When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
- Cree Prophecy
The economy is based on an imaginary entity; it is a currency called money. While it makes sense to have a currency whereby goods and services can be easily exchanged, this modern method of trade allows us to forget that money, in and of itself, is worthless. The quotation above illustrates this notion with absolute clarity.
Modern society is so far removed from a time when one's needs to survive and prosper were met through direct action (the collection of one's own food and shelter). To be clear, I have no desire to turn back the technological clock to a time when societies did not enjoy the benefits of divided labour. But it is helpful to consider the hunter gatherer way of life, if only to allow us to correctly identify what matters.
Going on a camping trip is a great way to briefly escape the economic landscape, and to accurately reflect on what we truly value. I actually tried ice fishing for the first time this past weekend, and in my group of four, we caught three small fish collectively over the course of many hours. Without modern agriculture, and environmental conditions in which it can thrive, we would all be screwed.
The majority of people in modern day society value money above the environment in which they live - it is a backwards value system. The sentiment is the result of short-sighted vision on the part of governments and their citizens. The average middle-class family is trained to worry not when there is a shortage of produce at the farm, but when there is a shortage of funds in the bank.
I do not fear that mankind faces near-term extinction due to our neglect of the biosphere. However, I am certain that the level of prosperity of the human population over the coming centuries will be tied to the level of respect that we have for our planet. Put otherwise, mankind will endure, but our collective journey may not be pretty.
People fret more over their next paycheck than they do about the next harvest, and this individualistic mindset is perfectly sensible, given the way that the economic system currently operates. Funds are not distributed equally amongst the human population, and thus the prosperity of an individual is guaranteed only if that individual has a minimum monthly income. But lest we forget that the very concept of a financial income is a relatively new one.
The prosperity of a species has always been tied to its ability to adapt to its environment. Survival of the fittest has historically applied exclusively to an environmental landscape. Over the past few centuries, mankind has altered the direction of its evolution to a new mantra: survival of the richest.
Competition is not new among mankind. Evolution has always been fueled by competition. What defines our times today, however, is that the playing field is blind to the environmental landscape; it focuses solely on the economic one. While governments may step in to try to influence the competition such that the environment may be less dramatically impacted, the bottom line for a company remains the almighty dollar.
Since the industrial revolution, the nature of the work done by people has shifted dramatically in the developed world. Because "money makes the world go 'round," more and more people perform jobs managing money. When you stop to consider the big picture, money management feeds and houses nobody except for the money managers. Every job that exists in the imaginary landscape of money is one more job that does not provide a good or service to the human population. In my view, there are, at present, far too many jobs of this type being performed.
Such a huge percentage of the workforce focuses on the financial world. As a result, a large proportion of society believes that their family, and future generations, will be fine just as long as there is always money in the bank. Wake up! The natural resources on this planet do not care how much money is in your bank account.
When the last drop of oil is used up, no amount of money will allow your combustion engine car to carry you around. Your money will also be of little use to buy produce should conditions for growing it become unfavourable.
We need to take a longer view than we presently do when making choices about how we live our lives, and we need to do so on a global scale. The economic system should be used for trade; it must not take precedence over the environmental system, which we depend on for our survival.
The value system in the developed world has become perverted by money. If we fail to place the highest importance on that which matters most, the future of humanity may well be dark, and we will only have ourselves to blame. Let us aim for a bright and sustainable future. The economic system exists within the framework of our natural world and must be made to function in a way that serves it best.