The ecological deficit and the economic debt

           10 May 2009

 The ecological deficit and the economic debt


 The global economic crisis could be a blessing in disguise if the political actors are willing to take a more holistic view of the planet that sustains us. A communiqué issued after the G20 summit in London on 2 April, pledges, among others, to build an inclusive, green, and sustainable recovery. The crises has many facets, among them the sudden loss of the value of assets, the reduction in the general availability of credit, the greater difficulty in acquiring loans from banks, and a credit crunch which followed periods of careless and inappropriate lending. The lack of liquidity, bankruptcy and inflation, the rise in the general level of prices of goods and services, and the buying of fewer goods and services, affects the economic growth through recession, depression, possible bank runs, and unemployment. Financial troubles can and are spreading from firm to firm. The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy marked the largest bankruptcy in the history of the United States. The American International Group (AIG) is also another example of the financial crisis, as is Chrysler, the US’ third largest auto company.

 Governments, especially those of the most industrialised nations, rushed to the scene to bail out these ailing corporations operating in the free market system. Milton Friedman, the American economist noted for his support for free markets and for a reduction in the size of government, said that, “the business of business is business”. In Maltese we say Is-suq isuq. This seems to hold water as long as corporations do not find themselves in deep water, when governments are faced with Hobson’s choice to dig deep into the public coffers to bail out the collapsing finance-driven free-market entities, in some cases even nationalising them.  

Ecological deficit

 The reaction of governments to such a global financial crisis has completely dwarfed a more acute, threatening, catastrophic crisis facing humanity at large: a crisis which can wipe out the very existence, not just of financial institutions and industrial production, but of humanity itself through the destabilisation of the ecological system that sustains us all. Far from being hearsay, it is factual tangible knowledge that the ice caps are melting, the sea level is slowly but surely rising, soils are being eroded, climate change is round the corner, hurricanes are blowing with greater force and frequency, forests are being rapidly denuded, floods are inundating expanses of both rural and urban areas, droughts are sustaining famines, oceans are impregnated with toxic and non toxic waste, marine life is being depleted, pesticides and fertiliser runoff are saturating aquifers and fresh water supplies, plant pollinators (insects) are slowly disappearing, organisms are being genetically modified, people are fleeing from countries that are raped to sustain the free market, plastics are suffocating the social and ecological environments, resources are being consumed beyond the limit, waste mountains are accumulating faster than the ecosystem can handle, the ecological overdraft is increasing, and increasing to the extent that the ecological deficit is currently unredeemable by today’s and the foreseeable future generations. Politicians, given their wisdom and intelligence, know, or are at least supposed to know, that nature does not do any bail out for humanity. But, as experienced, when the business of business is just business, financial institutions and industrial production take first preference over the very ecological system that sustains life! This is an inconvenient truth: the free market concept is fuelling and slowly activating the time bomb on which today’s generation is comfortably sitting. A price is being paid for a democracy where it is more important for the political leaderships to obtain the consensus of the individuals against the more important right to ensure the best quality of life for all humanity, and this at the expense of present and future generations, the latter having lent us planet earth. It has become very evident that the human and politician nature is to concentrate on end-of-the-nose vote catching issues, leaving deeper, more important, and less populist issues till i t is too late. When the ecological system can take no more, it won’t be possible to do anything, not even with the most determined will of  politicians. The bubble would have burst. “Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you realise that money cannot be eaten” (Cree American Indian saying). 

 There is no doubt about it, no politician is willing to try and change the present, temporary, comfortable lifestyle of consumption without limit, oblivious of tomorrow, to ensure that human civilization proceeds beyond this and the next generation. But unlike the political system based and dictated by the present free market system, the ecological system will definitely take action without any fear or favour, and without any consideration of colour, creed, intelligence, political beliefs or numbers. Nature does not need the self-proclaimed most intelligent species to keep the ecosystem functioning. On the other hand, it is the most intelligent species that still has to come to terms with the fact that it desperately needs the ecosystem to survive. It seems that it has become an obvious rule of thumb for politicians not to do anything or procrastinate until there is a crisis, thus aggravating the eventual backlash.

 Social vision

 “This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know: all things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Chief Seattle, of the North American Indians. “Before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions that reflect knowing how to recreate a strong alliance between man and the earth.” Pope Benedict XVI in Loreto, Italy – September 2007. Such a vision is definitely not incorporated in the free-market system, where the business of business is just business.

 Mr Baldacchino is a Planning and Environmental Manager


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