Over the past year, global financial markets have been experiencing what internacional media have, at various times termed either as the “sub-prime mortgage crisis” or a “credit crisis” or as a “global financial crisis” or as a “banking crisis”.
I am not an economist. My only claim to being familiar with things economic has been through an undergarduate university course I took in the subject, through laymen readings I engage in as a compliment to my professional work, and as an ongoing personal interest.
That said, economics, politics and sustainable development all seem to me to share at least one thing in common: “pendulum swings”. That is, each of these fields experiences the phenomenon whereby economic or political or ecological swings made in one direction can often be followed by near equal swings in the complete opposite direction.
For me, the current financial crisis – which is a variant of the olde adage that: “What goes up, must come down” – simply provides further solid, even practical, evidence of the existence of pendulum swings in systems.
Financial crises are not new. Earth’s humans have ample historical evidence of financial crises happening in various locations and at various points over historical time. Interestingly for the purposes of this discusion, these crises have often arisen after an earlier period of financial excess (i.e. after an earlier period of time where the pendulum had swung itself in to the complete opposite direction).
“And so, what does all of this have to do with sustainable devlopment”, you may ask?
This is because sustainable development denotes a “balance”: a balance between the social, environmental and economic components of human societies.
And it is an “im-balance” in the workings of the global economy that has lead to the current financial crisis. (With much of this im-balance still tied in to the financial markets’ ongoing inability to accept limits to growth, which laws of physics, particualrly the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamcis, so clearly address).
Otherwise stated, it is in the striving for a balance in each of the three aspects of sustainable dvelopment that human societies can help avoid extreme swings of the pendulum, such as the global economy is currently experiencing.
Traditionally throughout human history, humans could be certain that, no matter what specifically happened within the confines of our constructed economic systems – whether a financial crisis or a recession or whatever– at the end of the day all things would eventually work themselves out in some manner.
Yet today, with the added pressures humans are placing on earth and the planet’s ecosystems, humans can no longer seriously hold any same degree of certainty in a positive outcome to a financial crisis.
Unlike in the general workings of human-constructed economic systems, should earth’s ecological balance give way – and earth’s ecological balance itself increasingly appears threatened by the dominant economic system we now watch in the media as being in a free-fall – then those ecological consequences will be beyond human ability to control.
Most of those global banks currently identified in the media as facing final stages of collapse are now being bailed-out by national governments, which are offering billions and billions of taxpayers dollars in loans and guarantees. However humans need be clear that no human financial bailout can ever save or rescue an earth ecosystem in the final stages of collapse.
And while paper calculations of devalued assets are generally the main losses in a financial crisis, the physical lives of countless humans and other biodiverse species will be what are lost in any ecosystem collapse on earth. While paper losses can be chalked up to personal experience, physical losses are permanent.
Soon global governments and the business community will have done all they can do to mitigate the effects of the current financial crisis. And after that time has been reached, national governments would then be wise to shift their attentions toward developing and implementing policies for acheiving greater degrees of balance within human societies.
By necessity, this shift in attention cannot be a backward shift toward trying to recapture the past glories of an oft-failed economic system. (i.e. evidence of such failures are found within the current global financial crisis, the Argentine financial crisis of 1999, the Russian financial crisis of 1998, to name only some of the most recent such examples).
National governments should instead make a forward shift: one toward seriously thinking about “how” human societies can be restructured to begin their necessary process of bringing about “sustainable development” and its intended balance between its social, economic and environmental components.
For me, such a shift would include solutions requiring humans to end a habitual return to past patterns of behaviour. This shift would, instead, require humans to become aware of how better life on our planet would be should all countries pull together and work alongside one another for the “Commonwealth” and “Common Good” of all life on earth.
And how might a “sustainable devlopment balance” appear in your part of earth?
Social Sustainable Development could include:
- policies to increase social cohesion, integration and equity;
- K-12 public education, mandatorily and freely-available for all citizens;
- health care, freely available to all citizens;
- participatory decision-making, whereby the practice of democracy is expanded to one where citizens are actively involved in the making of major societal decisions;
- ending of corrupt official practices;
- creating a culture of meritocracy;
- food security (i.e. food sustainability); and
- encouraging individual creativity by ensuring freedom of thought and freedom of belief.
Economic Sustainable Development might involve:
- development and implementation of locally-appropriate policies to create a strong middle class and to eliminate any wide income divide between the wealthiest 30% and poorest 30% of a national population;
- diversification of local economies away from any primary reliance on single economic activities and instead repositioned toward a basket of varied economic potentialities;
- the pursuit of localised economic sustainability (economic self-sufficency) within a larger national and global reality; and
- expenditures in Sustainability R&D (research & development).
Environmental Sustainable Development would entail:
- living within the bio-regeneration capacity of a local ecosystem. This would include humans not taking more resources out of the earth and its local eco-systems than can be replensished by those same eco-systems and the earth itself AND that humans not dispose into the earth any waste that is not easily biodegradable nor place in the earth more waste than the earth can easily degrade by natural processes; and
- varying and locally-appropriate degrees of respect for all life and life-forms on earth and in a local eco-system.
Tus, to reduce the potencial ferocity of “pendulum swings” – such as the one currently being experienced in the global financial system – and to ensure a greater harmony within human societies by our pursuing an economic, environmental and social balance, human societies need, by necessity, to move toward Sustainable Development.
Currently, Earth’s pendulum swing is to the positive, with an adundance of resources still available if they are shared fairly and justly with all life forms on earth.
Yet in the way humans are developing our societies, science has been warning us for some time now that earth’s pendulum is now swinging in the other direction.
Are humans really eager to try and live through the ecological equivalent of a “global financial crisis”?
Is it time for humans to engage in a “Sustainable Development Re-think”?