Green means $$$

Of course, can’t leave that out. It’s the reason any of this has been conflated into the marketing vortex that it is. So we deign to talk about it; but the minute we do, it’s in need of immediate unpacking.

When discussions about what to do in the face of dramatic climate change brought about by CO2 emissions are constantly framed in terms of what we (i.e., businesses) can afford to do, what’s doable politically, what’s pragmatic, the need for market solutions, etcetera, it might be a good time to remember the purpose of government. There is no need to negotiate with ourselves about just what the most powerful among us might be willing to do to ameliorate a self-induced calamity. Relying on market incentives is the slow way of doing nothing.

We all want to understand, the cut to the chase, to make it simple, to separate the signal from the noise. But to actually do this will entail waking some uncomfortable bedfellows.

It will be no easy business to reappraise the relationship between citizens, the government and business. But it never was, not even in the first place.

According to Locke, the State of Nature, the natural condition of mankind, is a state of perfect and complete liberty to conduct one’s life as one best sees fit, free from the interference of others. This does not mean, however, that it is a state of license: one is not free to do anything at all one pleases, or even anything that one judges to be in one’s interest. The State of Nature, although a state wherein there is no civil authority or government to punish people for transgressions against laws, is not a state without morality. The State of Nature is pre-political, but it is not pre-moral. Persons are assumed to be equal to one another in such a state, and therefore equally capable of discovering and being bound by the Law of Nature. The Law of Nature, which is on Locke’s view the basis of all morality, and given to us by God, commands that we not harm others with regards to their “life, health, liberty, or possessions” (par. 6). Because we all belong equally to God, and because we cannot take away that which is rightfully His, we are prohibited from harming one another. So, the State of Nature is a state of liberty where persons are free to pursue their own interests and plans, free from interference, and, because of the Law of Nature and the restrictions that it imposes upon persons, it is relatively peaceful.

And then, there’s JJ Rousseau:

As time passed, however, humanity faced certain changes. As the overall population increased, the means by which people could satisfy their needs had to change. People slowly began to live together in small families, and then in small communities. Divisions of labor were introduced, both within and between families, and discoveries and inventions made life easier, giving rise to leisure time. Such leisure time inevitably led people to make comparisons between themselves and others, resulting in public values, leading to shame and envy, pride and contempt. Most importantly however, according to Rousseau, was the invention of private property, which constituted the pivotal moment in humanity’s evolution out of a simple, pure state into one characterized by greed, competition, vanity, inequality, and vice. For Rousseau the invention of property constitutes humanity’s ‘fall from grace’ out of the State of Nature.

Having introduced private property, initial conditions of inequality became more pronounced. Some have property and others are forced to work for them, and the development of social classes begins. Eventually, those who have property notice that it would be in their interests to create a government that would protect private property from those who do not have it but can see that they might be able to acquire it by force. So, government gets established, through a contract, which purports to guarantee equality and protection for all, even though its true purpose is to fossilize the very inequalities that private property has produced. In other words, the contract, which claims to be in the interests of everyone equally, is really in the interests of the few who have become stronger and richer as a result of the developments of private property. This is the naturalized social contract, which Rousseau views as responsible for the conflict and competition from which modern society suffers.

The normative social contract, argued for by Rousseau in The Social Contract (1762), is meant to respond to this sorry state of affairs and to remedy the social and moral ills that have been produced by the development of society. The distinction between history and justification, between the factual situation of mankind and how it ought to live together, is of the utmost importance to Rousseau. While we ought not to ignore history, nor ignore the causes of the problems we face, we must resolve those problems through our capacity to choose how we ought to live. Might never makes right, despite how often it pretends that it can.

All this is to say that ‘to guarantee equality and protection for all’ has to be extended and the ability to do so is within the power of people living under government by consent. You give yours in any number of ways. If you want light rail systems and other public transit infrastructure, a different system of tax allocation, less dough spent on highways, more solar energy, whatever… if you want these things agitate for them.

Green means $$$ and how we spend it.