I watched the documentary on this awful crash the other night, re the Air France Airbus 330 which crashed onto the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. Several things struck me about this – and I mean absolutely no disrespect to the crew or passengers, or relatives, but it is a modern-day metaphor of what could happen to our global economy.
Our economy is a highly complex machine – a plane, like the one in question. Those at the controls know how to pilot it under “normal” circumstance; no problem. But they rely more and more on automated systems to run things and have an incomplete grasp all the complexities of the beast they control; nor do they know, for they haven’t really been trained, how to fly manually in an unprecedented situation.
For the Airbus, it seems to have started with instrument failure resulting in the plane switching out of auto-pilot. The pilot took over and, misinterpreting the conditions, gave the plane the wrong actions, causing it to stall. With our global economy, the reaching of planetary limits and tipping points is sending signals which have caused a global economic crash; the “pilots'” reactions are to rush to resume growth, precisely the opposite of what is required now to stabilise the planet and allow mankind to resume life on Earth with some kind of normality, albeit a different one from before. To the pilot of the Airbus, the actions needed must have seemed counter-intuitive to what he perceived of as correct, or he would have done them. A wider understanding of the situation (such as we now have with hindsight) would have told him what to do, and so it is with the future economy. One difference with our metaphor: in taking the necessary evasive action, the flight won’t resume in the same way as before – it can’t.
In desperately trying to re-start the engine of growth, our financial leaders are making a big mistake. It always staggers me how intelligent people can convince themselves that infinite growth on a finite planet is even possible, never mind logical, for anything but a short while. In nature, all exponential growth is an exception, a reaction to temporary abundance. So it is now, and it is plain to see – for those who look – that now is the moment of transition, where growth must stop and a steady-state philosophy must take over. From this point on, we can consume no more than we can recycle and capture from sunlight (our sole source of external input), for we have little reserves left with which to work. If we use those reserves in blind insistence that it is business as usual, they will run out, and we, as a race, will be stuffed. The crash is coming, unless we see the big picture, change our actions and do the thing we are not used to doing.
Pilots of the world, wake up!