Natural resources are not “free” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #27

“Free” has acquired so many connotations in the lexicon of capitalism that it inevitably calls into focus a structuralist-based binary of free vs. not free. “Free,” in other words, is a term that describes a concept necessary because of our current economic ideologies. Saying something is “free” implies that economic systems are natural and necessary. We must never ignore social constructions. 

When describing “natural resources” people often make mistakes by describing such resources–including air, land, flora, the Sun, and water–as “free.” A hamburger at McDonalds might be “free” because you have a coupon or they messed up an order, a case of water might be free at Krogers because you spent “x” amount of money. “Free” is always tied to spending, advertising, and/or consumerism in some way or another. But, natural resources necessitate a different syntax because they don’t depend on human-centric social constructions.

Natural resources will go on with or without humans and their dependence on money. If we want to challenge our nation’s and world’s grip on monetizing everything, we must move away from using “free” to describe that which we don’t want monetized and which, in the large scope of History, can’t be monetized. 

The Sun provides enough energy and humans have developed technology such that we could totally stop using oil, coal, gas, etc., etc., etc. now and maintain the comfortable lives we to which we are accustomed.

“Free” is not the correct word to describe the Sun’s power, for example–in terms of economic vocabularies, as already stated, and in terms of this revolutionary power.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick sketch of some thoughts that came to me this evening!   

What do you think? Let me know!

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda