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A New Eco-Economic Paradigm

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/07/10/new-eco-economic-paradigm

The late Prof. H.T. Odum, who was a colleague of mine, developed a concept which he termed “emergy”, the underlying principle being that energy flows should be quantified by the solar equivalents that it took to create them. An economic system, he then posited, could then be structured around “emdollars”. While the concepts definitely appealed to me and many others, there were numerous challenges to faced in the actual quantification and calibration of many elements in the vast elements in the systems and subsystems of society and Nature, who Did have a seat in his structure. His work certainly reflected the thinking of indigenous Peoples all over the globe, although not by intent, I believe. Those inclined to give Nature her due tend to develop ethics that reflect such valuation.

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“Government planning could overcome many problems at once by constructing thousands of large, comfortable apartment buildings, create walkable neighborhoods and city centers. Housing affordable again for all families and a better standard of living. Practical public transit and needed density for it to work, and most travel/transport electric. People bike and walk with healthy outcomes. Civil engineers at Strong Towns argue suburbia is economically unsustainable. The expense of spread-out infrastructure: by adding a bit of light density “mixed-use” [not large apartment blocks] for areas that benefit immediately and an economy more effectively equitably distributing resources and serving needs.”

“For those who would still want cars, the government could provide large subsidies to buy electric cars, and the Interstate Renewable Electricity System could extend down to the house, allowing people to lease solar panels and electric charging stations so that they could benefit from the lower operating costs of electric cars.”

This next paragraph is interesting enough to stand unedited, my bad habit. But I disagree with its opening statement “For those who would still want cars” was a tad condescending. Every household and apartment block should have many EVs in the garage and carport. Density is a 4-letter word. I prefer Diversity - economically ‘diverse’ mixed-use development patterns. Density alone can prevent an economically diverse development pattern.

Wellan, those are good points and I don’t mean to be condescending, although I don’t like cars, to be honest. However, I know most of the public does. In the context of systemic view of how to create an environmentally sustainable and economically just system, it makes more sense, it seems to me, to encourage density because that is much more efficient economically and resource and space-wise, and therefore it becomes easier to spread the wealth to the entire population. The whole agenda is built to eliminate poverty so that density should not be a luxury of the upper middle class and rich, which it often is now. I’m trying to paint a picture of what we have the technological capacity to implement.

I have great respect for the Odums, who developed the idea of ecosystems and used a systems approach. I prefer to focus on a more ‘functional’ approach, instead of reducing everything to energy; at least in terms of transferring their work to the economy, I think it makes more sense to think of an ecosystem in terms of functional niches.

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And many follow you or me most to find equity.
The machines. Too big. Drive much farther. fly.
Burn the world behind?

My VHS copy of “Cider House Rules” will be viewed tonight.
King Kong and all that.