tissue need further investigation, exposing, public education campaigns, and eventually outlawing.

From Opportunist Predator To Creator

Environmental mismanagement shows there was a serious mistake made by Adam Smith: he believed that genuine human interest drives the Economy.

OK, he made more than one wrong assumption: decades after his death, regulation of ‘laissez faire’ economics to stifle brazen cheats was brought in, and Karl Marx noted that materialist ‘winners’ generally don’t care enough about the unlucky.

There is little doubt that capitalism is flawed, has wrecked many environments, feeds elitism, needs adjusting, is a product of ‘natural selection’ and will be altered by genetics. Still, it grew and fed billions of humans, promoted the ‘best and brightest’, maximised predatory skills and personal responsibility.

How possibly to improve on that? Change human nature?

All states have to do to eventually ensure a liveable environment and fair Economy, using market mechanisms, is levying footprint. Money is a real motivation for behaviour.

It is not the habit that should be charged, but the impacts.

Eating mammals is engrained, believed now by many to be healthy and strengthening. It is also a time-tried economic activity, income and livelihood.

Yet many gladiators became herbivores to gain strength. Many historic figures promoted it, but few worry about animal DNA’s effect on human society, individual behaviour, and governance.

Many believe that mammals have proteins and nutrients but do not look at DNA and its influence on consciousness, health, morals and strength.

81,000,000, a fast-growing segment, do not use their mammal relatives – may be sickened by cruel treatment.

Consuming mammals does not go against jungle law but can undermine community rules and social coherence.

Users Pay To Navigate The Regenerative Limits Of Nature

With footprint charges added and subsidies slowly removed, mammal tissue prices rise. They are heavily subsidised and occasionally encourages human violence.

Do not only charge for CO2 but all use of natural resources, even when regenerated.

Do not create a market for lobbyists seeking to protect livelihoods or temporarily increase profits while habitat slowly collapses.

The natural environment is collapsing. Time to admit that the ‘customer king’ experiment is over, or better still, needs adjusting.

It currently powers our lowest common denominator: cheap prices, low quality, workers’ exploitation, & environmental disasters. It has failed.

As observed, ‘money makes the world go around’, but ‘you can’t eat it’.

Special interests can capture the state, which may manipulate public opinion. Low prices for now, but troubles later.

Quantum Physics Bias In Social Sciences

In Plato’s Republic, the state is not managed by ignoramuses, customer kings, acting without full knowledge but by informed thinkers.

Unless we enact footprint charges, we will be the architects of our demise.

A fundamental misconception in economics is that humans are apex predators. They are not. It is a phase in evolution, but no end station.

It was Adam Smith’s most significant error. We’re humans, neither wolves nor lambs; we can adjust peripheral instincts.

We once were warriors but can be peacemakers.

We live in 200+ feuding states, but a united Global Village and galaxy are calling.

The 200+ states have, over time, been integrated from clans and tribes to city states, provinces and federations.

People had to survive harsher conditions in the past, but now we are so populated it wrecks our natural habitat. It does not have to be so.

People are not predators: many lived millennia as herbivores. It is our choice to continue as marauders or stewards of nature.

Let no self-respecting economist, psychologist or social scientist separate what is consumed from how one thinks. ‘You are what you eat’: society becomes what it consumes.

The chemicals in animal tissue affect many, and just like one cannot divorce observer from observed in quantum physics, the new Economy must help keep the planet(s) sustainable, not sell out to past stomach habits.

The only universal language consumers around the Global Village respond to is price.

Charge for environmental footprint cost.

The market allows everyone to believe in what they want.

But it is user pays. It needs new laws.

A sustainable Economy needs footprint laws, calculating a charge to use nature responsibly, eventually banning harming mammals, including livestock, or consuming animal tissue. Vested interests may challenge but lead people to a dead end.

Population growth is ending the lone wolf fantasy: that nature is a free gift instead of a cradle to be cared for. Humans want nutrition, but it can be derived from plants. We are no predators by nature but by nurture.


Anand Gandharva is the pen name of a planner/columnist with degrees in philosophy and various business sciences, working with governments, communities, and enterprises.

Raised in the EU and educated in the US, he migrated to Australia in 1974.

He hopes the world will integrate into a sustainable Global Village, aim for herbivore habits, inclusive multicultural meritocracy, and a significant expansion of peoples and opportunity in the Space Age.

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