Reality Check

(#287) – The United States economy has multiplied 8 times since the 1950’s and our President says we are steadily making progress out of the Great Recession. There is downward pressure on electricity costs due to the abundance of natural gas. Food  and water remain abundant. The stock market is higher than ever before. According to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, this is the script of a Ponzi economy.

A Ponzi economy can only last as long as new investment resources are sufficient to sustain the high rates of returns promised to previous investors. Those who run a Ponzi operation know it will eventually collapse but are willing to take the benefits of the tidal wave of personal benefits without regard to impacts on others.

The current economic policies that include the apparently positive attributes at the top of this column are a midway episode in a Ponzi economy that is both local and global.

It was also in the 1950’s that the US economy began to consume more new resources than the Earth produced and to spew more toxins into the atmosphere, land, water and air than earth could cleanse.  By 2009, consumption of Earth’s annual yield of natural assets was exceeded by 30%.  All known water aquifers are being over pumped and glacier melt portends water scarcity for billions of people in the near future. Three-quarters of fisheries are being over fished and some may never recover. Land-based animal production is already challenging the availability of possible new grasslands.  The actual cost of a gallon of gasoline is $12 without including all of the costs to human and environmental health. The actual cost of the price of natural gas and other fossil fuels is trillions of dollars more than the current bill we receive.

Paul Hawkens describes this as “stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic profit.”  He indicates that it is just as easy to develop an economy based on healing the future instead of stealing it.  Amory Lovins tell us that doing so is also less costly.

These are the realists.  The so-called free market is neither free of massive manipulation and domination by private commercial interests and government subordination to such interests.  The majority of economists remain in unsustainable patterns of thought; they issue false facts and figures.  The error is not marginal but stunning, huge and very destructive.

Here in Sullivan County we must engage far more comprehensively with this crisis of societal organization and governance.  We have the resources to do so effectively.  Many opportunities and programs are available to assist.

The Home Performance with Energy Star program provides a free residential energy audit and no out of pocket retrofit of homes for energy efficiency.  Partici-pation in this program actually saves the homeowner significant dollars from day one. A 7kw solar electric system, large enough to produce 90% or more of all the electricity for an energy efficient home, is available at final cost to owner of $9000. This price provides electricity for 25 years and reduces pollution impacts on personal and environmental health.

Compare that to the cost of the recent purchase frenzy of fossil fuel fired generators with their pollution and short life.  It’s perfectly clear which choice to make to build a Sullivan County sustainable economy worthy of its magnificent natural wealth.

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