Our global economy, for all its sophistication, appears to have the enlightenment of soil bacteria. The genus Paenbacillus has been found to commit ‘ecological suicide’. They do this by making their soil surroundings unsustainably acidic as their population density increases, resulting in complete collapse of the bacterial community. Sound familiar?
Humanity’s current economic model, at current course and speed, is leading us to ecological suicide. The recent geopolitical, economic and pandemic shocks notwithstanding; data on a host of wellbeing indicators shows that globally, we collectively face fewer accidents, natural deaths, crimes, wars and less political oppression than ever before.
Just like the soil bacteria, amidst – or because of - human progress, we appear to be sowing the seeds of our own ultimate destruction. We are living through the sixth mass extinction of nature and the first caused by humans. Over a million species are at risk of being wiped out, taking with them essential life-giving services, putting our food and health systems at risk. Between 1992 and 2014, produced capital per person doubled, and human capital per person increased by about 13% globally; but the stock of natural capital per person declined by nearly 40%.
The world lost an estimated USD 4 to 20 trillion per year in ecosystem services from 1997 to 2011. No CEO would ignore a systemic risk of this magnitude.
The economic model that has made this progress possible but also put the planet at peril is broadly capitalist in nature, with private enterprise featuring prominently. Is it possible then for the private sector to help get us out of this mess? Not only is it possible, but it may be our best shot, and companies and investors need to step up and lead the way.