Chrysler Saves Ozone Layer and Other Ironies

Diabolically opposed world views have set environmentalists and capitalists at opposed sides throughout the 20th Century. Capitalists see a market-driven world while environmentalists dream of a sustainable existence that refuses waste. And though the two are by nature opposed, the three authors of Natural Capitalism see conservation as good economic policy. Now, to convince the rest of the world.

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Book Review by Michael Gutierrez


Reviewed Here:
Natural Capitalism
by Paul Hawken, Amory and L. Hunter Lovins

As the war on terrorism continues, all other issues not related to the war or economy fight for room on the back burner. Most deserve to be there, but others, like the environment, will worsen the longer we ignore it. Environmental degradation will continue to plague us long after the last solider has left the Middle East. Some environmental critics are undoubtedly relieved with the issue's secondary status, saying that the need to improve the economy in a time of war far outweighs any long-term environmental worries. But what if environmentalists and their critics could work together? What if environmental improvements and increasing wealth were no longer seen as mutually exclusive? Paul Hawken and Amory and L. Hunter Lovins convincingly argue that in coming decades the two will save each other.

In September of 1999, two years before the WTC attack, Natural Capitalism was published. It received good reviews, but the ideas behind it were quickly forgotten. Co-written by Hawken, a successful businessman, and the Lovins, two efficiency experts, Natural Capitalism attempts to link the two seemingly opposite ideas of restoring the environment and increasing corporate profits. Their belief is that when business, industry, and communities strive toward more efficient methods in the way they build and run things, they will make more money while making less pollution.

Every time carbon dioxide billows from a smoke stack, every river polluted by cow shit, and every building that relies on air conditioning is inefficient due to a design flaw that need not be there. Large percentages of wood used in paper are lost in the conversion process. The same is true with gas in car engines -- the smoke seeping from your exhaust pipe is really gas you paid for that the car couldn’t use, because it wasn’t built as well as it could be. Hawken and the Lovins see this potential waste as the means to save the planet. By harnessing the waste, eradicating design flaws in everything from toilets to factories, and recycling necessary waste into new products, businesses and consumers can save infinite amounts of money, cut down on costs and expand into new industries.

Subtitled "Creating the Next Industrial Revolution," Natural Capitalism juxtaposes the first industrial revolution with the one they perceive as occurring now. Ditching the preachiness of most "save the world" books, the authors present a very simple layman’s economic argument, that shows our current economic system as no longer sustainable because the world has changed since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. The rules are still dictated by supply and demand, but now the fundamental products of production -- people and resources -- are not in the same supply as they once were.

Three hundred years ago, abundant resources existed alongside a small population, pushing business to stretch their employee’s productivity. Now, with dying ecosystems beneath billions of babies, business must stretch their resources using every last ounce that gallon of oil or pound of coal can give. If business persists in its current cycle of exploiting resources for short-term gain, instead of eradicating wasteful practices, they will face an increasingly expensive shortage of the raw materials they need to make them rich.

Natural Capitalism delves into ways to make agriculture, water use, community use, transportation, taxes, regulations, and offices more efficient. There are a ton of ideas here, many simple, technical innovations as well as tips on how consumers can judge products.

Hawken and the Lovins for the most part keep to the practical, but occasionally profess their belief in capitalism’s powers to help the world at the same time it is destroying it. But rethinking how the market system works even at the basest level of what it uses to produce its goods won’t alone solve the environmental dilemma. It will most certainly take convincing the people manipulating the system that solving the environmental dilemma is in their best interests. And that is no small task.

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