Reality Report: Mary Wood on Government as the Trustee of Common Assets


14 Apr 2008 |
View all related to Climate Change | Law | Reality Report
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Law professorMary Wood will explain how the government, acting as trustee of the atmosphericcommons, is obligated to deal realistically with climate change science. As a trustee, the governmenthas no political discretion to permit the destruction of the atmosphere, and istherefore obliged to take account of scientific information about climatechange and formulate policies that protect our life support system. She is authoring a forthcoming book, The Dawnof Planetary Patriotism: A Citizens’Call to Climate Defense.

AudioMary Wood on Government as the Trustee of Common Assets (audio) (length 49:34): download,

Legal Trustee Issues

First, I would like to thank Mary Wood for her interesting discussion of both the urgency for carbon-negative energy system promotion and empowerment (It is not clear that her intent was that crystalized) and the clear placement of government as a legal trustee of conditions for life on earth. That said, it is difficult to comprehend how we move forward toward a carbon negative society if all the "permissions" that government can grant are understood to be negative. There is more to say about this than I can cover here so I will just use a small example to lead into what I hope will be a larger dialogue. I grow trees. Trees take up CO2 and turn it into a semistable support system. When the tree dies the carbon is released again as CO2. My forests start with around 500,000 seedlings per acre and if left alone quickly thin themselves down to under a 1000 saplings per acre. They can stay in that condition for a long time but will eventually all die due to crowding and the occurrance of an external event; or the stand will gradually lose occupants until under 100 trees per acre can survive for a few hundred years. I can only survive economically if I can generate enough income to pay my costs (including taxes) and recover enough to coast (while paying interest and principle on debts) into the next income producing period. I can only continue to do the things that I do well if I am granted permits from various environmental agencies along the way. If we revoke the permitting possibility, I will immediately have to sell my land to a developer or to the state or other wealthy entity so that I am not bankrupted by the taxes. This description of minute detail could go on for a long time. To end it - I have also found technology that can take my forest waste and make a carbon negative energy source for my farm and neighbors that will also possibly enhance the growth of my forest by 3X per year. It has been shown to have done this for over 2000 years in some places. The carbon so trapped must go back to the soil whence the waste came from to have the desired effect. But the system is hard to fund because the money is controlled by the very wealthy and only when it is in their best interests will it flow to this endeavor. The point here is that it may be that the permitting is in many cases a problem of inappropriate oversight by government, but the root problem is that our global system of exchange is built around a monetary system that is by necessity periodically self-destructing. A forest on the NE coast of USA can not stand against the forces of even stable climate for more than a few hundred years at most. It is an example of continuously declining compounding growth until the forest restarts. Most biological systems operate in this manner. The solar system, our galaxy, and possibly our whole universe operates on this principle of birth to death and rebirth. So to cast the role of government in a benign trustee with the role to maintain everything in stable condition forever is to grant a human entity more of a role than it can possibly take on. We are at a cross roads, we must act soon, and we all must understand why we have to act in a collectively unified direction. I have recently been made aware of how difficult that is by being drawn into a local political race where I do not want to displace the one member of a 5 person board who understands some of the imperatives but not the big picture (possibly). It is important that I bring the carbon-negative energy system that I understand now to as many small farms as possible as fast as possible, after I assure myself that it can truly deliver on the promises made by those who are testing and selling the equipment. To do this I have to work within the monetary and government permit structure that exists NOW! I suggest that the problem lies more in the monetary basis of life today than it does with the basic nature of permitting. Certainly there are instances of permitting that are egregeous and must be reigned in as soon as possible. Mountain top removal is one of the most devastating rights to property that we have yet devised and should be immediately suspended pending appropriate limitations. So the only critique I have to offer is that the trustee idea is great! But as trustee of everything one must look to all fundamentals for the set of threads that must be pulled on the hardest and when to do it. Stopping the permitting of constructive actions within a group of actions that have some bad actors will surely kill many of us or at least lead to unintended consequences. Choose well. Thanks