Corporations and Spaceship Earth

In the global economy corporations wield great power and their impact on the global socio-ecological system as well as their influence on national politics is enormous. A new book by Nicholas Freudenberg reviewed in the New York Times here looks at the consequences on public health in the USA of the drive for corporate profit. The book – “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health” – coins the phrase ‘corporate consumer complex’ to capture how profoundly the values of the US are now permeated with the notions of consumers’ “rights” to eat junk food, to smoke, to buy and carry guns, to drive SUVs and so on. These rights contradict other rights for healthy diets, heathy lungs, safe streets and clean air. A Spaceship Earth perspective raises the issue of corporations’ rights to pursue profit while, with minimal regulation,  using the planet as a free dumping ground for waste with little concern for the health of the planet’s passengers. It is clear that any attempt to address the exponential threats to our ‘spaceship home’ has to incorporate corporate power as Paul Gilding among others, argues in “The Great Disruption” (see his TED talk).

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  1. Ten years ago Joel Bakan, Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia, wrote “The Corporation: The pathological pursuit of profit and power”. He also made an associated film documentary now on DVD. Both advanced the notion that, contrary to the images presented by advertising and the mainstream press, corporations in their drive for profit and shareholder wealth, behave as do pathological individuals with little concern for the broader consequences. The Economist magazine described the book as “a surprisingly rational and coherent attack on capitalism’s most important institution”.

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