Some Leaderly Measures for Eco-Consumption and Eco-Production

Given that consumption and production are deeply interrelated - they essentially constitute two sides of the same process - some key leaderly measures for eco-consumption and eco-production are here identified and examined together. To begin with, we note how Gladwin, Kennelly, and Krause rightly posit that “policy instruments and economic incentives are required to place preemptive constraints on the pursuit of purely market criteria bearing upon natural resource use and satisfaction of basic human needs” (1995: 893). What, then, might be some of the measures Earth-centered leading would institute for more eco-consumptive and eco-productive practices, thus contributing to the ecocentric transformation of homocentric situations and the preservation of more eco-centered ones?

First of all, we recall the broad mechanisms identified during the delineation of eco-instrumentalism above: the mass (re-)education program and the robust population policy. We immediately observe how their implementation would prove highly effective for both consumption and production. To begin with, one of the key learning points of the re-education campaign would be the articulation of truly ecocentric consumption, i.e., appropriating only those things that satisfy our reasonable ends, an appropriation process that also takes into account the recognition that non-humans also have ends they seek to satisfy. The education program would seek to contribute to the transformation of our compulsive consumerism to a modest eco-consumption of the necessary and enlightening. As part of this process, we would be taught about ancient and non-Western practices around food appropriation (giving thanks, etc.), with the aim of cultivating ecocentric attitudes, practices, institutions, and systems.

The other broad measure of population regulation would also be an effective lever for displacing anthropocentric forms of consumption-production and elevating/maintaining ecocentric forms. In the first place, stabilizing human demographic levels would positively impact levels of consumption: the more of us there are, the more we need to consume, so the less of us there are, the lower the levels of appropriation. White identifies the correlation between population growth and hyper-consumption, and how they may be offset by population policy and modifying our consumerist lifestyles (1978: 104). Likewise, McLaughlin explicitly links a growing population rate with greater consumption, which adds to “the strain on local and global ecosystems” (1993: 63). He also identifies the combined impact of hyper-production and population growth: “the expanding human population, especially when coupled with environmentally destructive forms of production, appears as a vast aggression against the rest of nature” (1993: 153).

While eco-pedagogy and population stabilization are significant broad measures for fostering eco-consumption and eco-production, we now turn to a discussion of a specific mechanism regarding production. We introduce the topic by recalling how Meyer-Abich places significant weight on consumers’ ability to influence production factors like what is made, how it is made, and how much of it is made. Meyer-Abich states: “I am sure that our capitalist economy could survive such a [consumer] revolution, and could produce goods which consumers who think for themselves would wish to purchase” (1993: 25). During the discussion of eco-consumption, I signaled how the notion (or myth) that consumers hold significant sway over producers would be contested. Esteemed Marxist economist Ernest Mandel succinctly explains how producers dictate most of what is produced: “the bulk of both consumer and producer goods are not produced in any way in response to ‘market signals’. . . . The bulk of current production corresponds to established consumption patterns and predetermined production techniques that are largely if not completely independent of the market” (1986: 11). Mandel provides the compelling illustrations of motor vehicles and personal computers as items that have been promoted by producers rather than demanded by consumers: “the initial push towards them [products] never comes from the market or the consumer. . . . There were businesses . . . launching new products on consumers to create the necessary demand for selling as many of their wares as possible” (1986: 11).

Mandel is basically correct: producers mostly dictate what is produced (as well as how it’s made and how much is made). Contrary to Meyer-Abich’s discourse, we consumers have limited traction in terms of dictating what is made for consumption. In “free markets,” producers are essentially free to produce whatever they desire: the existence of these items, combined with advertising and other forces, foster the consumer’s desire to obtain it. But this productive “freedom” contravenes the ecocentric imperative to manufacture only what humankind requires materially and psycho-spiritually. As with the case regarding the unbridled freedom to endlessly procreate versus the counter-obligation to avoid over-population, we have a clash here between liberty and equality: unfettered freedom for producers versus maximizing the flourishing of humans and non-humans. Ecocentrism obviously chooses the latter pathway, so Earth-centered leading would seek to contribute to greater flourishing by restricting the freedom of producers to only make goods and services that meet reasonable human ends.

The measure of restricted production is obviously a provocative one. However, when we’re allowed to properly consider it, it doesn’t appear as unreasonable as it may first appear to our hardened neoliberal sensibilities. First of all, consider the range of wicked but legalized products permitted today: slaughterhouse meat, factory-farmed eggs, cigarettes, etc. If given the power and opportunity, ethico-reasonable people would prohibit or drastically limit the generation of such products. And the prohibition/restriction of various products is precisely what ecocentric leading would do.

Some of the environmental thinkers engaged throughout this study also intimate stronger controls on the market. We may begin with McLaughlin, who recognizes that “It now seems inescapable that ecological problems will require increasing political regulation of processes once left to markets” (1993: 38) - processes that should include the kinds and quantities of commodities. We also note how Eckersley positively identifies a “nonmarket allocative system” as a process that “ensures ecologically benign production for genuine human need” (1992: 122).

Of course, the provocative measure of circumscribed production opens onto the even more confronting question of the nature of a truly ecocentric economics: restricting the freedom of producers is completely antithetical to free-wheeling neoliberal capitalism (Hayek 1944, 1960; Friedman 1962; for critiques, refer to, e.g., Harvey 2005; Jones 2012). Would an Earth-centered economics have affinities with something like a planned economy, or a “mixed” market-socialist model (such as ecosocialist philosopher André Gorz’s idea of a simultaneously planned-and-market economy [1982; cf. 1980]), or perhaps an as-yet-unimagined framework? Obviously, this abyssal question lies beyond the scope of the present work and the capacities of its author (a point elaborated later) - but it’s being broached by the growing field of ecological economics (Boulding 1966; Daly 1973, 2007; Mandel 1986; Costanza and Daly 1987; Costanza 1992; Gowdy 1998; van den Bergh 2001; Cato 2009; Ackerman 2012; Washington and Maloney 2020).

I recognize that the measure of moving away from an economy where producers are almost completely free to produce whatever they desire to an economy involving profoundly regulated production is yet another extremely controversial proposition: it runs against the very grain of the all-pervasive capitalist spirit; it runs counter to the unbounded freedom that “we capitalists” cherish. However, if ecocentric leadership is to consistently and faithfully pursue the logic-practice of Earth-centeredness, then it must follow its pathways wherever they lead, even when the destinations are contentious. So, when the question of what kinds of leaderly actions could effectively facilitate the right kind of production, then one of these policies appears to be the implementation of a more ordered, heavily regulated economy.

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