The Profitability of Sustainability

I often wonder, while we have the techonology, the money and the means to convert our miserable world into a sustainable world why are we unable to transit? What is taking us so long (since 1972 when the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment took place, since 1987 of the Bruntland Report and since 1992 of the Kyoto protocol)? Paul Hawkin has made a valiant attempt to understand what it would take for the world to reverse global warming i.e. to start sequestering the excess of carbon (GHG emissions) in the atmosphere so that we are back to safe levels. He edited a collosial effort of over 100 researchers and writers from across the world coming together for Drawdown. The book is awesome. It ranks the best solutions in decreasing order of their impact. It has some counterintuitive ranking which is worth pondering over. What makes the book special is that it is a first of its kind. A pioneering effort indeed!

But the book tells us a future under mutliple “What ifs”, what if all the girls get educated and could control their fertility rates leading to a more sustainable population. What if all the food that is wasted around the world was saved. What if the land use and land change was improved to sequester more carbon etc. etc. It has around 100 such solutions. The catch is this. We pretty much are aware that there exist solutions to our misery, but are unable to overcome our inability to implement these solutions. Probably the enabling environment is just not enabling enough. Now the question is of “How to” and not so much of “What if”. Let’s think about it!

There is one dominant principle on which most of the meta decision making happens. Profitability! For all of you who are unaware of what this means, profitability basically means that you should get more than what you spend – be it energy or money. If the profitability of action A is less than action B then there is a fair chance that majority would chose action B over A and this has been the dominant narrative for most part of our formal civilization.

There is perhaps nothing that stops us from moving to a truely sustainable and just world. And I am damn sure that it is definetely not our lack of understanding of the complexity of our real world. Yes, we still do not have a genuine intuitive understanding of real world complexity that can help us take systemic decisions, but I think we understand enough to be able to enable a transition process. Then what is it that is stopping us?

For many days (in between) I have often been lured into climate finance, green bonds, carbon credits and related discussions. And I mantained that I am just not interested. Simply because I believe these, in their current forms, are just distractions and not real solutions. Because the math is simple. If (and that is a big if) the profitability of climate/sustainability solutions is not more than the climate/sustainability problems then there is just not enough incentive for us to transit. Unless Solutions have a higher ROI than Problems, we are going to maintain a status quo or at best a deliberately slower transition (something that we are seeing now, which is ironically also considered transformative by some).

This theory is generically applicable. There may be brilliant examples of work where profitability or economics just did not matter, but they are far and few in between. Not enough to enable a macro transition. But the question is do we need to wait for it? Can micro, meso movements make a shift? I think yes they can. But I just dont know how much and how can I be a part of it. Because I am pretty much part of the problem economy more than the solution economy.

Now comes the game changer.

If we think that the solution economy has to have a higher profitability than the problem economy then we need to change the nature of economics. The purpose of money has to change when it comes to solution economy. It has to, has to enable a more sustainable behaviour of the masses.

I urge you all to read on the following topics and see if you find merit in my argument because after all my arguments are based on common sense and the available literature. So here is the list:

  • Localisation
  • Ecological Economics
  • Global Equillibrium
  • Limits to Growth
  • Local Currencies (community currencies)
  • Time Banking
  • Ecological Currencies
  • Degrowth
  • Steady State Economics