Every now and then I try to so something that actually takes some thinking. Not like creatively figuring a way to open my beer, but taking thoughts of great thinkers and putting them to pragmatic action. One can only imagine the pain this might cause to one’s nervous system, but it would seem that to move forward in this ever-changing world, it might actually be important to think.
While this could get me in trouble, I have decided to take some action on an issue that has been rattling my brain for some time. Yeah, yeah, it is painful, that would be both the thinking and the physical action, but I have conviction. It is beginning to look like we need to shift from what was and is known as neoclassical economics to biophysical economics. It is as simple as that. Sure this seems a mouthful — and a brainful — but hear me out. Neoclassical economics has been around for a couple of hundred years but has really revved up in the last 50 years or so and might need some reconsiderations.
The idea — and believe me, this is my simplistic take — is to approach the world of capitalism (driven by the neoclassical concept) of exploiting all the wealth of the natural world without really giving much thought to anything other than markets. What happens to the finite natural world is of little concern and is not given much value other than monetary gain. In the world of capitalistic biophysical economics, the true value of the natural world is given great value because in actuality, it is what sustains us. It implies we must respect and value the natural world indefinitely because it is finite. Yahoos like me, and a number of genuinely intelligent folks, would like to preserve nature for future generations. Believe me, I am not alone in this biophysical economic quest, but the powers-that-be in this world outnumber us by gazillions — money talks.
As a starter, a non-monetary value has to be placed on the natural world. Possibly, where workable, interest has to be diminished from the neoclassical material world. In other words, I have to find pleasure of a non-financial sort, in say of a butterfly, rather than in my high-speed, polluting vehicle that I willingly drive around without much thought. I can still have and use my vehicle, but not as indiscriminately as before.
One action that set me in motion was some photos my friend, Tom, sent me a few days ago. It seems he had planted a selection of allium and phlox that had the flying insects in a dither. He had a plethora of butterflies and native bees doing backflips, full gainers, and dive-bombs to get their little tongues on the flowers. Obviously Tom and Cindy were beside themselves because delightful photos showed up and obviously considerable time was being spent marveling at nature’s show, all at no cost and no destructive action and no financial gain. What a perfect example of biophysical economics where value had been gained at no expense to the earth — in fact, the earth had gained.
To quote Tom, “It’s our job to help sustain all of these living creatures, both animal and plant, and help them all thrive; plus, leave the place better than when we arrived. To me, this fits right in to the biophysical economic paradigm.”
Now Tom is bit of a Stoic so he may have been keyed into this world view. He may have been channeling Seneca who said, “If a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favorable.” Maybe Tom and Cindy knew which port to sail to and were conscientiously choosing the non-material port — the biophysical port!
I have been pondering this economic shift for a number of years, not as a known Stoic, but just as a meager biologist with an eye for bugs and birds (birds and the bees) and not really knowing just what to do because I like material things, not obsessively, but I like them — and always will.
So, in a burst of biophysical economics, this spring I deliberately left a thistle in my vegetable garden for the sole purpose of attracting insects and finches. It grew and grew and grew almost to the point of denying my entrance to the beloved patch. The two-inch spines were more than intimidating, and if I were to stumble at the wrong time, it would seem I could be taken out, assassinated in my own garden by a plant. I don’t even think it is an invasive species. This aggressive plant seems on the surface to be disruptive; but the insects love it, and it makes the little buggers happy (if insects can be happy). Noticeably, in their buzzing visitation, they have also made the rounds in the garden doing their pollinating work. To top it off, I’ve seen three painted lady butterflies and a couple of swallowtails and four gold finches.
While this entire thistle episode is my idea of offering up a respect, maybe an attempt to make every part of nature thrive, I suspect it is also a fleeting metaphor on the nature of biophysical economics.
I suspect every change has its ups and downs. Right now, the thistle stays. I’ll give it a chance.
Ironically, in a stunning disruption to my metaphor, today, without forewarning, my 17-year-old grandson, tired of being poked and experiencing my grumbling, cut down the thistle. On hearing my disapproval, he made note of another now growing in the potatoes. It will bloom next year.
Columnist Wright and Spirit Editor Frankenhoff are having a difference of opinion on the invasiveness of thistles of any variety. Wright says that many are harmless, while Frankenhoff, who spent many long hours in his youth digging them out of the cow pasture with a shovel, disagrees. They do agree, however, that Canadian Thistles serve no useful purpose and should be eradicated.
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