“Clearly, a perpetually growing economy will at some point
be in conflict with a finite biosphere, and so too will global finance.”
The our tightly interconnected global market economy, a tsunami wave we collectively created but cannot now seem to control, is driving humankind beyond the limits of environmental planetary boundaries. In recent years, thousands of scientists from across all countries have been sounding the alarm.
Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, we are facing widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss. On a multitude of fronts, the human impact on the earth’s biological systems is increasing at an unsustainable rate: rising CO2 emissions; declining available freshwater; and increasing numbers of ocean dead zones from artificial fertilizer runoff. Concerned scientists fear that time is running out — soon it will be too late to shift course away from an ominous failing trajectory.
This global economic juggernaut is driven by the theoretical construct and practice of global finance. Though we are currently in ecological overshoot, we are in even greater financial overshoot. Clearly, a perpetually growing economy will at some point be in conflict with a finite biosphere, and so too will global finance.
Free trade coupled with capital mobility has disrupted macroeconomic stability by permitting huge international payment imbalances and financial capital transfers resulting in debts that are not repayable in many cases and excessive in others. Efforts to service these financial debts have led to unsustainable rates of exploitation of exportable resources, government budget deficits, and monetary creation with resulting inflation. Inflation begets currency devaluations, foreign exchange speculation, capital flight, and ultimately disruption of the macroeconomic stability of the debtor nation. But with a few notable exceptions such as land-rich Russia and Canada, many developed countries are in fact ecological debtors that require the biocapacity of others, either through imports or land leasing.
The resulting ecological and financial overshoots are particularly insidious phenomena because of their relatively slow feedback loops. With no immediate negative feedback, human civilization keeps taking out bigger and bigger overdrafts from our ecological and financial ‘accounts.’ We treat these funds as ‘income’ and celebrate our continuing progress. In the end, of course, the well runs dry and it’s game over.
Tragically, the perceived risks in abandoning ‘gray’ and ‘brown’ petroculture economic sectors for the promise of more fulfilling jobs in an emerging ‘green’ economy remain untenable for the many workers, because their immediate financial stability is vested in the neoliberal fossil-fueled global growth economy. In the current context of high consumer debt, low savings, high cost-of-living, and job insecurity — all the products of late-stage capitalism — public enthusiasm for risky systemic change is understandably low. Sadly, the material insecurity created by the current neoliberal capitalist system has tightly bound us all to it.