This book has sought to demonstrate that over the course of centuries first the Western economy and then the global economy developed a structural bias in favor of commoditization. In spite of the material comforts and cultural benefits that commoditization has brought, it also has many profoundly negative consequences for humankind. These include the systematic impoverishment of the nonmarket aspects of social life, including the nurturing of families, communities, and other human relationships, and the care for the Earth. It is now time to consider some corrective actions that we can take. Before examining our options, however, it will be helpful to review the logic of the argument that has been made in these pages:
The human economy and human societies are wholly dependent subsystems of the natural world and global ecological relationships.
The material and energy used and harmful byproducts released by the economy are threatening to disrupt the natural world and seriously threaten the health and well-being of the Earth, many of its creatures, including humans, and the diversity of ecological systems that have evolved here.
The solution to this crisis is to significantly reduce the impact of human economic activities on the Earth’s environment.
There are three ways to decrease the burden humans place on the Earth’s ecosystems, the first two of which we would hope to avoid: (1) reduce the human population through mass death and shortened life spans; (2) reduce economic prospects, increase poverty, and eliminate the chance for prosperity for most of the world’s people; or (3) reform the human economy so that it produces the prerequisites for a good life for all while limiting its physical impact to levels compatible with a healthy environment.
The technology and social changes required to accomplish option 3 above are well understood but grossly underdeveloped.
This underdevelopment is a direct result of commoditization, which operates as a systematic selection pressure favoring those goods and services with characteristics that make them most fit as commodities for exchange.
Any selection pressure operating in a self-organized system such as the human economy acts over time to gradually expand the number of entities that carry preferred characteristics, thus crowding out and eliminating those entities that lack the preferred characteristics.
The technology and social institutions necessary for sustainable development will promote goods and services with the following characteristics, which lack commodity potential:
– They are customized to specific geographic, ecological, and cultural conditions.
– 205They require craftsmanship and stewardship grounded in deep knowledge of the specific conditions of end-use.
– They are built on relationships of caring, sharing, and collective effort among people.
– They are based on respect and understanding of the natural world and the principles of ecology and ecosystem dynamics.
– They are simple, thrifty, and efficient.
– They are built to last, to be easily repaired and upgraded or recycled into other goods or into the cycles of the earth.
Since these characteristics are exactly those that are selected out by commoditization, if sustainable development is to be achieved, a decommoditization strategy of political intervention in the economy is essential to counteract the effects of commoditization.
Public concerns about the state of the environment can be channeled toward economic reform if the public understands the ways in which the structure of the economic system presently undermines efforts to restore and protect environmental values and the possibilities for adjusting social rules and practices in ways that are consistent with ecological facts.
The only way to limit market forces without diminishing freedom is if the capacity to regulate markets, raise resources for public use, and allocate public resources toward the common good is actively controlled by democratic institutions accountable to an engaged public.
A “green” economy and a “green” democracy are best organized in a hierarchically nested series of democratically controlled jurisdictions that mirror the ecological organization of the planet.