Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Must financial prosperity precede sustainable development?

The Elders are a group of senior statesmen like Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter who are applying their wisdom and experience to global problems. They are stimulating a series of discussions, and one of the questions asked is,   
"Why is it so hard to make effective change a reality? What are the barriers to change?" 

My 2p:
I would like to pick up just one of these barriers, approaching it as a cognitive therapist approaches a client, by examining the thinking and assumptions that lie behind a problem.

A very common argument put forward by politicians is "Financial prosperity must precede sustainable development". That is, we must get rich first, and then we can spend some of our wealth on cleaning up.

In these recession-hit times, the same thought is expressed as, "Interest in the environment has fallen down the list of priorities due to the recession".

These assumptions are the very opposite of true.

In recession, the problem is widespread unemployment. The essence of our ecological crisis is that there is a vast amount of work that needs to be done - work in energy conservation, renewable energy technology, in power distribution and storage, in organic agriculture, in water management, in re-forestation and in many other areas, right through to enabling people who are old, sick and vulnerable to be cared for.

Given the amount of good, creative, constructive work that needs to be done, unemployment is absolutely unnecessary. The challenge is for economists and politicians to find ways of diverting money away from the casino economy and into the real economy.

This can be done, by understanding exactly how it is that money is created, but it has to be admitted that the resistance of vested interests against this transition will be immense.

However, one of the most potent ways this resistance is expressed is through the meme "Financial prosperity must precede sustainable development".  If we vigorously challenge this statement every time it is rolled out, we will be pulling one of the props out from under the engine that is destroying our world.

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