Everything Is Connected to Everything Else: Economic and Ecological Bubbles

denis_hayes.jpgDenis Hayes, President and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, kicked off today’s Ceres Conference in San Francisco with a reminder that no nation can solve climate problems on its own – we must come together as a species because everything is connected. North African dust has been correlated to hurricanes. We have all breathed an atom that was exhaled by Julius Caesar when he said “Et tu Brutus?”
Economic bubbles and ecological bubbles
Globalization has raised the stakes for both economic and ecological bubbles. “In America bubbles have to do with…delusions that mouse clicks can be monetized, and that my house can double in value every three years,” Hayes explained. But economic bubbles and today’s crisis will end – illiquidity is not irreversible.
Ecological bubbles on the other hand are not reversible. Ecological bubbles don’t bounce back. Today’s prices do not reflect ecological realities. We are undermining values of ecosystem services and not including it in our accounting. These costs that are treated as external are larger and more important than internal factors, and they have grown to awesome proportions. “Sooner or later, mother nature will break our kneecaps,” Hayes warned.
What should we do?
Hayes had three suggestions:

1) We need to reproduce within the planet’s carrying capacity.
We are overshooting our carrying capacity and we need to scale back population growth dramatically. Nature will do it for us in catastrophic ways.
2) Substitute craftsmanship for throughput.
We’ve created an economy which values consumption, rather value, quality and endurance. Today’s products are not designed to last. “My parents never used a credit card, nor did they have a mortgage. They didn’t buy much, but when they did they always bought the best that they could get,” Hayes told us. Today we are buying junk, “sawdust and glue furniture, which disintegrates quickly.” And the sad truth is that the faster wood moves from trees in the forest to the dump, the faster the global economy grows and prospers. Our economy is based on the willingness of Americans to buy junk they don’t need that they can’t afford. “In a world where we’ve run past resource limits, we need to place highest economic value on quality and endurance, not planned obsolescence.”
3) We need to temper the extremes of wealth and poverty.
Hayes explained: “I had dinner with Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, and I asked him ‚ÄòWhat is most important thing we need to do to postpone collapse?’ He said collapses most commonly occur when rich shield themselves from the consequences of their actions.” Until we can redistribute wealth more evenly, we will bounce from one bubble to another.

Amie runs Cobblestone Solutions, LLC, a consultancy focusing on business development, marketing, communications and strategy for mission driven companies. Previously, Amie served as Director of Business Development for Viv (a Bay Area environmental start-up), Program Manager for Social Venture Technology Group (a boutique consulting firm focused on measuring social and environmental impact), and Associate Consultant at Bain & Co (a global management consulting firm). She is particularly interested in innovations that reduce waste, altering consumer behavior for good, and leveraging the power of business to solve the climate crisis. You can read more from her on her blog, on GreenBiz.com, and on JustMeans.

2 responses

  1. I think Hayes really nailed it. I like the understanding that we’ve been riding an “ecological bubble”, and need to figure out a way to come down safely. I’d add to his suggestions a renewed focus on building strong and vital local communities, which can only make the others easier to achieve.

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