Telstra’s PNG mobile monopoly is no cakewalk
Covid & the affliction of untrained pastors

Only the grassroots can save the planet, but....


TUMBY BAY - One of the most perverse inventions of capitalism is planned obsolescence.

This is the idea that an article is manufactured to fall apart and cease to function properly after a certain amount of time.

Annoying for you and good for the manufacturer, who has ensured that users have to purchase a new article to continue to enjoy its convenience.

Planned obsolescence had been around for a while when someone came up with another brilliant idea.

This was to manufacture articles in a way that they are unable to be repaired.

This was largely achieved by making them out of materials not responsive to repair such as specialised plastics and metals.

Or they could be assembled from components that could not be purchased separately.

A final iteration of the idea was to create articles as unique entities using specialised operating technologies.

The business idea here was to later withdrawing the supporting technologies so the new version had to be bought to perform the same functions. Mobile phone users know how this one works.

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, it was possible to buy articles that would last a lifetime if they were cared for properly and which could be readily repaired if they ceased to work.

I’m old enough to still enjoy the satisfaction that comes with repairing an item rather than throwing it away and buying a new one.

I enjoy this not because I’m mean but because I hate waste.

As such I deplore the throwaway culture that now prevails. I also deplore the idea that perfectly good articles can be discarded and consigned to the rubbish heap simply because they are no longer fashionable or the right shape or colour.

Which brings me to where we are headed with the world’s fascination with so-called green technologies, and in particular the sudden and surprising enthusiasm of the corporate sector for them.

My cynical side suspects this sudden embrace of all things environmentally friendly has a lot more to do with the prospect of selling lots of new stuff rather than a genuine interest in protecting the planet.

Take the case of electric vehicles. It is widely expected that this technology is going to quickly make vehicles powered by fossil fuels obsolete.

At some point in the near future it will become impossible to buy the petrol or diesel to run these vehicles because it will no longer be manufactured.

In other words everyone who wants to drive around will have to buy a new electric vehicle. The manufacturers of such vehicles will make a lot of money.

A similar thing will happen to boats, aeroplanes, engines, generators, heavy machinery and a host of other useful things.

When heavy industry changes the way it makes steel and aluminium and abandons coal and gas, a lot of money will have to be spent on setting up new systems to use new technologies such as green hydrogen.

You may think, so what? At least carbon pollution will be brought under control.

This is good but a lot of the new technologies will require a different suite of natural resources.

Lithium, for instance, will be in high demand for batteries and vast new mines will have to be developed which will have the same potential to damage and pollute the environment as coal mines once had.

“Like many other batteries, the lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements — that have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns,” the New York Times reported recently.

And, of course, the corporations that develop these new technologies will still be entrenched in the same growth and profit motives.

They will continue to over-produce in the pursuit of profit and continue to promote profligate techniques like obsolescence theory.

We must be wary of these new corporate enthusiasms and the politicians who support them – and often benefit from them through donations and appointments.

What is needed to effect real change is a widespread understanding at grassroots level about the true nature of contemporary business and politics.

This is much harder to achieve where a large proportion of the mainstream media seems quite relaxed about propagating information predisposed to business and ultra-conservative politics.

Nevertheless, people must find ways to understand the truth so they can reject corporate and government mantras about the so-called ‘need’ for growth.

Growth has to be turned from a virtue into a vice.

When that happens, and it will be impossible to achieve without grassroots support, the planet will finally be able to give a sigh of relief.

Let’s hope, if it does, that there are still people living on it.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Stephen Charteris

The capture and monetisation of the commons through Wall Street is too horrible to contemplate. The notion that these essential services could be monetised for the benefit of the few is beyond appalling.

While at first it may seem like a good idea to protect the last of the wild spaces further thinking reveals the idea to be toxic. It is one step from taxing everyone for the oxygen they breathe.

Ecosystem services have always been free. Since, when has humanity paid for terrestrial forests to produce oxygen, pump water into the atmosphere, store carbon, produce plants with medicinal properties, or for insects to pollinate the plants that are our food?

Across the globe indigenous people have lived in harmony in the great wild spaces such as the Amazon and elsewhere for thousands of years. If any group should be rewarded for custodial services, it is them, not BlackRock and their kind.

We have entrusted enlightened governments to recognise the value of wild spaces and protect them in the form of national parks, reserves and natural habitats in perpetuity for the long-term benefit of all people.

The answer lies not in the monetisation and ownership of these processes but in the recognition that they are our inheritance without which mankind is doomed.

We must give recognition to the great biological systems that James Lovelock has described as the pulse of Gaia and which indigenous peoples have recognised since time immemorial as the sustainers of all life.

These essential biological systems are the inheritance of all and must be preserved and nursed back to health to repair the depredations of mankind chasing the mighty dollar over the recent industrialised centuries. A peculiarly male predilection.

You need look no further than the environmental impact of mining, the impact of the release of fossil carbon into the earth's atmosphere and industrial agriculture at the heart of massive land clearing, resulting in the demise of the Amazon, the tropical forests of South-East Asia and the northern hemisphere boreal forest biome for your answer.

The captains of this system have profited from the destruction of nature's gifts and they now propose to take over the last natural resources and wild spaces for our benefit. Really! Pigs might fly.

This latest “fungible idea” from Wall Street to capture the last of the earth’s resources under Natural Asset Companies and place them under the control of the mega wealthy classes is as grotesque, self serving and revolting as it sounds.

Kindin Ongugo

When a rich man is involved in social services, he stands to make more money. He may even own the people. Modern day slavery?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Hunziker's article is worth reproducing:

Wall Street investors have hit the jackpot. Soon they’ll be able to buy, own, and dictate The Commons, public lands, the world of Mother Nature.

In fact, a pilot project is already in the works with ecosystems up for sale as Wall-Streeters anxiously prepare to gobble up the valued benefits of Mother Nature.

According to the NYSE PR Dept. they’ll IPO nature: “To preserve and restore the natural assets that ultimately underpin the ability for there to be life on Earth.” What? Really?

And, according to NYSE COO Michael Blaugrund: “Our hope is that owning a natural asset company is going to be a way that an increasingly broad range of investors have the ability to invest in something that’s intrinsically valuable, but, up to this point, was really excluded from the financial markets.”

Then, does this mean that neoliberal capitalism is becoming nature’s beneficent caretaker so environmentalists can stop wringing their hands about the horrendous loss of wild vertebrate life, down a whopping 68%, and loss of wetlands and loss of huge chunks of rainforests these past few decades, all of which echoes a guttural sound of impending extinction? Answer: Don’t count on it.

For starters, there’s something extraordinarily distasteful and downright disgusting about Wall Street buying control of nature’s resource capabilities. It bespeaks of an upside down world where the ludicrous becomes acceptable, but is it really acceptable? Is it?

The main character in this new scheme to own the world is a new asset class with a very plain name that says it all: Natural Asset Company or NAC.

Yes, if you are a billionaire, get ready to buy up to 30% of the world’s natural resource beneficence to society. It’s going to be offered on the biggest auction block of the world, the New York Stock Exchange under the cover of sustainability of nature and protection of biodiversity, wink, wink!

Of course, this prompts a series of questions, headlined by when does Mother Nature morph into a tollbooth?

In simplest of terms, NACs allow for the formation of specialized corporations the hold the rights to the ecosystem services produced on a given chunk of land.

The services might be sequestration of carbon or clean water or possibly rare Tibetan mountain air or maybe a lake teeming with trout in the wilderness. The possibilities are endless when auctioning off major chunks of an asset as big as the planet.

The NAC will maintain, manage and grow the natural asset that it has commoditized, working towards maximizing the profit potential of the natural asset, although, of course, this is not emphasized in the PR material. Nevertheless, it could lead to near-infinite profits. After all, the living Earth does rejuvenate and replenish and service ecosystems on its own accord, a natural process that goes on forever. Why not own it?

If ever there has been a time for the people of the world to drop whatever they are doing and focus on one issue, now is that time. The Commons is for sale! Think long and hard about that proposition, study it, discuss it, and decide whether to agree that Mother Nature should be monetized.

If not in agreement, then do something, tell everybody, tell anybody who’ll listen, carry poster boards in the street, join a protest march, bang pots and pans, do something to relieve that breakneck pressure building around your temples!

The Intrinsic Exchange Group, in partnership with the NYSE, is currently working with the Costa Rica government on a pilot project of NACs in the country in order to institute its protocol for ownership of forests, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, meadows, caves, wetlands, in essence, all of nature. Costa Rica is the proving grounds for ownership of Mother Nature, whether she likes it or not.

First, NAC identifies a natural asset, like a forest for example, which is quantified using special protocols that have already been developed by various coalitions amongst multinational corporations, which in and of itself is remarkably terrifying.

The NAC decides who has the rights to the natural asset’s productivity and how it is to be managed. It is then monetized via an IPO on the stock exchange. Thus, the NAC becomes “the Issuer” to potential buyers of the natural asset that the NAC represents.

Essentially, NAC is a real estate agent of Mother Nature. The buyers are institutional investors, or the occasional billionaire, that want to own the rights to the benefits of wetlands or rainforests or natural water springs or rarified mountainous air or hot springs or whatever they want to own.

The world is their oyster to buy, own, enjoy, and profit by.

Throughout all human history nature has been The Commons or the cultural and natural resource for all of society inclusive of natural processes like air and water.

But now private investors are deleting The Commons with claims of “conservation and sustainability” of 30% of what’s called “protected areas” of our precious worldwide assets.

According to initial calculations, NACs will unlock $4 quadrillion in assets as a new feeding ground for Wall Street investors to buy the rights to clean water and clean air and trout streams and bass-laden lakes and gorgeous picturesque waterfalls and lagoons, an entire forest, or maybe eventually extend into the oceans. Who knows the range of possibilities once nature is transacted on Wall Street.

Monetizing nature!

What’s next, what’s left?

The Commons is property shared by all, inclusive of natural products like air, water, and a habitable planet, forests, fisheries, groundwater, wetlands, pastures, the atmosphere, the high seas, Antarctica, outer space, caves, all part of ecosystems of the planet.

The sad truth is Mother Nature, Inc. will lead to extinction of The Commons, as an institution, in the biggest heist of all time.

Surely, private ownership of nature is unseemly and certainly begs a much bigger relevant question that goes to the heart of the matter, to wit: Should nature’s ecosystems, which benefit society at large, be monetized for the direct benefit of the few?

Bernard Corden

The following link provides access to another Counterpunch article from Robert Hunziker entitled Mother Nature, Inc. :

if you are a billionaire, get ready to buy up to 30% of the world’s natural resource beneficence to society.

It’s going to be offered on the biggest auction block of the world, the New York Stock Exchange under the cover of sustainability of nature and protection of biodiversity.

Bernard Corden

Articles from Ralph Nader are regularly published on Counterpunch:

Harry Topham

I remember seeing a doco on this subject, in particular Ralph Nader ,who I believe was the author of the phrase 'controlled obsolescence'.

In the doco Nader highlighted some important issues which related directly to economic theory and cited a couple of examples.

1. For the minimal cost of $5 in using more durable metals in car mufflers they would have a lifespan of 25 years not 5 years which was the norm back then.

2. In the 1930’s light bulbs were very durable which did not suit the manufacturers of light bulbs so they got together and decided in the future they would use inferior materials so bulbs would burn out quicker.

Nader went on to relate that some of those original light bulbs in power houses in the USA were still working 40 years later.

The reasoning behind all of this was based on the belief that if products were manufactured to last longer, then jobs would have to be shed in the factories. In fact this artificial manipulation did help keep unemployment at an acceptable 4% rate rather than the alternative 9-10% if the factories had made a more durable and lasting product with a substantial decrease in workers resulting.

I wonder if Nader is still alive and what he makes of the current economic situation.

Nader is alive, 87 and living in Connecticut. Here's a link - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

When I left the South Australian government to freelance as a consultant I had time between jobs so volunteered at the South Australian Museum to help it sort out some of the PNG and Pacific collections.

One day the Curator of Anthropology, Barry Craig, came into the office and announced he had bought a new camera to replace his old Pentax Spotmatic, which he must have had for at least 40 years.

When I checked it out I discovered that his 'new' camera was a second hand Pentax Spotmatic. What he had essentially done was buy a functioning body on which to continue to use the lenses from his old camera.

I did the same thing with my trusty old Nikon a few years later.

Amazingly, you can still buy film for these cameras and get them processed.

In Adelaide, Hutt Street Photos proudly proclaims: "Against all odds film is still alive & well! We sell film, we process film & we will keep doing so for as long as we possibly can."

There's hope for the world yet.

Paul Oates

I also remember that time Chips. The Hawke government had just been sworn in and directed that all computer equipment being purchased in future for the government would be purchased from Australian companies.

We had just completed an exhaustive evaluation of what equipment we needed and had ordered IBM. Then came the government directive and Defence had to cancel all pending orders for computer equipment and put out tenders for Australian sourced computers.

The trouble was, Australia didn't make any equipment and the lead time to try and generate a local computer industry was years.

In came quotes from Australian companies and we were ordered to settle for the only acceptable quote, from a newly formed company called 'Hare' computers (actually it was the name of an animal very similar).

When the equipment arrived, those from the newly formed company couldn't make it work properly and were revealed as mere first users of any computers, just like we were. When we peeled off the labels on the equipment, it was just rebranded Asian equipment.

Another inconvenient truth perchance?

Christopher Overland

Phil has pointed out the true implications of any serious attempt to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This has been amplified by Paul and Bernard, while Kindin Ongugo has voiced legitimate concerns about how whatever is done may end up further disadvantaging the world's poorest people.

The bottom line in this whole debate is that the world cannot exert effective control over climate change unless and until the neo-liberal economic model, which requires constant growth in the production and consumption of goods and services, can be reined in.

In turn, this requires that the seemingly endless accumulation of debt being used to fund an absurdly wasteful and grossly unfair economic system must also come to an end.

This will necessarily mean that we citizens of the developed world, now recast in the role of consumers and debtors, must give up our obsession with the accumulation of the 'stuff' through which we often seek to give our lives meaning.

By stuff I refer to what Papua Niuginians call 'bilas', which I interpret as meaning superfluous decoration or glittering but otherwise useless objects.

Much like bower birds, many of us are now thoroughly conditioned to want a great deal of stuff that has no practical purpose and little utility value and which will inevitably end up in landfill or littering the streets.

This stuff is simply the ultimate expression of planned obsolescence because it is manufactured solely in the expectation it will be thrown away.

It is possible to live a much simpler life and now is urgently necessary to do so.

I believe that embarking upon a hugely less consumption based life will not only be good for our finances and the environment, but will liberate us from the pervasive influence of the marketing industry that helps under pin neo-liberal capitalism.

More and more people have now realised the basic truth of what I am saying but I fear they are still a quite tiny minority.

Our political class probably know what has to be done but seem quite unwilling to explain this to 'the punters' for fear of suffering electoral damage by doing so.

Not even the so-called Green Party has been explicit about what the achievement of its policy aims will necessarily require.

As I have written before, my expectation is that only a great deal of suffering due to the impact of climate change will finally create the conditions under which the political class will admit the truth. Right now, that moment is still a long way off.

Perhaps the only hope lies, rather perversely, in the collapse of the vast Ponzi Scheme that we call international finance. If the world's gargantuan debt mountain finally implodes, then a crisis will ensue that may provoke the necessary introspection and, eventually, the political resolve to do things differently.

As for the poorest people in the world, I fear that Kindin is entirely correct and they will, as is usually the case, suffer many adverse impacts whatever the so-called developed world does.

In a world where billionaires fire themselves into space in rockets and sail their vastly expensive yachts or fly their corporate jets to Glasgow to discuss climate change, we cannot expect much to change.

The very people who most benefit from the current system seem highly unlikely to dismantle it.

Kindin Ongugo

It appears green energy is a scam. It will bring us back to the 1800s. It will make the rich richer.
Citizens of rich countries will drive around in electric cars while people in developing head back into stone age lifestyle.
If economic trend in PNG continues at current trajectory it would be too late to have the infrastructure set up to drive electric cars on the streets of Port Moresby and Lae by the time fossil fuel is paced out. We can forget affordability.

Bernard Corden

Vance Packard, the US journalist and social critic wrote two fascinating books back in the late 1950s entitled "The Waste Makers" and "The Hidden Persuaders":

Chips Mackellar

How about this for planned obsolescence, Phil?

I remember when I was with Immigration, we had all this good computer equipment. Hewlett Packard no less.

Then one Friday afternoon a bunch of boffins arrived in the office wearing white dust jackets with different coloured pens in pockets, clip boards, crew cut hair, rimless glasses and all that, and they started to question the staff about our equipment.

One pointed to my faithful Hewlett Packard laser printer and asked how long I had been using it. I said about ten years. He turned to his associate and said, "Throw it out." I said there is nothing wrong with it. He said that his contract with the Department was to update its computer equipment every two years.

After the boffins had viewed our equipment they announced to all staff, "We are going to replace all your computer equipment over the weekend. If you want to, you can take home any item of the equipment you are now using, because it won't be here on Monday."

Of course most of us had commuted to work by public transport so we couldn't take anything, except for one officer whose wife was in town, so he phoned her to pick him up and he loaded five computers into his car to take home for his wife and kids.

I asked one boffin what would happen to all our other computer equipment and he said, "We will dump it. The whole lot." He said there was too much equipment to resell, and they had nowhere to store it, so they had to dump it.

So all the computer equipment on all the floors of the building was removed over the weekend. Hundreds and hundreds of items.

And when we came to work on Monday, we all had brand new computer equipment, all made in China, all with weird brand names like "Five Horses" or "Great Wall" or "Three Rivers" and so on. All bright and shiny new.

The boffins then asked us to try out the new equipment. I asked if one boffin if the new equipment was any good. He said it only has to be good enough to last two years. After that it will all be replaced again, every two years.

I retired soon after so I never saw what happened to the replacement equipment.

Paul Oates

On the flip side. Our guide in Bulgaria reckoned that anyone who owned and was still driving a Russian car after two years was reckoned to be a fully qualified mechanic.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)