Life not for Sale: Pricing Life for Economic Growth

Life is not a commodity. A number of reports by the UN, Greenpeace International and the WWF refer to humanity’s exploitation of the natural world as ‘ecosystem services’ and to the living elements that make up these ecosystems as ‘resources’.

These reports still speak of sustainable economic growth which remains a contradiction in terms. Perpetual growth in a finite system is simply not possible and is the very reason why we have brought the Earth to the point where it may no longer sustain life as we know it within our children’s lifetime. A recent UNEP report also speaks of intensifying agriculture and fishing in sustainable ways which is again contradictory. These organisations sometimes use this terminology in an attempt to bring global business on board. This is not helpful for two reasons. Firstly it is confusing at a time when what we need is clarity and direction. Secondly it is creating false expectations that will stall the transformation of human society, which is an imperative for survival.

The price of life

On the other hand this same UNEP report emphasises the importance of a shift to plant based diets, of food and water security, reduction in food waste and restoration and protection of sufficiently large swathes of the Earth’s land and oceans that will enable nature and all the other species to flourish undisturbed. Now that sounds more like part of a real solution.

The collective of the Earth’s land, marine and atmospheric ecosystems together with all the species that live in the biosphere are not an economic resource to be given a monetary value. They are our birthing place and what has brought us into life and that to which, at the very least, our physical body will return. This is the stuff of life. It is as nonsensical to think of life as a resource in the same way that it would be absurd to regard God as the provider of creation services or refer to couples as providing reproduction and parenting services to the world’s economies.

Speaking of the biosphere as an economic resource is also illogical. We live on Earth within a biosphere that has created us and provides our life support system without which we would not have existed in the first place. Moreover, should the biosphere fail, the human species would become extinct. What price is one going to give to an environment the absence of which would cause one to die? Such an environment is actually priceless. The biosphere does not belong to anybody. It is however of vital interest to all species that exist within it, that it is kept healthy and safe. All other species add value to the biosphere. The human species just destroys, taking from it and poisoning it without giving anything back. We have a moral obligation to pass on functioning and healthy ecosystems to future generations of all species, as the ones we inherited many tens of thousands of years ago when our species walked out of the African continent.

The price of life

Humanity is treading a very dangerous path, a path on which life has a price and is something that can be bartered for human currency. It is not only animal and plant species and wild habitats whose life is on the market. Even human life is part of an economic equation. Tens of millions of people are dying annually because of pollution, poverty, extreme weather conditions, the overkill of other species, the destruction of natural habitats, barren soils and warmongering. All caused by humanity’s greed, intolerance and indifference embodied in the globalisation of trade and in the capitalist economic model based on growth and the exploitation of nature. The unspoken truth is that people are dying for the economy and it does not seem to matter to anyone. It seems that this is an acceptable price to pay. In the species called homo sapiens empathy is thin on the ground.

Policymakers and business leaders are quite comfortable with this situation and tragically so is society at large, except for those, of course, who suffer the loss. The grief is processed privately and society continues undeterred.

If there is anything at all that is sacred on this Earth that must be life. Not just human life, but all life. The changes that are necessary to our human activity and social order, if we are to survive the planetary environmental crisis, are huge and quite honestly overwhelming. As daunting as these are, the bigger challenge is the paradigm shift that must take place beforehand in our belief systems and our world view.

The price of life

We are not the apex of evolution on Earth. Our oversized ego and intellect is the cause of the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth and not any good reason to feel superior. Human, so called, inventions and ingenuity are just variations on the theme of exploitation and looting of the Earth’s life support systems. We have no understanding of the whys and wherefores of our existence on this planet and behave as if it was all made for our pleasure and for us to kill or enslave. It is imperative that we understand that all human endeavours, including the economy, have arisen within and from the biosphere.

At some point we should find the humility to see that what needs saving is not nature, but the balance in nature that sustains our life. Our survival depends on this as nature does not need people.

This article was published in the Times of Malta on the 28th April 2021

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