Similarly, business and industry distract us with corporate social responsibility, multi-stakeholder initiatives, pledges, pacts, forums, certification schemes and glossy sustainability reports. All of this again makes for great announcements and keeps plenty of PR firms in business, but it has not resulted in any effective action. Most certification schemes are ‘self-certification’, ‘voluntary compliance’ or compliance is not independently monitored. CSR and sustainability reports have proven worthless over the last 3 decades. Multi-stakeholder initiatives have been found to be ineffective after a comprehensive analysis conducted recently. Pledges, pacts and forums appear to be no more than elite networking and PR opportunities than any attempt at serious action. Companies are in the business of making profits, not saving the world. Believing anything else is buying into these distractions.
Businesses let themselves off the hook by publicly calling on governments to adopt policies, whilst lobbying in secret against any policies detrimental to profit or growth. Governments have for 40 years taken a hands-off approach with business, saying that the ‘free market’ will fix everything and there is no need for them to be prescriptive. Together, business and government, have created an illusion of an ‘effective’ system, whilst basically doing nothing that would impede growth or profits. This has left us feeling powerless, with seemingly no one to turn to, to get effective, timely action to at least avoid the worst possible scenario (the complete collapse of industrial civilisation).
Of course, this outcome has been engineered, the art of distraction comes with a big budget for marketing and advertising purposes. But the budget is worth it because it is still infinitely cheaper than dealing with the problems outlined in the IPBES and IPCC reports. So, governments and business have been willing to cover the costs of distraction, that has enabled inaction and a business-as-usual approach for the last 30 years.
Biodiversity loss and climate change weren’t inevitable, they have been hidden in plain sight for decades. The Australian government is not on its own using the ‘technology, not taxes’ mantra. But there is little evidence that government will invest directly in such technology. Australia was the world leader in solar technology in the 1950s and 1960s and successive governments didn’t invest. The technology needed to protect us from the worst of climate change has been available at scale for two decades, with no commitment made to a ‘technology led solution’. Let’s remember Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House, during his term in office; and one of Ronald Reagan’s first actions as President was to have them removed in 1981.
Because of the inaction over this time, there are now no solutions available to bring humanity back to the ‘old normal’. All we have available is adapting to the ‘new normal’, which means accepting the levels of uncertainty we have reached and demanding action to mitigate risks.
Some of the billionaire investors, who have created great wealth under the ‘old normal’ have realised globally we have reached a point of inevitable change. They are already mitigating their risks by investing their time in understanding how civilisations rise and fall. They know it is in their best interests to understand what happens at the end of an old cycle and the start of a new one.
Just one of these billionaires is Ray Dalio, an American investor and co-chief investment officer of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates. Dalio, whose personal wealth is US$20.3 billion, is currently publishing an online book: The Changing World Order.
Reflecting on the studies of the rise and fall of civilisations, Dalio has built on the work of Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Nikolai Kondratiev and more recently Peter Turchin, looking at the ‘economic waves’ or ‘secular cycles’ recuring every 150 or so years.
Dalio presents the cycle in a graph (Nature Needs More has added the comments in red), depicting the typical progression from the initial period of prosperity and productive debt growth, to debt bubbles and then violent conflict before another new order emerges. These cycles tend to last around 150 years, and have been identified by Turchin and Dalio in historic England, France, Russia, Rome, China and the US.
By ignoring biodiversity loss and global warming, we are accelerating to the end of the current economic cycle and model. What is shocking is how few people realise this is where we are, and how much worse things can get in the medium term (20 years). Maybe with the scale of this summer of wildfires in Canada, the USA, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, and the truly massive fires in far Eastern Siberia we will finally demand action from governments?