None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid...

None of our most profitable industries are actually profitable at all without ripping off the environment. How sick is that!

The notion of “externalities” ... refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.

... if we take the idea seriously ... its implications are positively revolutionary.

... a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

First, the total unpriced natural capital consumed by the more than 1,000 “global primary production and primary processing region-sectors” amounts to $7.3 trillion a year — 13 percent of 2009 global GDP.

(A “region-sector” is a particular industry in a particular region — say, wheat farming in East Asia.)

Second, surprising no one, coal is the enemy of the human race.

Trucost’s third big finding is the coup de grace. Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated.

The distance between today’s industrial systems and truly sustainable industrial systems systems that do not spend down stored natural capital but instead integrate into current energy and material flows — is not one of degree, but one of kind. What’s needed is not just better accounting but a new global industrial system, a new way of providing for human wellbeing, and fast. That means a revolution. [Font size 12 and 14 mine]

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Tags: externalities

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Replies to This Discussion

Privatize the profits; socialize the costs.

American Capitalism abbreviated, and perhaps the name of a new discussion on AN.

Please consider starting a discussion here if you have a lot to say on that. No need to create a 1,085th group.


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