Comment »Posted on Wednesday 29 October 2008 at 11:12 am by Jacob Aron
In Climate Change & Environment, Musings

And no, I don’t mean the falling sales of organic food in times of economic hardship.

In the past I’ve talked about the comparisons between the reporting of business and science, and discussed the economic effect of biodiversity loss. It seems that environmental campaigners are increasingly grasping hold of banking metaphors in order to engage with the public.

Today the WWF, in conjunction with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, published their Living Planet Report 2008 under the banner of an “ecological credit crunch”. The phrase, now so engrained in the public mind, instantly conveys a message: we’re in trouble.

The demand the human race now places on global resources exceeds the planet’s “natural capital” by about 30%. If this rate of growth continues, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to sustain our lifestyles. In other words, more than three quarters of the global population are now “ecological debtors” – we’ve borrowed from the Bank of Nature and can’t afford the repayments.

“Continued ecological deficit spending will have severe economic consequences,” said the Global Footprint Network Executive Director, Dr Mathis Wackernagel. “Resource limitations and ecosystem collapses would trigger massive stagflation with the value of investments plummeting, while food and energy costs skyrocket.”

America and the United Arab Emirates are the biggest borrowers, with the largest ecological footprint. The UK comes in at 15th, but still uses the same amount of natural resources as 33 African countries put together. That’s 33, folks.

Something needs to change. Capitalism is based on the concept of eternal growth; if we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backwards. As these figures show however, we’ve already grown too much. You can’t reach for infinity by using finite resources – yet we’ve blindly ignored this fact since the days of Adam Smith.

“We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically – seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences,” said Zoological Society of London co-editor Jonathan Loh. “The consequences of a global ecological crisis are even graver than the current economic meltdown.”

The banks are semi-privatised. Climate change denial is no longer seen as valid point of view. In less than one week from now, the most powerful nation in the world will elect a new leader. We have the opportunity to changed the way we work, to move away from the days of eternal growth and in to a more sustainable model.

It won’t be easy, but it must be done. I have no idea how though. Capitalism, like its partner democracy, prevails because it is the least worst system compared to the rest of them. How can we move away from that? Ultimately, the answer must be an energy-based economy. I’ll trade you five hydrogen-bucks for a cup of ethically and sustainably produced coffee, buying a product for the actual cost of the energy used to make it. Can it be done? The WWF believes so.

David Norman, director of campaigns at WWF said: “We humans have been very good at creating problems – but we can be equally good at solving them. A sustainable world is not an unachievable goal. As the world looks to restore its economies we must build in long term environmental as well as economic sustainability.”

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