Many of the problems of environmentalism have to do with us as poor judges of the future and poorer stewards of the present. This is only reasonable , but in order for us to thrive,we have to be able to plan and build towards the future. The standard ratio of costs for maintenance versus responding to failure is 7:1. Even though a crisis is seven times as expensive as years of plodding maintenance, it is urgent and we find the money somehow. Or we have to say goodbye to things we used to take for granted, like a bridge, a building, or a waterfront
So how to incent good action?
One way to do it is to make sure there’s cash reward for good behavior, and more cash reward for better behavior.
I thought of this when hearing about Chicago’s green alley programs. The presenters were having a problem figuring out how to get buy-in form the the community to tear up their alleys. I offered that the adjacent property owners could get a reward for the reduced need for stormwater. Link the costs with the benefits.
Doing the right thing only matters to those who care. Everyone cares about cash in hand.
Doing the right thing is also about consequences. There is this twee detergent brand sod in twee grocery stores, called “Seventh Generation”. The conceit os that it emulates the Iroquois principle of conservation for seven generations. The problem with, this, or at least the reason for it, is that the Iroquois were bound to the leans for centuries. They were hemmed in by neighboring nations, who would exact a cost for territorial expansion. They had to make do. And this was the sustainability ethos of many of the 400 nations in the United States before 1500. Since their options were limited, they had to learn to make do.
Contrast that with today. Globalism , trade and universally accepted currency allows us to use what we’ve got to get what we want no matter the color or creed of those we trade with. Sure, there are still prejudices, big tries and misunderstandings, but commerce equalizes all.
Except for those without commerce of course. The new underclass is that same as the old underclass: poor. Poverty now has a moral implication, because the objective value of our worth is be0ming our wealth. Not our family, our achievements, our friends, or our names, as before, but simply our wealth. This is the most democratic solution we’ve come up with so far, and probably one with more mobility, but what is next?
Money is about trust. We trust that the money we get in trade is going to be trusted by others who want to trade with us. We trust the wealthy a lot more than the poor, because we are sure they don’t need our trust as much. The next thing after money is a more direct token of trust, formed on better personal relationships for even impersonal interactions.
This may be a dystopian invasion of privacy, or it may be a revolution in social networking, but it is already here. I no longer have a TV, I have a set of friends who I know, and who know me. Even though we have never met. We crafted our connections for no money, for the price of our information given to the companies that provide the forum. Companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. The important thing to us is that we know and trust each other, even if we don’t like or agree with each other. This knowledge could not have been paid for with cash, or forced by the state, but simply required that we talk to each other in plain text.
To bring this back to the original question: How do we use trust to invent stewardship of infrastructure and environmental issues? Linking costs with benefits is easier when people are paying attention and care about the results. By all means, pay the people at the water treatment plant to do their jobs, but their budgets should not be a political process, but a social one. Let everyone affected by infrastructural or environmental issues have a say in their solutions. Trust people to act in their interests, and they might come up with better solutions than bureaucrats and bankers.