The bubble bursts

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

What are we to make of the world financial crisis? Some analysts are comparing it to the Crash of 1929, which triggered The Great Depression of the 1930s. Almost without exception, they assume it to be a bad thing. Pension funds are evaporating into thin air, people are losing their jobs and businesses are failing. If we picture the economy as a speeding vehicle carrying people to growth and prosperity, and the vehicle suddenly goes into a ditch, then, yes, clearly it’s a bad thing.

But what if the vehicle was accelerating down a road that led over a cliff? Might we not say, “Wow! That was a close one,” and be amazed that fortune should smile on us? The metaphor is not far-fetched, for our economy is rushing to disaster of an ecological kind – and when Nature’s ecosystems collapse, we all collapse.

Our economy is a bundle of activities through which we take Nature’s resources, add intelligence and use them to add comfort and pleasure to our lives. It is like a bubble that sucks in the real world of trees, fish, animals, plants, minerals, fossil fuels, land, water and topsoil and rolls on regardless, without accounting for what it leaves behind. The bubble can roll right over a beautiful ancient forest and grow fat on its fibre, declaring it “a good thing” in its annual accounts.

If the trees do not speak or explain their value in terms the bubble can understand, it is as if they have no existence. Humans who love the trees for what they are may organize to protect them, and sometimes they may win, causing parks and wilderness areas to be created, but apart from that the bubble rolls on consuming everything it touches.

And if the bubble discovers an amazing source of energy called fossil fuels, which allows it to move faster and more furiously, is this not a good thing? And if a group of people begins warning that fossil fuels leave a dangerous residue in the sky that traps the sun’s heat and if this is allowed to continue that all human existence will grind to a halt, will this not cause the drivers of the bubble to ask if they should stop? No – for they prefer voices that tell them not to worry, that the fears are probably a scam dreamed up by people who never liked the bubble anyway.

And if the drivers of the bubble are told that they really must stop because they are chewing up so much of Nature that if everyone lived the way people do in Vancouver, we would need three more entire planets to support us, would that cause the bubble to pause, and stop? No, for the bubble is guided by its own internal messages of growth, profit and gain and all other messages are simply programmed out.

When this bubble crashes, should we not then give thanks for the blessings of a fortunate accident? The mortgage funds tumble over the derivatives and hedge funds and the bubble’s financial hyperdrive lands on its knees while the regulators, who were supposed to prevent such a crash, were reciting their mantras in the “Temple of Economic Growth,” chanting, “Do not regulate. Let the market decide. The market knows best.”

This crash, then, while it is cruel and troubling for individuals and their families, may be the best thing that could have happened to our civilization. It gives us a chance to step out of the bubble and turn in a new direction towards ecological sustainability, to change the economy’s ruling principles so that Nature is never again left out of the picture.

It gives us a chance to invest the billions that will flow in economic stimulus packages in measures that will unhook our dependency on fossil fuels; make our homes and buildings more efficient; develop transit, high-speed trains, cycle routes and renewable energy; and restore our forests, grasslands and farmlands. It gives us a chance to breathe and move towards a different future.

Guy Dauncey is the author of nine books, including After the Crash: The Emergence of the Rainbow Economy. He is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

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