“We're all on the Titanic — with no captain, no rudder, and engines on full.”
Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, driven by a consumeristic global market economy, we are facing widespread climate misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss. On a multitude of fronts, the human impact on Earth’s biological systems is increasing at an unsustainable rate. Rising CO2 emissions, declining available freshwater, and expanding dead zones from artificial fertilizer runoff are just a few of the dangerous environmental trends that have scientists sounding the alarm.
The momentum behind this highly sophisticated and tightly interconnected global market system, an economic juggernaut we have collectively created but cannot now seem to control, is driving humankind beyond the safe limits of several environmental planetary boundaries. In recent years, thousands of scientists from every corner of the globe are all signaling the same message: We're all on the Titanic — with no captain, no rudder, and engines on full.
This global economic system is driven by the theoretical construct and practice of global finance. And though we are clearly in a state of ecological overshoot, we are in an even greater state of financial overshoot. After all, a finite biosphere cannot support a perpetually growing economy. Nor can it support a perpetually growing global financial system, especially one that exploits and destabilizes debtor nations.
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 excessive and not repayable in many cases. 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. And 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 dangerous 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.
Even with more direct and immediate feedback mechanisms, though, the perceived risks in abandoning ‘gray’ and ‘brown’ petroculture economic sectors for the promise of more fulfilling jobs in an emerging ‘green’ economy are very high. Going green is 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.
Tragically, the material insecurity created by the current neoliberal capitalist system has insidiously chained many of us to it.