Scott Russell Sanders in Orion Magazine:
Why are those of us in the richest countries acting in such a way as to undermine the conditions on which our own lives, the lives of other species, and the lives of future generations depend? And why are we so intent on coaxing or coercing the poorer countries to follow our example? There are many possible answers, of course, from human shortsightedness to selfish genes to otherworldly religions to consumerism to global corporations. I would like to focus on a different one—our confusion of financial wealth with real wealth. To grasp the impact of that confusion, think of someone you love. Then recall that if you were to reduce a human body to its elements—oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, copper, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, iodine, and so on—you would end up with a few dollars’ worth of raw materials. But even with inflation, and allowing for the obesity epidemic, this person you cherish still would not fetch as much as ten dollars on the commodities market. A child would fetch less, roughly in proportion to body weight.
Such calculations seem absurd, of course, because none of us would consider dismantling a human being for any amount of money, least of all someone we love. Nor would we entertain the milder suggestion of lopping off someone’s arm or leg and putting it up for sale, even if the limb belonged to our worst enemy. Our objection would not be overcome by the assurance that the person still has another arm, another leg, and seems to be getting along just fine. We’d be likely to say that it’s not acceptable under any circumstances to treat a person as a commodity, worth so much per pound. And yet this is how our economy treats every portion of the natural world—as a commodity for sale, subject to damage or destruction if enough money can be made from the transaction.