Bankrupting Nature

13/01/2013 / Kaj

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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  1. A relatively easier thing to rule on, as forbidding “first world” consumers to buy products made by exploiting “third world” ones has not been achieved (is it intended?) so I hope you have the energy to blog and protest against the humankind suicide we know we are into.

    If politicians are like stakeholders with short range vision, we as a society are deaf and blind to negate the cost this will have on our children soon.

    To end, I leave you my personal definition of “emerging markets”: they are the ones that approach full speed the same wall we have just crashed into. Have we run out of creativity?

    Thanks for your brilliant job


  2. One of the missing debate is our personal responsibility…..we as consumers, workforce, students, moms, dads, etc., forget that we as collective have power to influence and shape politicians, companies, education…..our global 21st century society….. We want to pay less, buy more, protect the status quo which is all lot about short term gains. We also want everyone else, companies included, make the problem go away…..How do we integrate sustainability into how we live, learn and work to improve quality of life of all in the 21st century society….

    Thanks you for all you do to continue to send ‘wake-up’ calls.

    Ann Lee-jeffs

  3. Ross Weddle

    Perhaps the Declaration on Natural capital gives us grounds for hope?
    Please see:

    Ross Weddle

  4. Pingback: Bankrupting Nature |

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