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Economies of Stale 

by PAUL K. HAEDER & r & & r & GUEST EDITORIAL Unless we change our basic economic playbook, Bill McKibben says we may be doomed

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "S & lt;/span & mall is beautiful" is an axiom lost on many Americans bent on acquiring more material goods at the expense of nature. For journalist and author Bill McKibben, the best way to live that way is centered on building upon and maximizing our local economies. That's the message of his new book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. McKibben will be in Spokane Tuesday to discuss his book and the sad state of the planet.

McKibben, whose work on global warming precedes anything Al Gore may have conjured up recently, uses a broad paintbrush to give the reader a sense of our current economics of pain, exploitation and competition. Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, LBJ, Bill Clinton and the Bushes have all proposed that our society is uniquely entitled to absolute, unrestrained growth -- in fact, many purport we're divinely hardwired to feed the engine of resource hoarding and untamed capitalism, the rest of the world be damned.

McKibben says that's the problem: "The median predictions of the world's climatologists -- by no means the worst-case scenario -- show that unless we take truly enormous steps to rein in our use of fossil fuels, we can expect average temperatures to rise another four or five degrees before the century is out, making the globe warmer than it's been since long before primates appeared.

"We might as well stop calling it Earth and have a contest to pick some new name, because it will be a different planet," McKibben adds from his home in Vermont. "Humans have never done anything more profound, not even when we invented nuclear weapons."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & o combat all that history and dread, McKibben suggests a turn to "deep ecology," which is best defined by contrasting what it isn't. "Shallow ecology" is what we have now, a human-centered way of putting nature last in every equation. Deep ecology, on the other hand, defines the world not as a hierarchal collection of objects but as a network of phenomena that are interconnected and interdependent. Deep economy, then, recognizes the intrinsic value of all life within a strong web of local economic life.

The concept of ecology and environmentalism, barely articulated starting in the 1930s, has always taken a back seat to the grip of power held by churches, kings, despots and now societies that have vaulted corporations to a level of final arbiter of values and common destiny. And economics has been the Achilles' heel of social activists, ranging from civil rights workers to environmentalists. They have just never understood the language or thinking of economists.

And that's why McKibben's voice is so powerful -- he uses economics to prove his points. In Deep Economy, for example, he looks beyond the subject of economics to pose a key question: What is the economy for? Experts in so many fields -- and activists tied to such local groups as the Lands Council, Futurewise and Save Our Wild Salmon -- realize that there are few outcomes from our relentless push for growth that don't speak of a monumental environmental disaster.

In his provocative 1989 book, The End of Nature, McKibben illustrated that the changes humankind has made and is continuing to make to the atmosphere's chemistry are not the kind of environmental disruptions we have experienced in the past. His message honed in on the fact that we can't escape the climatic effects by fleeing to some solar-powered cabin in the woods; we've begun to alter the global processes that define our environment.

For McKibben, the human hand acting on the Earth is not a guiding hand but one that's inherently clumsy. The truth is that most of our influence on climate has been unintentional. It's now a less predictable world, fraught with a violence staged by the triumvirate of colliding forces: changing temperatures, sea levels and mutating atmospheric chemistry.

This mess is largely based on capitalism and greedy economics of resource exploitation, and on our own propensity to separate humans from nature.

"In the 20th century, two completely different models of how to run an economy battled for supremacy," says McKibben. "Ours won, and not only because it produced more goods than socialized state economies. It also produced far more freedom, far less horror. But now that victory is starting to look Pyrrhic; in our overheated and under-happy state, we need some new ideas."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n this new stage in McKibben's journalistic journey, we see the natural outgrowth of dealing with our ecological stressors and impending collapses through a new lens, one that most every economist has missed -- through local interdependence and sustainable use of resources.

"We've gone too far down the road we're traveling," McKibben adds. "The time has come to search the map, to strike off in new directions. Inertia is a powerful force; marriages and corporations and nations continue in motion until something big diverts them. But in our new world, we have much to fear, and also much to desire, and together they can set us on a new, more promising course."

Bill McKibben will be in Spokane on Tuesday, April 3, first at a reception at 5 pm at the Community Building (35 W. Main Ave.), and later at 7 pm at Gonzaga University's Globe Room of Cataldo Hall. Both events are free and open to the public. Paul Haeder is the sustainability liaison at Spokane Falls Community College, where he also teaches English. His KYRS radio show, Tipping Points: Voices on the Edge, covers sustainability issues. Check out for more information.

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