Kaj Embren

Bankrupting Nature

As you may have noticed, a theme I return to time and time again on this blog is the disconnect between the scale of the environmental crisis we face globally – which, arguably could be more devastating, widespread and enduring than any of the 20th Century’s World Wars – and the limp response from the world’s politicians.

Why do we find so few politicians with the courage and commitment to fully acknowledge, let alone act on, this looming disaster?

In my recent interview, Anders Wijkman offers a novel explanation to this conundrum: politicians behave like shareholders, sacrificing long-term imperatives for short-term gains. In the same way shareholders can neglect the sustainability of a company’s business model a decade down the line for the sake of immediate profit, so too can politicians neglect the future sustainability of a society for the sake of victory in the next election. In each case it is the long-term stakeholders, be they factory employees or citizens, who end up paying.

As a former Swedish and European politician himself, Wijkman is well placed to make these assertions. Alongside the scientist Johan Rockström, he has written new book on the subject: Bankrupting Nature: Denying Our Planetary Boundaries. As a product of the all-too-rare collaboration between representatives of the political class and the scientific community, Bankrupting Nature offers an authoritative and refreshing account of the globe’s mounting environmental problems.

While problems can be identified, solutions are always more elusive. We can draw hope from the fact that political myopia has been overcome in the past.

One notable instance that comes to mind is the founding of the Scandinavian welfare states in the late 1930s. In a decade of social upheaval, governments, businesses and trade unions came together to establish a new social order that is still going strong today.

The strong leadership and close consultation with stakeholders that were key to adopting this long-view of things should serve as lessons for the current generation of politicians.

I want to finish by suggesting three issues that should top the agenda in 2013, and will certainly require such political qualities:

Fulfillment of the UN Millennium Developing Goals

These eight goals, ranging from the promotion of universal education to global partnership for development, will not only begin to redress the imbalance between the developed and developing world, but also help ensure a sustainable future for all.

Sustainable Urban Development

I believe that cities and regions can lead national governments on the path to sustainability and, in doing so, begin to break the international climate negotiations deadlock.

Mayors worldwide can present their governments with viable renewable realties on the regional level. One encouraging recent example is Mike McGinn, Mayor of Seattle, who has decreed that public pension funds refrain from investment in the fossil-fuel sector.

Low Carbon Economy

While the economic crisis in Europe has diminished investment in green energy from $280 billion in 2011 to $250 billion in 2012, the Low Carbon Economy remains a robust and growing sector that is leading economic long-term investment programs in the EU and other parts of the world.

Let us hope that our shortsighted politicians have the courage to embrace these models of sustainability. One thing’s for sure – I will be blogging about it until they do!

Kaj Embrén



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