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Deep Green, Government, and Locavores

This blog is focused on issues related to the creation of economies that will maintain and restore environmental assets and ecosystem services. A prior post focused on the three dimensions of an economy, allocation, distribution, and scale/quality, and the appropriate role of government, particularly in the setting of scale/quality for environmental resource stocks. The thinking is that government is needed because market feedback loops between resource flow and resource stock are often poor.

It is encouraging that government has started to accept its responsibility to characterize stocks, through the good works of some programs conducted by some local, state, and federal government agencies. Examples of this work abounds and includes the following:

  • Multi-agency task forces attempting to watershed-based biophysical limits for key environmental assets such as the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Local governments, such as Albemarle County, Virginia, creating a biological resources committee to identify desired or needed biological diversity.

This is so appropriate because currently, the ecosystem services (what the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) calls “regulating”, “supporting”, and “preserving” services) associated with these initiatives are generally missing from day to day markets. Therefore, government must step in and define appropriate scale and quality of the asset.

On the other hand, the government has less of a role to play for what the MEA calls “provisioning” and “cultural” ecosystem services, because to varying degrees, markets already exist for these services. Good arguments have been made that the government has been perhaps too active in the arenas of distribution and allocation, through various forms of price supports and other programs (all of which were well-intentioned). For these provisioning and to a lesser degree cultural ecosystem services, feedback loops exist, and markets change nearly overnight.

There is no better example of this than the growth of the locavore movement. “Locavores” are people that believe that they should eat only locally grown foods within a certain distance, say 100 miles, of where they live. According to the San Francisco-based Locavore website:

Why Eat Locally?

Our food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before ending up on our plates. This globalization of the food supply has serious consequences for the environment, our health, our communities and our tastebuds. Much of the food grown in the breadbasket surrounding us must be shipped across the country to distribution centers before it makes its way back to our supermarket shelves. Because uncounted costs of this long distance journey (air pollution and global warming, the ecological costs of large scale monoculture, the loss of family farms and local community dollars) are not paid for at the checkout counter, many of us do not think about them at all.

In my own area near Charlottesville, very active farmers’ market food webs are emerging, one good example being the Buy Local program from the Piedmont Environmental Council. If strong local markets can be developed for provisioning ecosystem services, than with time and hard work, they can be created for other types of services as well.

Where does Deep Green fit within all this? Deep Green offers a platform for market participants to find each other—a system that would allow a growing farmer selling organic produce to find additional land that is or can be organically certified, to grow more produce for more customers. In the conclusion of this series tomorrow, I will propose a community-based mechanism that has been around for a century or more that could serve as an expanded platform for Deep Green and initiatives like PEC’s Buy Local, and not only for provisioning and cultural ecosystem services, but for regulating, supporting, and provisioning services as well.

- Michael Collins

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