Pluto (toxicity, pollution) is settling in, after four years in Capricorn (economic infrastructures). So far, the transit has taught us quite a bit, in some arenas. For example, before the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 most of us probably hadn’t given a millimeter of brain space to dirty tricks with derivatives. Now, the dangers of casino capitalism are on the public’s radar.
It’s a start. But to match the radical necessity of these times, economic solutions have to go as deep as the ecological peril we are in. In this regard we are just scratching the surface.
Among many liberals the hope is that global warming can be solved by tweaks to the current system: investing in clean energy, improving emission standards, that kind of thing. The latest feint in the direction of incremental change is cap-and-trade, which might as well be called pay-to-pollute. It would force Big Energy to purchase permission to spew poison into the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the financial disincentive here is negligible. Although the new rules might put the squeeze on the smaller oil companies, for the companies who rake in billions of dollars every quarter, this new expense will be chump change. And unless the program is internationalized and enforceable, they’ll just hightail it to China, where dirty coal is the hot new ticket to wealth.
Opening up the discussion about cap-and-trade could, however, have educational value. Most consumers seem not to realize that oil is traded internationally, with suppliers selling wherever in the world they can get the highest price. What it sells for has nothing to do with where it was drilled. This will come as a shock to those credulous voters who have been bamboozled by the drill-baby-drill propaganda into believing that more domestic drilling means lower prices at the pump. (Ironically, the folks who rail the loudest about the price of gas tend to be the same slice of the electorate who hold as sacred a business’ untrammeled right to charge whatever it wants.)
The truth is that regulations and incentives for oil companies, and other market-based approaches, cannot by themselves turn around the ecocidal trajectory we are on. Real solutions require honest-to-goddess outside-the-box thinking. Such thinking is, by definition, not liberal but radical (Uranus), in the sense that it cuts to the root of the problem [from Latin radix, root]. It cannot help but violate taboo (Pluto), in the sense that it seems sacrilegious to conventional thinkers.
The box we have to think outside of is capitalism. As the radically lucid Peter Joseph has made clear, this would entail re-evaluating the viability of a system built on hyper-consumption. It would mean questioning the assumption that never-ending growth is natural, sustainable and desirable. It would mean challenging the idea that planned obsolescence and non-renewability should be rewarded with profit.
For Americans to even begin thinking along these lines would require asking themselves why they are so cowed by the accusation of — hold on: are the children out of earshot? — socialism, that most heinous of modern apostasies (I discuss how socialism got its frisson of taboo in this article). Once we start to question pinko-phobia, we may start to question capitalism. We may conclude that, at this point in the history of the Earth, re-thinking a system that prioritizes profit over the survival of living things is less a matter of ideology than of common sense.