The cost of inaction

The Scientists for Global Responsibility forum took me in a totally unexpected direction today. What started out as an endorsement of Dr Ben Goldacre’s recent book ‘Bad Pharma’ ended up in the realisation that (as Slavoj Žižek said)

It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

I can thoroughly recommend that you read Dr Goldacre’s book, which does an excellent job of highlighting how the pharmaceutical industry deliberately puts dangerous and useless drugs on the market. But, as Media Lens points out, not only does the book not go far enough, its author seems unable to accept the logical conclusion of his own argument. And ‘We are not the beatiful’ hits the nail squarely on the head:

If regulation of the pharmaceutical industry were actually competent, as Goldacre wants it to be, it would prevent capitalism from working (actually it’s not working well anyway but effective regulation would be another drag on profits). A 2009 UN report found that a third of the profits of the world’s biggest 3,000 companies would be wiped out if firms were forced to pay for the use, loss and damage to the environment they cause. In other words, truly effective environmental regulation would render capitalism impossible.

For years now, I’ve felt that there was something badly wrong with our society, without being able to put my finger on what, exactly, the problem was. I felt like a square peg in a round hole, unable to move. More recently I’ve come to believe that the entire system is broken, and needs fixing. What this examination of the drugs industry has done, for me, is to highlight not just that there are endemic problems but that we are inextricably mired within them.

I’m not a square peg stuck in a round hole; I’m a round peg sitting uncomfortably in a hexagonal one, spinning on the spot, trying to fit but going nowhere.

We’re stuck in a cycle of inaction that costs us more every day; but in the final analysis the cost of inaction is nothing, because without civilisation, there is no money. QED.

About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
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9 Responses to The cost of inaction

  1. A reflective post that echoes the background thoughts of millions of others, I dare say. What I am curious about is how we got to this place? Where and when did it the society it does now appear to be.

    Maybe when we lost the values and the purpose of community? Maybe when we became disconnected from the consequences of our actions? Maybe when the idea of integrity became a quaint concept from other times?

    Gracious, you have got me staring into my own dark pool this day! 😉


    • pendantry says:

      Sorry about the dark pool. I doubt it’s any consolation, but I have a similar pool here.

      How did we get here? Lack of vision/ tunnel vision. I think it may have coincided with the point when cumulative human knowledge hit the point at which it became impossible for any one person to know everything. Increasing specialisation makes it impossible to grasp the big picture, as Paul Beckwith suggests here (with thanks to Transition Voice for link):


  2. jpgreenword says:

    If it makes you feel any better, I feel the same way! Square peg, round hole.

    I remember siting in my car, listening to the news in 2009. They were talking about how consumption in North America was declining. To me this was good thing. Our excessive consumption puts strain on natural resources, leads to massive amounts of waste and, blah, blah, blah. But, to the world-at-large, this was a BAD thing because it was harming the economy and millions of people were losing their job!
    Or how about when carbon emissions went down in 2009? Oh, it’s because the global economy was collapsing. Right!

    When what WE NEED to have happen (ex: lower carbon emissions) only occurs at the expense of something horrible (ex: global economic collapse), I know something is wrong with the world.


    • pendantry says:

      I see the problem as twofold: we have to gain acceptance to a slowdown in the economy, and implement it slowly enough that it doesn’t send it into freefall — if that’s even possible, which I very much doubt given that it’s designed from the ground up on the assumption of eternal growth.


  3. silke says:

    There might still be some hope.
    1. In Germany GHG emissions are going down although the economy is (still) growing.
    2. When the German economy slowed down in the course of the financial crisis, some polls found that the average German felt that they were doing better.
    If I was a very optimistic person (and I am not), I’d interpret those two points as (very weak) indications that it is possible to
    1. decouple climate gas emissions from economic growth and
    2. decouple prosperity and well-being from economic growth.
    (Unfortunately I cannot name my sources.)


    • pendantry says:

      What you’re talking about is perhaps the last hope we have left, assuming there is any at all given tipping points already crossed; but only if your green bud encourages similar growth (and, like, yesterday).


  4. Idebenone says:

    You may notice a pervasive theme in public discourse that government is too big and ought to be made smaller, that regulations ought to be simplified or removed altogether.


    • pendantry says:

      I’m not entirely sure what you mean. The problem isn’t that government is too big — in fact, it’s clearly too small to do the things that need to be done. The problem is that government isn’t sufficiently accountable to the people whom it is supposed to represent. And as for removing regulations: may I refer you to my post the other day ‘oblivious to the crash‘ in which I said:

      picture a deregulated highway/ freeway/ motorway. What happens when each and every individual has the ‘freedom’ to choose on which side of the road to drive, and the ‘freedom’ to ignore all speed limits?


    • jpgreenword says:

      Just because an idea is part of the public discourse does not make it valid or credible. Look at what deregulation of the banking system in the US brought us: a global economic crash.
      That is not to say that all regulations are good and perfect, absolutely not. However, you cannot ignore that corporations have one motivations: profits. Not the protection of the environment, not worker safety, profits. If you remove the rule that says “you can’t dump toxic waste in a river” and a corporation can improve its profit margin by dumping its toxic waste in a river, there will be toxic waste in a river. Guaranteed.


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