Slightly more than three years ago I was part of a worldwide team of volunteers within IBM researching the implications of climate change across every major industry sector on the planet. I led the Telecoms stream and discovered that although the Telecoms sector accounts for about 2% of man’s carbon footprint, this negative aspect was balanced by the associated benefits of reducing the impact of other more carbon-gulping industries such as Travel and Transport.
Yet through the whole study, IBM framed the study not in terms of carbon reduction – but in terms of sustainability. The pursuit of sustainability has confused me somewhat since then for a number of reasons. Firstly, nothing is sustainable for ever. Everything changes. Secondly, the whole carbon reduction movement has been (and continues to be) over-ridden by the world’s financial crisis. And thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – I had never taken the time to look into the principles behind sustainability so that I could explain it to someone else with clarity and simplicity.
All that changed last week. From my research into the future of money, I came across an excellent TED Talk – and website by Bernard Lietaer – a German Professor who specialises in another of my interests – Community Currencies. Lietaer’s pursuit for different models for money in the TED talk took him to ecology and a rather splendid discipline of “Ecological Economics”. Made sense to me (and the bees) – so I researched further.
Lietaer’s ideas originated from some earlier research from Robert. E. Ulanowicz – a Professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. He defined sustainability as a state between efficiency and diversity – elegantly shown by a green ball in balance at the top of a convex curve:
Lietaer further shows in his joint paper with Ulanowicz and their co-author Sally Goerner that this model is as equally valid in organic, biospheres as it is in economics. Lietaer proposes that the reason for the financial crisis is that the system became more and more efficient at the expense of diversity. Makes sense.
So the challenge is to move from the (left-brained) obsession with efficiency and cost-cutting and move to the right by encouraging diversity and communication (right brained stuff). Also makes sense.
So to get out of the current economic crisis we need – complementary (or local) currencies that build diversity back into the system. And quickly.
You can read more on Bernar Lietaer’s ideas on his website. And below is an abstract of the paper:
I’m off to see another lecture on the future of money at the RSA next Thursday. So next week’s Thursday Thought might be a hat-trick on this subject. Even if the authorities have removed the tents from StPauls by then!