Thursday, February 21, 2008

Green Markets and a Green Rule

Guest Perspective/Roy Morrison

My son Sam's 15. He’s on the freshman basketball team, soon to get his learner’s permit. I'm free with advice. Drive to the hoop. Don't stop on the tracks.

Following your parents’ and teachers’ advice generally serves us well as guide to an ethical and successful life. What we need to know, we learned in kindergarten.

Share toys. Don't hit. Be kind. Don't lie. Follow the Golden rule: Do onto others as others will do onto you.

We are the richest, most powerful nation in history. Our churches, synagogues, and now mosques are packed. My son was taught the Jewish sage Hillel's injunction: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

Yet somehow, as the climate changes and the earth warms, following a Golden rule is not enough.

The U.S. has the strongest environmental laws and is also the largest polluter. We have reached the climate tipping pain, not by back alley dumping and illegal power plants, but by being in compliance with CAFE standards, the Clean Air and Clean Water acts the Endangered Species Act et. al.

Building our dazzling civilization, model for the aspiring millions attempting to follow in our footsteps, we simply have not taken full account of the consequences of our actions upon the ecosphere. The free market that guides us sends us incomplete price signals. The costs of pollution, depletion and ecological damage are often not included in the price. They are externalized, as economists say. That means the costs are shifted to people downwind and to future generations. The cure is not revolution, or a bureaucrat writing rules.

If we get the prices right and have to charge true costs, the market will do its job and be sustainable. What's polluting will cost more and decrease profit. What's not polluting will cost less and increase profit. What’s sustainable will be cheaper. What’s polluting will be more expensive.

Economic growth must mean ecological improvement, not ecological destruction. This is the business and ethical imperative for the 21st century.

For business the solution is clear: tax pollution, depletion, and ecological damage not income. Ecological consumption taxes, such as a carbon tax or an ecological value added tax, a smart sales tax, should be phased in quickly to replace income taxes.

And the business imperative must be supported by an ethical imperative as guide to behavior.

Ethically we must learn a new Golden rule, a Green rule: Do onto the earth as the earth will do onto us. This is the rule of karma and consequence, what goes around comes around, applied to the 21st century. We need to practice a Green rule as the basis for a new common sense and sustainable market rules.

Green ethics and a green market go together like hand in glove. Together they are what we need to guide our choices in our democracy and entrepreneurial economy.

A Green Rule: Do onto the earth as the earth will do onto us, is not the imposition of a foreign doctrine. It is a statement affirming both freedom, and community, rooted in our right to choose.

Look at the back of a dollar bill in your wallet. The eagle on the Great Seal of the United States holds a ribbon in its mouth with the inscription: E Pluribus Unum, From many, one.

We are one people on one earth. By the practice of our freedom and community our industrial democracy can and will become a sustainable ecological democracy.

Roy Morrison is Director of the Office for Sustainability at Southern New Hampshire University. His book on ecological taxation, "Markets, Democracy & Survival," is available for download at

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