My Turn: Alaska can lead the green economy

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2007

At the heart of our global problems are the sins of greed and gluttony that our global economic system supports and encourages.

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No religious doctrine supports the greed and gluttony that our business and political leaders practice. It is time to bring the economic discussion front and center and have a real debate about why a few people feel it is justified to make several hundred thousands, millions or billions of dollars a year to live comfortably. This money is being made at the expense of other people and places. If there is any hope of us existing in harmony with each other, we are going to have to change our economic system.

Some people think that obtaining extreme wealth with the use of the world's resources is a right and that they deserve the wealth the free market produces for their efforts. This group argues that everyone is free to make such wealth. Yet we know everyone is not free to make this extreme wealth, regardless of their intelligence and work effort. For society to exist, a large fraction of the population is needed to bring food to market, and we know these people can't charge prices that would provide them yearly incomes of millions or billions of dollars.

These people work just as hard, if not harder, and are just as intelligent, if not more intelligent, as our rich business and political leaders who claim it is their right to make millions or billions of dollars a year. We are all dependent on the people who bring food to market, including the extremely wealthy. It is not possible for all people to make such riches, so why do we allow a select few?

I have worked in the environmental sciences for the past 25 years, collecting data on our water quality and quantity, air quality, soil quality and flora and fauna populations. In this time, I made one vitally important observation: Most people have lost touch of what is actually a basic necessity, regardless of religion or political party. We think that maintaining the current economic structure takes precedent and is a justification to destroy our lands, seas, lakes and rivers, or chronically pollute the air, water and soil.

An example is the Pebble Mine. Let's face it; it is not in the best interest of Alaska, the United States or the world to put the world's largest gold and copper mine in the heart of the world's richest salmon habitat. The reason this proposal is before us is because wealthy people are seeking to maintain their immoral riches through the economic structure of stocks and corporations. Providing gold and copper to society and jobs to the local communities is just a by product. Our collective intelligence knows we should be working to completely recycle these metals from our landfills before starting new mines. If a new mine is started, it can't be scaled to maintain excessive incomes.

And if we want to solve the problem of unemployment, we need to address the component in the economic system that creates it. This false notion that economic competition is necessary and good for the economy is absurd. Economic competition creates unemployment and forces society to demand cheap goods and services. This results in people being paid unlivable wages and our basic necessities are polluted and destroyed. We need to change our economy to have a full employment ideal.

So many of today's problems can be solved if we chose to cooperate economically rather than compete. Consider Alaska's Railbelt: Even Gov. Sarah Palin writes that cooperation is key to its future (Homer Tribune, July 11).

If Alaskans chose to cooperate, we could have electricity that pays good livable wages to the people who maintain the system and use best-available technologies instead of mining and burning coal, practices we know the air cannot handle. As users of this power, we will all have to cooperate by paying the true cost of power production. Our reward, a reliable power source that is not responsible for pumping mercury and coal dust into the atmosphere.

As Palin pulls together a special legislative session for this October, not only should she continue to push for a location that is more accessible to all Alaskans, she should shift the topic of discussion to changing our economic system. We have an engaged citizenry. All we have to do is cooperate, and the first place to start is to come to a consensus that greed is immoral and needs to be eliminated from our economy and our democracy.

It is possible. Alaska can lead the world in this change.

• Joel Cooper is an environmental scientist and Homer resident.

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