Science vs Economics: The need for economics ‘in a new key’

by Adam Davidson-Harden with Andrea Loken, Teachers, OSSTF Limestone District 27, ECA co-founders

Natural sciences are based on “the systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts.” Natural science is based on evidence. It is in search of discovering “facts” about the observable world – the laws of nature – which are non-negotiable and already exist.

While all disciplines seek truth, economics, as a social science – as Marx and many others after him have pointed out – is tied to questions of politics, history, and competing ideologies. Social science is never ‘value-free’ or ‘neutral’. Current thinking in ‘ecological economics’, or in other schools of economics from left perspectives, deliberately embraces the rootedness of economics in certain sets of values, philosophies and ideologies that seek to meet human needs or promote true ecological sustainability. Orthodox (or in other terms, ‘neoclassical’ or ‘neoliberal’) economics, pretending as it does to be a ‘value-free’, predictive cousin to the natural sciences, is still laden with values, namely in the service of the status quo of neoliberal capitalism. Its position is clearly stated through its pretense to ‘objectivity’, in not asking – or even allowing – critical questions concerning social justice and ecological sustainability to enter into conversations about what ‘well-being’ means, economically. This market-centred, myopic way of looking at the world externalizes any question except profit or aggregate monetary values, expressed in traditional metrics like Gross Domestic Product. Of course, different schools of economics have innovated different metrics, though they have yet to gain any widespread acceptance by governments that ardently cling to our capitalist status quo.

Under the banner of a ‘value-free’ analysis, dominant schools of economics have fit comfortably into the neoliberal capitalist policy programme of ‘austerity’ – the deliberate impoverishment of states’ capacity to legislate and fund programs and policies in the public (social/ecological) interest. Such policies are always justified in the name of fiscal prudence, where social reforms must always bear the brunt of ‘belt-tightening’ (and concomitantly, corporate taxation must be reduced and social inequality allowed to grow). This continued attack on what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu termed the ‘left hand of the state’, privileging the ‘right hand of the state’ in giving the advantage to the wealthy and corporations, has naturally resulted in a drift toward increasing inequality, including in Canada (or our corner of Turtle Island – see this video). The impoverishment of the state when it comes to fulfilling the realization of ‘social citizenship’ through programs such as adequately funded health care and education, or through adequately legislated and funded protections for our natural environments, must always take a back seat to priorities of profit-making. Austerity has increasingly been revealed for the neoliberal policy program that it is: a school of thought to externalize any substantive social or ecological concern, which works to increase social stratification and global inequality.

Ultimately then, following the insights of economics ‘in a different key’, we need a radically new vision of how economics should work. We need to stop letting the corporations and a few at the top dictate the plan. This necessity is painfully obvious today with respect to fossil fuel corporations and the reality of climate change. As Naomi Klein states: “We cannot solve this crisis without a profound ideological shift.” We can make up new rules for economics, but not for nature. Science and mother Earth will win. We might as well get on her side.

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p.s. Please consider sharing our blog/posts and petition on your social media platform or share with friends and colleagues via email. If we are to affect change as quickly as is necessary, we really need everyone to become involved. All of us have a stake in our pensions and care about a planet that is livable in the future. The urgency is only going to become more and more apparent. No one is coming to save us. The power is within ourselves – each individual – to change the current system. We hope you can join the growing chorus!

Why divestment if, arguably, it won’t hurt fossil fuel companies?

by Andrea Loken, science Teacher and ECA co-founder

It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Divestment is working – for what we want to achieve.

Divestment is not about hurting the fossil fuel companies in the short term. It may be true that within our current economic model, to sell off stocks in fossil fuel companies just means that someone else will buy them, causing no net harm and the industry will chug along.

Divestment is about exposing fossil fuel companies and the elites who run them as morally reprehensible; it is about choosing alternative, sustainable energy sources; and it is about creating a new model for our economic system that works for more than just the 1%.

On the first point: In one of the articles in the grounding breaking series about climate change published by the Guardian newspaper, an excellent analogy was made to slavery. Slavery was and is profitable. But as society has shifted its ideas, slavery is now considered by most to be an offensive practice. The human suffering and cost is simply not acceptable. Fossil fuel companies should be seen in this way. They should not be allowed to operate, let alone profit, at the cost of wrecking our life support systems.

Secondly, we already know how to produce energy sustainably. A new energy grid could be de-centralized, diverse and reliable. We can also become massively more efficient with local consumption and co-generation of energy. Communities around the world are already doing this. In addition, we need to stop viewing the planet as our smorgasbord – gluttonously consuming everything we can and treating the earth as our trash can. This mentality is fruitfully broken down by the good folks at the Story of Stuff Project.

Thirdly, as mentioned in our last post, our economic system isn’t working. It has worked wonderfully in the last 30 years to transfer wealth from the public sphere to a few elite. No one organism is more entitled to the earth’s resources than any other. But somehow we have become conditioned to believe that a certain amount of greed is okay; some people must work harder than others and therefore must deserve more. Here is an article (and the abridged version), written by a member of this super-elite who explains the folly in this type of thinking.

The same forces that have decimated indigenous people all over the world, have oppressed minorities of every kind, and fostered violence against women, are now attacking labour. The point is to divide and conquer – to have us fighting each other rather than working together to reject the corporate enslavement and build a better model. “Another world is possible,” is a common chant of youth at climate rallies and other protests all around the world. Make no mistake; we WILL build a better world and it may need to break the current system first. As climate activist, Tim DeChristopher, puts it in this speech, “maybe we are trying to ruin the economy.” We want nothing less than a world where everyone can thrive and prosper. It is entirely possible. Watch this profoundly moving video by spoken word artist Shane Koyczan. “We can do this.”

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p.s. Please consider sharing our blog/posts and petition on your social media platform or share with friends and colleagues via email. If we are to affect change as quickly as is necessary, we really need everyone to become involved. All of us have a stake in our pensions and care about a planet that is livable in the future. The urgency is only going to become more and more apparent. No one is coming to save us. The power is within ourselves – each individual – to change the current system. We hope you can join the growing chorus!

Do you want to help build the Educators Climate Alliance?

We are building a grassroots movement within our unions (beginning with OSSTF and aiming to engage ETFO, OECTA, AEFO and CUPE) to address climate change. We know that educators and our unions are vital to the solutions. Awareness is growing by leaps and bounds and we want our unions to take their rightful places as leaders in the fight for social justice and human rights. We know we can do this. As columnist George Monbiot said recently in the Guardian, “It is a David v Goliath battle, but we believe it can be won.”

We want to help our leaders understand how important this is – not an ‘issue’, but a ‘civilization wake-up call’ [- Naomi Klein]. Therefore, we hope to inspire grassroots educators to do everything possible to make our voices heard. We should never underestimate our ability as individuals to inspire others.

We want to share our resources, but also tap into the talents of our fellow colleagues. You can find a downloadable flyer explaining what the ECA is trying to do here. If you are a member of an educators’ union and you would like to get things going in your district or your union, contact us. If you would like to write a blog post or share other expertise or resources, please contact us at educatorsclimate@gmail.com.

Please see our homepage and previous posts for more information.

Youth Are Taking the Government to Court Over Its Failure to Address Climate Change

educators climate alliance

Governments aren’t going to save us without a big push. Perhaps educators and unions could show the way… But that would mean taking on the corporate power structure.
http://www.thenation.com/blog/179533/can-ancient-doctrine-force-government-act-climate-change

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[Video] What is fossil fuel divestment and why does it matter?

Excellent 2.5 min video – http://gu.com/p/46zqd/stw

“Unless there is political pressure to change, nothing will change.”

Educators Climate Alliance couldn’t agree more. Real political pressure comes from gutsy acts that show we are willing to ‘put our money where our mouth is.’ That is why the ECA is urging bold action such as disinvestment – so that we educators can say honestly that we INVEST in kids’ futures.

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p.s. Please consider sharing our blog/posts and petition on your social media platform or share with friends and colleagues via email. If we are to affect change as quickly as is necessary, we really need everyone to become involved. All of us have a stake in our pensions and care about a planet that is livable in the future. The urgency is only going to become more and more apparent. No one is coming to save us. The power is within ourselves – each individual – to change the current system. We hope you can join the growing chorus!