Allan Powell: 'A message worthy of our attention'

July 18, 2012|By ALLAN POWELL

Thom Hartmann, author of “Threshold,” is a well known and admired radio talk-show host. Thom is an idealist, dreamer and reformer with energy to burn. His research data is accurate and up to date. But one wonders if there is an interested audience for three abstract topics: environmental deterioration, free market myths, and the population explosion?

Reduced to its bare essence, Hartmann argues that, “The world is right now tottering atop three major thresholds: an environment that is so afire it may soon no longer be able to support human life; an economic “free market” system that is almost entirely owned, run, and milked by a tiny fraction of 1 percent of us and has crashed and in many ways is burning around us; and an explosion of human flesh on the planet that has turned our species into a global Petri dish just waiting for an infective agent to run amok.”


None of these conditions is new and yet one gets the distinct impression that the general public is neither interested nor concerned. They appear to be like the fellow who fell from the top floor of the Empire State Building and at each window he shouted to the folk below, “I’m all right so far.”

A bird’s eye look at each of the three issues in turn might give us a glimpse of the magnitude of each impending crisis. The exploitation of our oceans comes early in Hartmann’s critique. He asserts that “…everything that people consume that comes from the ocean, all of it globally, almost a third of all species were at or beyond the point of collapse and all others were moving in that direction.” Surely this is worthy of our attention.

According to Hartmann’s research, there are four systems pushing against the planet that must be well managed to make life on this planet sustainable: human numbers, levels of fossilized carbon consumed, numbers of food animals and their wastes and an atmosphere absorbing this aggregate. Failure to manage these interacting systems could make the planet uninhabitable for humans and all complex life forms.

When it comes to the topic of the “free market,” Hartmann vents his scorn. He boldly asserts that no free market exists excepting where barter takes place. But — as any student of societies is well aware — there has always been a web of rules, laws and means of the enforcement of these expectations since the beginning of trade and commerce. With the advances of civilizations, regulation of currency and banks has become more complex.

A single event (May 12) is an indication of the empty sham perpetrated by the public use of code words like “free market.” At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, five senior executives of the five largest oil firms argued that their special tax breaks should be continued to insure profits, jobs and sustained productivity. The whole world witnessed the five leading oil tycoons betray their sworn principles of a “free,” self-regulating” market place.

When questioned by Sen. Charles Schumer whether their request for special support was more deserving than the need to give financial support to college students, they unanimously agreed that they were fully justified in their requests. But, can anyone really be surprised that corporate profits and executive compensation trumps the value of public education?

Hartmann should be commended for his willingness to deal with the topic of corporate power and a subtle trend probably missed by many observers. A recurring event in modern history is the collusion of corporate leaders and centralized power in governments. While we frequently hear charges of the inroads of socialism, we seldom hear about trends toward a more serious political move: fascism.

It will be recalled that, as World War II was in the making, the largest corporations in Germany, Italy and Japan became intimately joined with the totalitarian leaders of those nations. In return for their cooperation with Hitler, Mussolini, and the Emperor of Japan, corporations were given huge and steady contracts. A war economy insured prosperity — for a while.

Finally, Hartmann devotes time to the massive issue of overpopulation. The rapid increase in numbers has now reached about 7 billion. If the annual world population growth is 2 percent, the total population will double in 35 years. Surely we should be concerned about a total of 14 billion new faces in the next span of about 35 years.

Hartmann eloquently reminds us that we are seriously stretching the capacity of our biosphere to sustain our species and that we are steadily crowding out all nondomesticated species into decline or demise. He is an able, caring and informed student of the topics he selects for analysis. One suspects however, that he is a voice crying in the wilderness.

Allan Powell is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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