You may have heard a lot of people talking and writing about solutions to the world environmental crisis. I certainly have – they’ve been at it for decades. But do you ever wonder why, with some of the best brains in the world and billions of dollars thrown at it, still the relentless environmental slide goes on? Many of the things they advocate seem so sensible – electric cars, cutting down on meat, clean power, recycling, certification of goods - the list is long. Unfortunately the stats show that none of this is really working. As a result, a spate of new environmental movements have sprung up, quite rightly demanding much bigger change. The remarkable Greta Thunberg has firmly pointed the finger at those with power and influence, demanding they do something to solve the crisis – not just more tinkering but something big and bold. Yet still there is no comprehensive plan – no blueprint to follow either for the immediate or the long-term future of the planet. We should be demanding to know why.
We live in an age of science and scientific discoveries and this only works for us because science is built on evidence derived from clinical observation and a strong understanding of chemistry, mathematics and the laws of physics. Without this, we would still be living under the yoke of folklore, religious diktat, quackery and superstition. However clever they may seem though, innovations still have to prove themselves to high levels of certainty before being adopted. We wouldn’t want to fly in an aircraft, or go through a complex operation, for example, unless we had complete faith in both the operators and the technology.
However, although we’ve learned that scientific knowledge is essential for progress, we rarely apply the same rigour to the organisation of economics, in particular to the markets that connect us with supplies of food, technology and raw materials. Yes, we have economic theorems, and the mechanics of economic phenomena are fairly well understood. But when market economics creates a major crisis in the environment, as it is doing, we fail to look deep into the processes that brought it about for underlying causes and potential solutions. Instead, economists and the governments they serve flail about trying out different strategies according to prevailing economic orthodoxy, itself heavily influenced by political bias and hence widely disputed. For myself, I wouldn’t to fly on that plane any day of the week. Yet in effect that’s what the world is doing – flying on an economics aeroplane that is leading the natural environment and its species - including us, to an inevitable, massive crash. The engines are shuddering, cracks are appearing in the fuselage, and the stewards are rushing up and down the aisles in alarm. Still no-one seems to want to land the plane, allow engineers to thoroughly examine its structure and mechanics, make the necessary adjustments, and take off again with renewed confidence.
In the next article I’ll explain that actually there is the sort of plan Greta and so many others are demanding, one that has been working extraordinarily well for billions of years. It’s big, and right under our noses - in Nature.