Christian Schwägerl is a correspondent for Der Spiegel and the author of Menschenzeit (The Age of Man). He will be presenting his views on the Anthropocene at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5th. Learn more about the Anthropocene here.
In a recent opinion piece at Yale Environment 360, journalist and author Christian Schwägerl argues that the financial collapse and the environmental collapse stem from the same mistakes of human foresight. The financial crisis was triggered by a pass-the-buck thinking, with blindly optimistic (or darkly cynical) reliance on proliferating loans that no one ever expected to pay back. The problem only became apparent when there were no more suckers left to exploit. We ran the economy down to its lowest trophic level, and that's exactly what we're doing with the global ecology as well.
Schwägerl sees important parallels in the financial crisis and humanity's approach to the environment. According to him, "our current system of managing our environmental household is all about designing bad loan schemes to defraud nature’s central bank and passing on the debt to future generations." Humanity is burning through resources so fast that we would need another 1.3 earths for it to be sustainable, and if every human could adopt a Western lifestyle, we wold need a whopping four to five planets more. Here at Next Nature, we like to say that "economy = ecology," but as Schwägerl makes clear, this can be a scary truth to contemplate.
What might be the upside of these twin crises? Schwägerl is not terribly optimistic, but any change towards a more sustainable, less consumer-based economy, rather than one founded on booms and busts, may be beneficial for the environment. Stabilizing the economy may eventually result in stabilizing the environment.