Over 100 years ago the combustion engine heralded a new era in global economy. Now, we had a use for the glut of oil that was bubbling up around us. The economy that came out of this was unprecedented. It created a period of prosperity that was never seen before in human history. Still, as the new Pope pointed out early in his term, there were some drawbacks. “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized.”
The Pope is talking about capitalism and in the way only the titular head of the the Catholic Church can do, he put the current system in the large scope of history: “…some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
This prevailing system worked “well” when controlling states took natural resources from others and churned out goods that were then sold. Profits were massive and the rising tide did lift a lot of boats - but not all. The industrial capacity to undertake this evolved from the gritty days of the Gilded Age to the streamline manufacturing we see today. In the best case it went from burning coal to using wind and geothermal in zero-waste facilitties.
Now, as some of the state formerly controlled and exploited simply for their resources are becoming more affluent they not only have an appetite for more things they also are following a similar path that starts them off with dirty and polluting industrialization. This means more coal, more extraction, and increased strain on our natural resources.
Here’s my argument: why doesn’t the developing world use this as an opportunity to leap-frog their old colonial powers?
Why build coal fired power plants when you can invest in solar and wind and geothermal at a massive scale? Why build a cumbersome traditional centralized power grid when you can map out smaller smarter grids? Why build out massive multi-lane highways when you can map out the next generation transportation systems that will connect people, goods, and services without contributing as much towards greenhouse gases? Why invest in massive landfills to manage trash when you can completely redefine the way that we imagine the role of sanitation and actually find new and viable business models in the process!?
The Pope has a point about capitalism. More specifically, I think the point should be taken as a challenge to the developing world to figure out how to do things better than they have ever been done before. For the sake of the planet, I hope they figure it out.
- IAM, Sustainability Expert / Frontier Speaker / Author of The Green Deen