We used to love bubbles when we were kids, soap bubbles, bubble bath, bubble gum. Bubbles meant fun. But when we grew up, we met a different, more sinister kind of bubble. Dot-Com bubbles, Real estate bubbles, stock market bubbles. They were fun at first in their own way, but when they popped, we got hurt. We lost money, jobs, livelihoods. From inside the bubble, everything looks rosy- we’re in our own little world. But the bubble is based on faulty or missing information about the real world. Dot.com companies do need to show a real profit sooner or later, real estate values can’t grow at double digits forever, and markets built on shaky investments will someday fall like ripe apples.
Right now we’re in the middle of another bubble, maybe the biggest of all. We’ve been living in a “bubble economy” for a few generations, inflated by easy access to finite fossil fuels, forests and other resources, using them at a rate that we can’t sustain for the long term. We busted open the piggy bank and went to the candy store. It’s been a fun ride, and has given a billion or two of us unprecedented health and wealth. But like the guy who jumps out of 10 story building and thinks he’s flying, we’re headed for a hard landing if we don’t wake up and smell the concrete. Gravity’s not just a good idea, it’s the law- and the laws of commerce and the laws of nature have been at odds for awhile now, and the laws of nature are not going to change anytime soon. We need to let the air out of the bubble before it pops in our face.
See, we forgot that our economy is not the whole system. The truth is, a sound economy depends on a sound society (been shopping in Darfur lately?) and a sound society depends on a strong ecosystem to provide basic material needs. My friend Paul Morris of the automotive parts company Visteon drew this picture he calls the “layer cake”:
Now Paul’s no bomb thrower. He’s an engineer in a capitalist company. The point is there’s nothing wrong with capitalism, it’s just never been tried- broad based capitalism taking into account social and natural capital, the health of our communities and nature. Not just next quarter’s figures. Sustainability guru and Greenopolis Advisory Board member John Elkington calls this the “triple bottom line” taking care of people and planet as well as profit.
So how do we move to an economy that is rooted in community and environmental health? Comment below and stay tuned for part 5…