Gaia Tax — A Compensation for Extracting Earth’s Resources

On the eastern side of Ara Pacis, an altar in Rome dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace, is a relief of Tellus Mater, the Roman earth-goddess. Tellus is the Roman version of Gaia.

The distribution of natural resources across the planet is not uniform, above ground such as forests or freshwater, and below ground such as metals, ores, coal, oil and gas. Lucky regions, nations or countries happen/ed to discover valuable resources beneath their feet, or available resources (have) become valuable over time. Exploiting and trading these resources has allowed, or still allows them to prosper, while others do not have that chance. Tough luck one might say. In this story, however, I would like to propose that taking resources from Gaia, mother earth, should entail a duty for the exploiting party: some tax proportional to the gains for irreversible resource extraction which is to be put into a global pot, a contingency in solidarity with mankind. There are at least two reasons for that demand: economic and ethical.

Economic Justification

When natural resources are being extracted there is always an impact onto the world in many ways and at long time constants. Most visibly, the surface of the planet is disturbed, soil moved, uncovered, creating vast areas of barren and unusable land for generations to come; think of areas where coal or other minerals are scraped off the Earth’s face leaving deep scars. Quite often whole local ecosystems are being destroyed with an impact even on wider regions. In other cases, the extraction process generates by-products or residuals which are left on-site; they will destabilise the local balance, too (think of the Lithium extraction process, for instance, the dirty side of “clean” electric vehicles). In case of carbon based energy carriers, coal, gas and oil will release the internal energy eventually as head, and a significant larger amount of CO2 into the atmosphere (3.66 the amount of carbon; if that would have to be captured, where would it go and using what logistics?).

In essence, up to now the short and long term side effects of resource extraction have not really been factored in. Those who gain from the resource extraction, however, won’t pay for the long term consequences in most cases. From an economic standpoint, the externalities for the extraction of resources have per definition not been accounted for. To mitigate this situation in a first instance, it would be necessary to estimate the long term costs of repairing, of reversing the damage done, then force the extraction entities to bear the costs. It may be possible to come up with some models to determine these costs using input output modelling, for instance. And for the residual that cannot be estimated a contingency has to be put aside commensurate with the risks of the nature of the resource and the extraction method.

Ethical Justification

Not everybody starts life with the same possibilities; some are born into a healthy body and/or into a wealth family, some are not. To me it does not feel correct to boast about assets one was given, was endowed with or happens to inherit; they are not one’s making. In the same vein, it does not make sense to me to compliment somebody for what they were given as it is appalling to mock somebody for a defect they were born with. Rather, I would find it appropriate to only compliment somebody on how well this person converted innate gifts and abilities into something valuable, or maintained what one was given; this “gift realisation rate” would be a measure of success, not the absolute state achieved or the wealth obtained. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust expresses that well in the initial monologue:

“What you inherit from your father
must first be earned before it’s yours.”

The situation with natural resources is similar; some peoples happened to be where later valuable resources were found. They did often times not need to make a huge effort to extract the resources; they were fortunate and derived literally a fortune, pun intended. I have no objections if somebody puts in labour and effort to convert a natural resource into a produce by adding value, like farmers of craftsman do. If this somebody is hesitant to share some of the hard earned revenue, I can understand to a certain degree (even if many do forget how much others have contributed). However, financial gain from extracting natural resource which where given, yet not earned, ought to be shared. To me that is a moral imperative.

The earth’s natural resources should be for all mankind even if the physical distribution appears to be random at times. Rewarding the efforts of extraction sounds sensible; seeking exorbitant returns appears greedy and incorrect. The least one could ask a country or a nation who happens to sit on valuable resources is to be aware of their fortunate circumstances and be willing to share their fortune with the international community.

Conclusion

To conclude, akin to a global insurance institution, money ought to be put aside for the reversal or mitigation of long term effects of resource extraction. It should be possible to determine an estimate for the contribution necessary of every type of natural resource. The proposal here is that the tax is levied at the source, at the extraction point that causes the long term effect. These costs are imparted onto the extracted material or resource and follow downstream to the final consumers. Market mechanisms will ensure that some resources become less attractive if the damage to the earth is too significant. Carbon taxation is just one example of such a contribution.

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Works on the technological foundations of autonomous vehicles at Five, UK. Interested in personal mobility, renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.

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Peter Wurmsdobler

Peter Wurmsdobler

Works on the technological foundations of autonomous vehicles at Five, UK. Interested in personal mobility, renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.

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