Climate change, environmental damage and many aspects of poverty are all symptoms of a faulty economic system, one that measures the wrong things, that does not account for the true costs of activities that damage the environment and people. Treating climate change or poverty without addressing the structural flaws in the economy is like putting a Band-Aid over a severed limb. With that treatment plan the patient, this planet, is going to bleed out.
In the evolution of a species significant change rarely occurs without significant pressure. As the environment changes what once might have worked well for a species no longer suits. That species must then either adapt or risk extinction.
One of the classic textbook examples is the peppered moth. When parts of Britain became heavily polluted following the Industrial Revolution smoke and soot killed lichens growing on trees and blackened their bark. The mostly white peppered moths had been well camouflaged when they rested on pale tree trunks but once the tree bark darkened the moths were very conspicuous and were easily picked off by birds. Rare dark moths, which had been conspicuous before, were now well camouflaged in the black background. As birds switched from eating mainly dark moths to mainly pale moths, the most common moth color changed from pale to dark. The moths had evolved. In a fascinating recent turn of events, as Britain has curbed its smoke and soot pollution, the tree bark has once again lightened and an upsurge in the paler peppered moth is underway. Evolution is ongoing.
Somewhat similar to species, complex systems also go through evolutionary processes. The U.S. energy system is a good example. Over decades the large electricity grids were built out, massive hydro dams installed in rivers across the west, coal plants were developed, then often displaced, as natural gas became an affordable option. Now renewables, like wind and solar, are adding to the evolutionary mix.
This ever-changing energy infrastructure is one part of an even more complex system – the economy. Polls show that most Americans tend to view the economy as something vast and beyond our control. We tend to think of it as a force of nature that cannot be controlled. But in fact, it is a set of human-made systems that we have designed and redesigned time and time again – sometimes with better outcomes than others.
We need to fundamentally evolve our economy, to keep pace with the current environmental and demographic conditions. The very good news is, even though you won’t hear much about this in mainstream media, a whole lot of people are working to do just that. There is in fact a growing global New Economy Movement.
The New Economy Coalition describes itself as, “a network of organizations imagining and building a future where people, communities, and ecosystems thrive.” They are working to create deep change in the economy and politics so that a fundamentally new system can take root. It is a dynamic organization creating and holding a space to address some of the most important issues of our time.
A very exciting and hopeful development in the New Economy Movement is the Next System Project which is focusing directly on the systemic challenges the United States is now facing and working to create a vision and tools for building a system better suited to meet those challenges.
The economy is not a force of Nature or an act of God. It is a human-made construct. We invented it and we can reinvent it. We can make the transition to an innovative, resilient clean economy. This is the greatest challenge and opportunity of our lifetime.
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