Much of the world’s attention is fixed on the brutal effects of the global financial crisis.
But sooner or later – sooner we hope – the global economy will rebound. Markets will recover, and stocks will rise. Nature, on the other hand, does not do bailouts. The effects of today’s greenhouse gas emissions – like those of yesterday and tomorrow – will be permanent, at least in the timescales that we care about.
They are what will shape the lives and markets of tomorrow.
My view of sustainability is very simple: what can’t be sustained won’t be. It was impossible for real estate values to continue to rise much faster than economic growth. It had to end sometime . . . and it did. When the bubble burst, the consequences were severe.
The same lesson applies to the ecological sphere. We simply cannot continue changing the chemistry of the atmosphere, through rising greenhouse gas emissions, without inviting enormous consequences. We cannot continue to increase human use of fresh water at twice the rate of population growth. Not only are there are limits on available supplies, but in many places these are reduced by climate change and pollution. Nor can we continue to create coastal dead zones, in areas where hundreds of millions of people depend on fisheries, by releasing ever more nitrogen into the surface waters of the Earth.
Since these behaviours can’t be sustained, they won’t be. The key question is whether we choose a managed transition to sustainability, or wait until the bubble bursts. That choice will have a profound effect on tomorrow’s markets.