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Collected Writings

Questioning the Earth's value — A ground-rent approach proposing a carbon sink industry(1)

Michael Eldred

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    Table of contents

    1. Introduction 

    2. Value

     3. Valuing the Earth: Ground-rent 

      4. A market approach to limiting carbon emissions via a carbon sink industry

    5. How self-interest can be aligned with a universal interest in environmental protection

     

    1. Introduction 

    The title seems strange. Why would anyone want to question the Earth's value? It has become increasingly apparent just how valuable and precious the Earth is for the support of all life on the planet, and how global human activity has come up against the limits of the finiteness of the Earth's resources, of the biosphere's eco-systems and even of the stratosphere's fragility. So one would want to say that it is self-evident that the Earth is immensely valuable, and the ecological movements that have arisen since the 1970s are responding to human (hyper-)activity that is now endangering the very viability of the planet. There is no need to underline here once more that the question of how we humans can live together on a finite Earth is one of the key issues of our time. 

    So there must be another angle to the question concerning the Earth's value. Putting the Earth's value into question means asking what is meant by a value of the Earth. Many peoples have practised a reverence toward the Earth in their religious cults, whereas, on the other hand, it has also been claimed that the Judaeo-Christian religion has taught that the Earth is God-given to be subjugated and exploited by humankind. Different historical cultural practices value the Earth differently, and this can and has become a subject for investigation and debate. But the perspective on the question of the Earth's value taken here is how the Earth is valued within that way of thinking and acting called the global market economy, otherwise known as global capitalism. How is the Earth valued in a global market economy, and how could this valuation be practised in such a way as to enhance living within the bounds of the Earth's finiteness? 

    Many will balk at these last questions, rejecting a standpoint that presupposes that 'capitalist relations of production', along with the profit motive, are 'eternal', or proposing that a category of 'social costs' be introduced to account for the 'true' value of the Earth apart from capitalist cost calculations. Others will insist that the Earth is 'priceless', or beyond any valuing whatsoever, and that to want to put a value on the Earth at all, and an economic value to boot, is already a perversity. There is certainly no shortage of opinions, underpinned by more or less well worked-out ideologies, including poor ideas and unreflected prejudices, that propagate turning away altogether from Western economic practices and ways of thinking that have led us into today's purported environmental impasse. 

    This article will not tackle these large questions directly and explicitly, but only take some elementary, albeit fundamental philosophical steps exploring the question of how the Earth is valued. In doing so, thinkers from the philosophical tradition to whom these reflections are indebted — Aristotle, Hegel  and Karl Marx in particular should be mentioned — will remain in the background but will be freely drawn upon. Especially the category of capitalist ground-rent that arose in the politicial economy of the eighteenth century and is associated with famous names such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo will come into play. A proposal will then be put forward based on an understanding of the Earth's valuation through ground-rent for developing a carbon sink industry to come to terms with ever-growing carbon emissions. 

    2. Value

    Value in a generalized market economy is a phenomenon of ongoing exchanges. Everything offered on the market is valued in terms of money, the value-mirror, and the value of something shows itself to actually be what it is in being sold for a certain price. Before something is sold, its value is only potential, i.e. a power that has not yet been realized in actually exchanging for money. Selling in this broad context covers also the hiring out of certain things for a price, such as labour power for wages, money-capital for interest and land for rent. The last of these will concern us in more detail later on. 

    In actually commanding a price on the market, things show themselves to have value in a practical process of social recognition and estimation of that value. The thing, no matter what it might be, tangible or intangible, validates in the act of exchange for money its value. Such exchanges take place between the owners, or at least the possessors, of things, and therefore they presuppose that things are privately possessed in the sense that such possession deprive others of access to the things in question so that the practice of sociation through exchange offers a way of acquiring what the other possesses nonetheless. In particular, all the usual commodity products sold on the market, including service products, show themselves to actually be values through the validation interplay of exchange. Their potential exchange-value is actually realized in the social practice of sale on the market for money. 

    This selling (or hiring) is an interplay of social recognition and estimation that the commodity thing in question is indeed valuable, and its value resides first of all in it being useful for something or other. This usefulness can be almost anything at all, ranging from the so-called necessities of living such a food and clothing through to the most whimsical item that may give its purchaser a kick simply by being in fashion. So things have exchange-value in commanding a price only because they have use-value in being useful in one or other of the customary usages of daily living. The one is derivative of the other, use-value being more basic. Nevertheless, it is in the money-mirror that all goods come together ('com-merce' in the literal sense) and have their value reflected in a single, unified measure that is also a quantitative one. In quantity, all qualities are abstracted from, so we can say that the exchange-value of things actualized in money is quantitative and therefore abstract. 

    Let us look more closely at what precisely is valued abstractly when a commodity is sold. The commodity has been produced or, if it is a service, it will be produced for the buyer. But what is production? Etymologically it is a leading-forth, i.e. a bringing-forth of something into presence and availability that was not present and available beforehand. The product that is brought forth, however, does not come from nothing, but from certain powers that are put to work for the process of production. These powers are basically fourfold. First of all there is the labour power of all those involved in producing the product from manual workers to managers whose job is to organize the production process, to designers and inventors who dreamt up the idea (or fore-sight) of the product in the first place. All these workers can be 'blamed' for the existence of the product or, conversely, the product owes its existence as something present and available to the workers who have effectively exercised their labour powers in putting them to work productively. Blame is the original sense of cause, whose Greek translation, ai)/tioj, means basically 'that on which something can be blamed' or, positively, 'that to which something is indebted'. But there are also other powers involved in the production process to which the product is indebted, for second of all there are the means of production, which may be simple (tools) or complex (machinery), crude or (technologically) sophisticated. These means themselves have already been produced with the aim in mind of employing them in a further production process. All those working with means of production of whatever kind, whether it be a pencil or an iron foundry, work purposefully with an aim in sight. They, constituting together a collective worker, know what they are doing and have fore-sight of the finished product that is to be brought forth and made available for the market. 

    The third power that is put to work in the production process are natural powers of the Earth itself. This is most conspicuous in agriculture and mining, where the production process itself would not be possible without the soil's fertility or the existence of ore in the ground, both of which are potentials, and thus powers, of pieces of the Earth's surface itself. But every production process in the widest sense, including also commercial processes of actually retailing goods to consumers, requires at least a location on the Earth, and this location can have great effects on the productivity of the production process, say, if it is situated within the shopping district of a big city or close to a transportation network, especially to one of its hubs. 

    The fourth power involved in the production process is what is worked upon, i.e. the materials which suffer themselves to be transformed by the other three powers. The materials are the passive powers in contrast to the three active powers: labour power, means of production and natural powers. 

    When a commodity product is sold, its selling price is indirectly the recognition and estimation of the value of all the powers involved in the production process, since the production process itself is always, in the literal sense, the co-operation of these four productive powers. In particular, means of production have been purchased, and thus their value has already been socially validated once, but their productive potential actualized in the current production process flows into a further valuation when the final, finished product is sold. It must be kept clearly in mind that the productivity of the labour power that has been hired and purposefully expended depends crucially on being expended in 'collaboration' with the other three powers in a particular planned constellation of powers at work. The value of the product realized in the selling price is thus not simply the sum of the values of the four productive powers involved in the production process, but a valuation of all four precisely in their working together. The overall valuation is more than, or rather, altogether different from,(2) the sum of the partial valuations because each valuation is an exchange interplay of estimation and validation in its own right. 

    It is important to distinguish clearly between the various powers at work here. The four productive powers mentioned are powers because, in being put to work in co-operation, they bring forth a product. The managerial, intellectual and manual labour powers involved in the labour process are not blind, but work together, as a collective worker, with the other 'factors of production' to knowingly produce something. The finished product available for the market is the foreseen end achieved by expending the productive powers. The exchange-value of the produced product, however, is a power of a different kind altogether. It is the power of commanding a certain price and thus of purchasing or hiring other commodities of whatever kind. The use-value of a consumer product is yet another kind of power, for the consumer product has the power to be used satisfactorily in usual daily practices. There does not have to be any congruence at all between exchange-value and use-value. What commands a high price can seem to have little use and vice versa. All that can be said is that something that is completely useless will also not have any exchange-value. Anything at all, no matter how apparently inconsequential and trivial, can command a value if it is desired for some kind of usage or other cultivated by some social group, some market segment or other (e.g. autograph collectors). 

    The character of exchange-value as commanding a price on the market is different in kind from productive powers also in that it is dependent upon the market interplay itself. Whereas the productive power of labour power, in particular, is exercised in combination with the other productive powers and in an interaction with the passive material to foreknowingly bring forth a product with predictable reliability, the exchange-value of a finished product on the market depends also on whether there are buyers in the market for the product in question and on how much they are prepared to pay, i.e. it depends upon the state of play of market interplay at any given moment. This is the well-known interplay between supply and demand that depends on both the many origins of willing sellers and the many origins of willing buyers. Even though a finished product may be worth something, just how much it is worth is determined only by the market interplay itself among all these different origins involved in the interplay of estimation. Exchange-value is the social power(3) of something to command a price, thus associating all market players in an interplay. 

    3. Valuing the Earth: Ground-rent 

    We turn now to consider more closely the natural powers of the Earth and how they acquire the power of exchange-value. As we have seen, natural powers are involved in the production process of all sorts of products in the broadest sense, including commercial services, even though this power may be only the situation of the plot of land on which production is undertaken in relation to the overall social economy. Natural powers may be exploited in all sorts of ways. Thus, the flowing current of a river may be used to generate electricity, or the elastic powers of steam may be used to drive a turbine, or the chemical powers of certain substances may be used to make adhesive. In each case, the natural power is harnessed by the ingenuity of human understanding that can see how these natural powers can be employed. The productivity of the production process depends crucially upon the human knowledge of how natural powers and potentials of all kinds can be employed productively, and one of the hallmarks of the modern age dating back to the seventeenth century has been the unleashing of natural productive powers in the form of technology through the mathematical natural sciences. 

    But what is the relation between technological powers and exchange-value? At any one time, those products that are produced with state-of-the-art technology will prevail on the market in determining how a product must be produced if it is to make a profit. Those production processes that are technologically not up to scratch will be forced from the market because they cannot compete with the technologically more productive production processes. A given, more productive technology will assert itself through market competition and force other enterprises to follow suit in adopting the new way of producing. The main proviso to this is that certain technological inventions can be patented for a time under the protection of state power, thus preventing other enterprises from following suit absolutely or compelling them to pay a licence fee to the patent-holder to employ the more productive technology. Apart from these barriers secured by state power to using a more powerful technology, the natural powers harnessed by modern production processes can be universalized without cost. 

    In the case of natural powers inhering in a plot of land or a given stretch of water, however, there is a barrier to producers in general harnessing these natural powers. This barrier is the private ownership of pieces of the Earth's surface, mainly landed property, but also in some cases leaseholds on rivers and lakes or parts of the ocean. Whereas air can be regarded as a natural power utilized in all production processes of whatever kind (if only because the workers in any labour process have to breathe), in general nothing is paid for the air because it is not monopolized by any owner. The same goes for the productive powers of, say, steam, because nobody owns the process of boiling water to make steam for a productive purpose. To locate an enterprise on a plot of land, however, demands the payment of rent to the landowner who monopolizes this given piece of the Earth's surface. 

    The selling price for any produced commodity product is a social estimation of all the productive powers that have worked together in producing that product, but only in the case that the natural powers involved in the production process have been monopolized by an owner can this owner claim a portion of the product's selling price in the form of ground-rent (or a patent licence fee, which is here left to one side). The rent paid for the use of land must be recouped in the selling price of the produced product if the enterprise is to be profitable, along with all the other costs. Furthermore, a production process on one plot of land in a given industry may be more productive that a production process on another plot of land in the same industry owing entirely to the natural powers of the land, allowing an extra-profit to be derived by working on the more productive plot. For instance, the production process of a fashion boutique in selling clothes to customers may be more productive in the sense of higher sales than that of another boutique at another location due to a better location, and the enhanced fertility of agricultural land on a flood plain will enable an extra-profit to be claimed compared to nearby agricultural land of inferior fertility. 

    Thus there are two kinds of ground-rent, both arising from monopolization of pieces of the Earth's surface by landowners. The first is monopoly rent paid to the landowner merely by virtue of him refusing access to his land unless a rent is paid. The other kind is differential rent that the landowner can demand and receive because production on his plot of land is more productive and therefore more profitable than on another plot of land. These two kinds of rent go into the selling price of the product as costs that must be recouped before any profit at all can be made. The rent, like all the other costs of production, must not be regarded as an effective cause of the selling price since the selling price itself comes about only in the market interplay. This is a corollary of not confusing productive powers with exchange-power, that is, with exchange-value. Nevertheless, for the purposes of calculating the profitability and hence the viability of a production process, the product's selling price breaks down into costs plus profit, and the costs break down into wages for labour power, circulating capital for raw and working materials, fixed capital for means of production and rent for land. If loan capital is also taken into account, there is a further cost deduction from gross profit to pay the interest to the lender of money-capital. 

    4. A market approach to limiting carbon emissions via a carbon sink industry

    So far, in questioning the Earth's value, we have seen that in a globalized market economy, the Earth is worth rent. That is its value under today's given socio-economic metabolism based on exchange among economic agents owning private property of all kinds. Rent only forms a component part of the selling price if the landowner monopolizes a piece of the Earth's surface and therefore can restrict entrepreneurial access to it. Otherwise, like all the other natural powers, it can be had for free and does not enter into the capitalist cost equation as a deduction from profit. That which can be had for free, however, is invariably abused, as if it were worthless, and this is evidenced by the growing pollution of the Earth by industrial countries in the twentieth century to the point where, in particular, the global warming attributed to 'greenhouse gas' emissions, especially that of CO2, has become a major problem confronting a now globalized humankind. 

    We will now focus on the problem of carbon emissions. Any approach to solving or ameliorating this problem via the markets and the capitalist profit incentive has to make a link between carbon emissions and a monetary cost, for this is the way discipline can be brought to bear on specifically capitalist production which always has to observe the discipline or simple, abstract boundard condition of augmenting value through its movement as capital rather than diminishing it. Instead of the users of carbon fossil fuels being able to burn them without paying for the load on the environment that carbon emissions represent, an economically and politically ingenious way must be developed and put into practice whereby, via the market, the costs of removing carbon from the atmosphere in an ecologically viable way are paid for in the sense of becoming an integral cost component of the circuit of value as capital. It must be emphasized that the problem of coming to terms with increasing carbon emissions is only partly a technological problem. The other, much more difficult part, in a capitalist economy, is how to make it worthwhile, i.e. profitable, for carbon to be removed, and this is a global political problem of how to make the Earth's surface ground-rent bearing. 

    There are already numerous technologies for enhancing the absorption of carbon in carbon sinks and, no doubt, many more can be developed and refined. Carbon sinks are those parts of the Earth's surface with a growing store of carbon and comprise the Earth's forests, soil and oceans. Reafforestation is perhaps the most well-known example of enhancing the Earth's absorption of carbon from the atmosphere, but there are many other natural and artificial ways of sequestering carbon including fixing it in the soil of steppes in the roots of grasses (e.g. methods of argriculture that do not till the soil, thus releasing carbon), and stimulating the growth of phyloplankton in the Earth's oceans by adding microparticles of iron to the sea waters. Apart from enhancing carbon sinks through specific technologies, the Earth itself naturally absorbs CO2 through all kinds of photosynthesis. Here the aim is not to discuss these various technologies that are already available, or others that could be invented, but only to consider how carbon sinks and the labour process of carbon sinking can be valued. 

    This approach is an alternative to a prohibitory, interventionist avenue whereby the world's governments act to put numeric limits on carbon emissions, currently known as the Kyoto Protocol. The carbon emissions market set up under the Kyoto Protocol is only a piecemeal provision that provides some flexibility for countries with high carbon emissions to manoeuvre within politically imposed limits. Carbon trading to date is an artificial market created by political fiat that is prone to all the defects and arbitrariness of a global political power struggle among states that is supposed to set the very market value for carbon emissions. A viable carbon-trading market, by contrast, would have to work through the ongoing market exchange of money for carbon absorption processes, natural or technologically enhanced. 

    What is needed is a capitalist carbon sink industry that can profitably invest in providing the world the service of removing carbon from the atmosphere. The profit-making enterprises in this industry would be paid for this service. But where would the money come from? In one approach, it could derive from governments raising a tax on emitters of carbon and then distributing these tax revenues to those enterprises in the carbon absorption business according to some scheme or other which evaluates those enterprises that make some sort of contribution to carbon absorption or at least to diminishing carbon emissions. This kind of approach is favoured by those for whom 'capitalism' and 'profit' are dirty words imbued with morally objectionable categories such as egoism and self-seeking, making (democratic) political intervention seem preferable for then, apparently, people's opinions and votes regarding environmental protection would be steering course rather than profit-seeking capitalist corporations acting opportunistically within the 'anarchic' interplay of market forces. As if political power struggles did not lead often to highly perverse outcomes that become immured in the inertia of the vested interests of sections of the populace. Those who put their faith in the power play of politics, both national and global, to save the planet rather than in the power play of market competition within rules of play laid down by political instances (national governments, global political organizations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, international treaties) overlook, however, that not only capitalist corporations are players on the world markets, but all of us are. Individuals exercise power not merely as citizens of countries with (or even without) democratic constitutions, but also as players on all sorts of markets, so that market outcomes, both beneficial and detrimental, which come about as something different from anything that self-interested market players intended, depend on their actions within the given rules of play. 

    In the present case, a carbon trading system intended to further the absorption and reduction of carbon emissions may indeed be set up by an international treaty such as the Kyoto Protocol, but such an artificial, politically defined market also has only artificial, politically defined market values. In short, the price of a tonne of carbon emissions in a politically defined carbon trading scheme is the ongoing outcome of the wavering national and global political power play that will inevitably bring about absurd results measured against the goal of effectively reducing carbon emissions and augmenting carbon absorption. Moreover, political regulation must be effected through words, and these words are cast into laws and regulations that inevitably grow into impenetrable thickets that ultimately have little to do with the desired goal. 

    Rather, to bring an effective, beneficial economic interplay into play, a more direct market link has to be made between carbon emission and carbon absorption in which the market interplay itself evaluates the bad (the cost) of carbon emissions and the good (the environmental benefit) of carbon absorption or the reduction of carbon emissions. After all, it is in market interchange among market players, both individual and collective, that the category and phenomenon of value is truly at home. For a market to come about, it is vital first of all that carbon emissions be measured more or less accurately. The main sources of such emissions are known: power stations burning fossil fuels, motor vehicles and aircraft, certain agricultural methods that break up the soil, methane-emitting cows, and so on. To start with it would perhaps be sufficient to concentrate solely on burners of fossil fuels, for it can be easily measured how much CO2 is emitted from burning a litre of petrol or a tonne of coal. There must be a market-determined price for emitting a unit of carbon and this price is to be paid to those enterprises engaged in the carbon absorption and emission-reduction industry in its various forms employing the various available technologies. 

    But how are the services of these carbon absorption enterprises to be valued? As we shall soon see, the production process for such services can be quite peculiar, consisting in some cases in pure passivity or conservation of a state of nature in a most literal sense. For carbon absorption to be valued, the carbon absorption achieved on a carbon absorption enterprise's (which may be a farmers' co-operative) leased areas of land or ocean must be measured in some way and this absorption capacity offered on the market. This is harder to do than measuring the services of a waste disposal company that takes polluting substances off the hands of enterprises generating such wastes and disposes of them 'properly', but is presumably not an insurmountable technical problem. The first candidate 'enterprise' in the carbon absorption industry would be the nation states themselves as the sovereign owners of virgin forest, expanses of steppe, territorial waters, etc. If, even without any active technological intervention, i.e. in the pure, active passivity of nature, parts of the Earth's surface 'naturally' absorb carbon, this entitles the owner (here usually the individual states) to charge a rent on that expanse of the Earth's surface, where the expanses, of course, would generally be very large, perhaps hundreds or thousands of square kilometres. 

    The entire Earth's surface, including the oceans and Antarctica, would have to be divided up and apportioned to the world's individual nation states, not for the purpose of being able to freely exploit that part of the Earth's surface (say, by mining or fishing), but solely with regard to how that part of the Earth's surface can be used to absorb (without undue intrusion into the natural environment), or already naturally absorbs, carbon. The quarrels (political power struggles) among nation states over the carbon absorption rights to pieces of the Earth's oceans (almost all the land is already divided up among the nation states) would be analogous to those over the rights to charge a rent on areas of ocean where oil or gas have been discovered under the sea bed. Insofar, the valuation of the Earth's surface as a whole, which depends upon its monopolization, thus imbuing it with the power to bear ground-rent, does not appear to be an insurmountable international political problem. It is also not an insurmountable technical problem to measure the carbon absorption capacities of particular expanses of the Earth's surface. A far more intractable (political) problem is how the Earth's poor living in areas that are natural carbon sinks could come to benefit from carbon rents generated by their natural environments, rather than their corrupt governments and/or unscrupulous, 'savvy' entrepreneurs pocketing the revenues from carbon trading. 

    The privately owned land in a country as well as sovereign land and sea could be leased to enterprises engaged in the business of enhancing the carbon absorption of that part of the Earth's surface through the employment of suitable technologies, no matter what they may be. The only prerequisite is that the efficiency of these technologies as employed on particular sites must be measurable, so that an effectivity and hence a price for the service can be ascertained. The carbon sink companies would pay a rent to the state owner or private owner of the land or sea area in question, and this rent would be either absolute rent for surface areas with the lowest carbon absorption efficiency or differential rent for surfaces areas with a higher efficiency, both determined by the global market for carbon absorption. Even apart from the enhancement of carbon absorption in certain areas, the natural carbon sink capacity of sovereign territory of land and sea would also naturally bear a carbon rent within the terms a global treaty that should be booked to the benefit of that sovereign country's population — again a major political problem of fair distribution of national wealth, just as it is with natural resources such as oil and natural gas. 

    The main feature of this approach to putting a (negative) value on carbon emissions (as one waste product among many incurring a cost of either production or consumption) is that there has to be a global market for carbon emissions with emitters paying for their carbon emissions to companies, collectives and co-operatives that either dispose of this waste by maintaining carbon absorption processes at carbon sinks of various kinds, both natural and technologically enhanced, or enable a reduction of emissions. Expressed positively — and this is the perspective lacking in the current carbon emissions trading scheme—, there has to be a global carbon absorption market where the sellers are carbon sink enterprises and collectives of all kinds, and the buyers are carbon emitters who are obliged by legislation to pay for their emissions. For instance, a company in a rural area could lease that area as a whole for the sole purpose of working together with farmers to introduce agricultural methods that enhance the carbon absorption of that given rural area, and such measurable enhancement of carbon absorption would command a price on the global carbon trading market to be paid by all those emitting carbon. The scientific-technical problem of measuring the efficiency of carbon absorption and its enhancement is not beyond a workable economic solution. 

    A unit of carbon absorption capacity would be traded daily on the global market just like an ounce of gold, its price continually fluctuating according to the demand for carbon absorption by carbon emitters, both consumers and industry, and the global supply of carbon sink capacity with various rates of effectiveness. The oil companies, for example, would pass on the costs for carbon absorption to their customers as a component of the price of fuel. 

    There would be capitalist investment in developing carbon sinks of various sorts, based on different, more or less ingenious technologies, all over the Earth, with many of these carbon sinks covering enormous expanses of the Earth's surface, but solely with respect to carbon absorption so that, say, fishing or pleasure cruising in certains parts of leased ocean would not be interfered with. A carbon sink company could pay a forest-owner, for instance, to work together with it and manage the forest in such a way that carbon absorption is enhanced. Or it could lease large areas of the Antarctic Ocean to stimulate the growth of plankton to increase carbon extraction from the atmosphere. Or it could lease expanses of desert with specific geological features to sequester carbon in suitable subterranean formations. The fact that a particular carbon absorption technology may be controversial because it has, say, alleged environmentla side-effects, makes no difference to the principle of enabling enterprises to 'produce' carbon absorption (including, as throughout, the diminution of carbon emissions). Indigenous, forest-dwelling peoples and farmers in poor countries, for instance, could be beneficiaries of carbon absorption income purely by virtue of continuing their way of life in environments that are natural carbon sinks. Insofar, they would become, strictly speaking, capitalist land-owners deriving rent from the global carbon-trading scheme, strange-looking capitalists that break with the cliché of the profit-hungry money-maker. Deriving profit from a global carbon absorption industry could serve as an effective bulwark against the tendency to exploit the Earth's surface (e.g. its virgin forests) for all it is worth because there would be a counterweight. For instance, indigenous forest-dwellers and their governments would both profit from the differential ground-rent springing from the forest in its natural state. Such a ground-rent would spring, so to speak, from nature itself, without any human 'enhancement', being estimated and thus esteemed on the global carbon trading market. Whether indigenous forest-dwellers, for instance, come to benefit from natural carbon absorption rents is a not-to-be-underestimated political problem of justice under the rule of law. 

    The role of individual states would be first and foremost the initial legislative intervention to impose the obligation on the consumers of fossil fuels i.e. the carbon emitters, to pay for the absorption of carbon emissions, just as they have imposed the obligation of properly disposing of waste instead of dumping it into landfills, the sea or rivers. The other major governmental function would be to further the development of methods for measuring carbon absorption and emissions, and to provide certified experts to carry out the task of certifying the efficiency of individual carbon sink enterprises of various kinds. These two principal functions within the framework of a global treaty on carbon emission and absorption would suffice to inaugurate a carbon absorption industry and a carbon trading market that would make to striving to lower carbon emissions and enhance carbon absorption a profitable untertaking. 

    5. How self-interest can be aligned with a universal interest in environmental protection

    This proposal to enable and encourage the establishment of a capitalist carbon sink industry is necessarily a sketch. But a sketch based on sound first principles is important. Whether it is feasible depends partly on technological questions (measurement of carbon absorption and emissions) which, however, seem soluble. But mostly feasibility depends on political issues concerning dividing up the Earth's surface purely with regard to its capacity to absorb carbon, achieving and implementing international agreements for realizing a carbon sink industry with its associated global carbon absorption market, as well as international agreements on how natural carbon absorption rents are to be distributed to the benefit of national populations. If global political insight can be engendered, and a global political will nurtured, a way can be found to implement a carbon trading scheme that would provide a viable basis for a carbon absorption industry while at the same time coming to grips with the inevitable myriad abuses on all levels (by unscrupulous carbon traders, fraudulent carbon sink companies, corrupt governments, greedy landowners, etc. etc.) such a scheme also makes possible. Critics claiming that a global carbon trading scheme is a 'con' or who point out how it can be abused and corrupted miss their target which would have to be the core ideas on which carbon trading and carbon sink industry could be based, and not the (politically inevitable) perversion and abuse of such ideas and their implementation. Here it is a matter only of presenting the core ideas or principle for such a scheme. This principle depends on seeing that the concept of ground-rent developed in classical political economy is the appropriate one for grasping the value of the Earth within the historical constellation of today's global market economy. In the present case of dealing with the problem of carbon emissions, the category of ground-rent provides a way of valuing and esteeming the Earth merely for naturally being what it is. 

    The gainful game initiated within private property relations is played out as a contest via markets in which self-interest is the guiding motive. Given this individualized and collective vieing for gain, coming to terms with the Earth's finite capacity to absorb a major air pollutant requires ingeniously aligning particular self-interests of individuals, of individual sectors and individual countries with the universal interest of not overstepping the limits of a finite Earth that is our dwelling place. The key to this alignment via market competition is the parcellized monopolization of the entire Earth's surface to allow it to bear absolute and differential rent. The development of specific carbon absorption technologies will take care of itself via the profit motive once it is possible to engage profitably in a truly global carbon sink industry. Furthermore, the valuation of the Earth via the category of ground-rent has potential applications and implications that go far beyond practically dealing with the problem of carbon emissions. In particular, in the context of a global carbon absorption 'industry', industriousness means also letting the Earth, in its virgin state, simply be itself. Such industriousness through letting-be is a step on the way to humankind practising custodianship of the Earth. 

    Detractors, of course, will decry such a scheme which proposes that the profit motive, i.e. economic self-interest, be stimulated and guided, and that something so 'priceless' as the Earth be 'degraded' to the status of a mere, 'grubby', monetary category. Such critics bemoan the factual state of global affairs that a or the major component of our global intercourse is economic interchange motivated by the striving for gain of all kinds (profit, wage income, rent, interest). We would not be talking today about globalization, however, without a truly global economy already having developed. Moreover, from another, optimistic perspective, it can be seen that the striving for gain through market mediation has its own quick-acting discipline or boundary conditions because the value categories themselves have to be respected by the global interplay in which all economic factors come to be valued, estimated, even esteemed

    This implies that the striving for gain itself can be steered by wise and ingenious political initiative in a direction favourable for coming to grips with a global problem. Such a far-seeing politico-economic cybernetics can be a thousandfold more effective that a hundred top-level international climate conferences or a bundle of well-intentioned ecological taxes siphoned off worldwide by governments and bureaucratically redistributed, purportedly for a good purpose. To fight politically for the global capitalist system to be 'overcome' (in favour of what kind of global political power set-up?), or to appeal for a global ethics that has non-exploitative human behaviour with regard to the Earth (such as leaving fossil fuels in the ground and renouncing power generation and means of transportation running on fossil fuels) as its centrepiece misses the point that individual and collective (including national) self-interest are phenomena that will be with humanity for a long time to come. Such self-interests include not only profit-making and income-earning, but also the interest in continuing a way of life in which electric power and transportation play a major role. Such interests are not 'unethical'. The point is how the gainful game can be recast and remoulded, through insightful international political action, in such a way that the striving of self-interests can be aligned, rather than collide, with humanity's universal interest in dwelling well on our planet within limits the Earth itself naturally sets for us. 


      Notes 
      1. Based on my Social Ontology: Recasting Political Philosophy Through a Phenomenology of Whoness ontos verlag, Frankfurt 2008 702pp. Version 1.0  of this article was distributed at the 1st International Conference on Climate & Philosophy University of South Florida, 14-16 Sept. 2006. Download Powerpoint presentation. Many thanks and much appreciation to Astrid Nettling and Dennis Skocz for comments. Back 

      2.  
      3. For it may be also less if the production process does not lead to a product whose value-recognition on the market is sufficient to cover the values paid for the inputs. Wages paid for hiring labour power, money-capital advanced for materials and means of production, and rent paid for leasing land may not be recouped precisely because the exchange-value of a product is only ever the social validation it achieves on actually being sold. The selling price may be above or below total cost price. Only if a surplus value is generated by the whole process of production and sale can the enterprise be regarded as having been successful. But if it is successful, it is so only because the four powers of production that are brought together to co-operate under entrepreneurial expertise attain an enhanced valuation in their realized result compared to what they have cost. Back 

      4.  
      5. Etymologically, too, there is a connection between value and power. The English word 'value' derives from the Latin verb 'valere' which, apart from meaning 'to be able-bodied, strong, powerful, influential, to prevail' can also mean 'to be worth something in exchange for something else, to have monetary value'. The verb 'valere' is related (via an Indo-European root *ual-) to German 'walten' which means 'to prevail', again from L. prævalere 'to be very able', 'to have greater power or worth', 'to prevail' and thus itself a comparative or enhanced form of possessing power. Latin 'valere', in turn, is the standard Latin translation of du/nasqai, so that the connection to the Greek word for power, du/namij, in all its senses and with all its metaphysical weight in Western thinking, is secured. This is not merely a scholarly matter to excite philologists and lexicographers, since it points not only to power as a fundamental experience of human being in the world, but also to the multi-dimensional facets of the phenomenon of power. As we have seen from the above phenomenological discussion, there is an intimate interconnection between the powers of exchange (exchange-value) and productive powers and powers in use (use-value). These different kinds of powers must be held apart as distinct 'faces' of the phenomenon of power. The 'face' of power as political power is yet another kind of power that does not concern us here. Back

      6.  


      Copyright (c) 2006-2008 by Michael Eldred, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

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