Here’s my belief: The Universe is Indifferent. By that I mean it doesn’t care whether I—or my family, or my community, or my country, or even the earth itself—survive or not. It isn’t out to kill me either. It’s just indifferent.
So, I’m not paranoid about this. I see cosmic indifference as the way things are. Frankly, I prefer that indifference to the outright hostility I see from some Homo sapiens. We know that sometimes humans are out to do people not in their tribe, harm or even kill them.
I also believe that the most adaptable of a species survives. Moreover, between modern human individuals, the most adaptable to continuous change will survive and thrive. In the world we humans have built, that adaptability will require not only creativity but will require resources as well—which brings me to the economic system we’ve created.
In our economic system, we require continuous growth in purchasing for the economy itself to grow (usually measured by Gross Domestic Product or GDP). Also, our companies mirror the overall economy. We require continuous growth in revenue to scale up our company. That means raising prices, more purchase of product or service from existing customers, finding new customers, or creating new products or services. Usually, we strive for a combination of more than one of those tactics.
The question that comes to my mind is one of sustainability. Is it reasonable to assume we can continue this path of growth in consumption?
The answer isn’t easy. Like most complex systems, the global economy doesn’t lend itself to simple sound bite answers. Usually, the experts who study these things typically start their response with, “Well, it depends.” Here are some of my thoughts based on the reading I’ve done:
- Global Population—many reports expect global population to peak around the year 2100 and then level out for a while before declining. So, the “consumer market” will likely start to shrink at some point.
- Resources—We may have harvested much of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to essential manufacturing resources. The increase in cost for basics will be a growth limiting factor. While companies are aware of sustainability, few are seriously addressing the problem.
- Climate Change—As I said, the universe doesn’t care one way or the other! Perhaps we will force ourselves to divert energy and resources to survive in a severely changing climate. At this point, it makes little sense to expend time and energy arguing about the causes of climate change and much sense to mitigate those changes.
Of course, there are myriad ways any projection can go wrong. Increasing education and income tend to drive down population growth. So, a decline in population may happen sooner than expected. Technological advances in chemistry, biology, computing, space mining, etc. will affect how long we can build products for the market that does exist.
I love the cartoon from many years ago that shows two gentlemen at a climate change conference. One, apparently a skeptic, says to the other, “Well, what if we create a better world for no reason at all?”
It seems prudent to me to build sustainable systems. We may sacrifice fast growth in the short term but will enjoy the fruits of our labor longer. Some of the needed changes to move to sustainable energy, for example, will create more jobs at higher pay which in turn allows employees to be dependable consumers.
The difficulty, for the U.S.A., seems to be the way we capitalize companies. Shareholders have been trained to expect continuous short-term growth. A shift to a long-term mindset will allow companies to invest in the future.
My first conclusion from this thought experiment is that the problem is too complicated for me. I have no hope of coming to any serious prediction of what the future holds.
Second, I do know that it is logical to me that we will need to make changes to our economic system. The gap in income and wealth is widening in our country and elsewhere. That gap endangers continued growth of consumption by the masses.
Finally, I conclude that sustainability provides an opportunity to continue economic growth in the short-term while building in survival for the long-term. I say we should go for it. Let’s create a better world for no reason at all.