05 July 2009

Biologically programmed to crash and burn

As products of evolution probably the one thing that we are not designed for is to live sustainably. Evolution selects for reproductive fitness. Now that can be consistent with restraining our numbers in the short run or, less often, with restricting our consumption levels, but it is more generally in conflict with them. Our institutional apparatus - bodies like United Nations peacekeepers, atomic energy watchdogs, or the numerous non-governmental organizations working in the developing world - do heroic work in difficult circumstances. But their influence on the big picture seems peripheral. Are they merely pebbles on the road to ruin? Faced with overwhelming environmental or man-made catastrophe, we appear not to be very interested in looking after the long-term interests of human, animal or plant welfare. We all know that it's in nobody's interests to have, for instance, a rapidly changing climate, or the proliferation of nuclear weapons. But we seem unable to link that knowledge to effective action. Perhaps we are genetically incapable of defusing crises unless they are fast-moving and have readily identifiable causes.

Social Policy Bonds could help by targeting universally desired outcomes: perhaps above all the avoiding of catastrophe. They could blur the distinction between our narrow, short-term, individual goals, and the greater good of the planet. They could align our daily self- and family-sustaining activities with the achievement of our broad social goals. It's a big claim, but I do not see any alternative. The current political system is, frankly, not up to the job of managing our future. More and more it seems we are destined to crash and burn.

No comments: