The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.We can think of a time when the American West seemed boundless, not just unspoiled but unspoilable. Remember Clint Eastwood's film Pale Rider:
So the claim this article is making is this:
Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment: None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero.The author thinks this makes the global economy a fraud, but that's too strong. Two things occur to me reading it through:
1) A lot of these economic costs are 'greenhouse gases,' about the effects of which there is still some debate.
2) On the other hand, there's a sense to it. The law of conservation of energy and matter suggests you shouldn't be able to get more out of a thing than you take from it. That applies to systems as well as objects. If we consider the Earth as a system, of course there's no profit to be made from re-ordering the parts of the system in various ways.
What really matters is the order. If I take gold out of the ground and turn it into wire, and then put that wire into a computer, I can do sorts of work I couldn't do before. If I take the uranium in the ground, use power from burning coal to refine it, and then use the refined uranium to run a reactor, I can capture lots of energy that was otherwise existing as a kind of potential in the earth.
Putting things in the right order is therefore very helpful. It's good to provide incentives for people to do the work necessary to get that done. What we call "profit" is or ought to be a sort of incentive to do work of this kind. It's good work, because it's good for people to have things put in the right order.
God creates. We are merely re-ordering things, bringing to actuality what already exists in potency. There are wise and foolish ways to alter the order of the things in the world. We should take some care to be wise.