Before society there was nature; much more so than today. There was wealth, and in fact there was as much wealth as there will ever be in the age of man. Today the term wealth has become synonymous with turning natural resources into goods and consuming those goods. The more consumption; the more wealth. However, any conversion from one form to another involves waste because the process cannot be reversed without the addition of new resources. In other words, the result of converting natural resources into goods is the creation of waste and, therefore, less wealth. Less. Just as the word implies, wealth is not created but in fact consumed. The whole economy is thus based on the false assumption that we can create wealth.
A business can be managed in balance with nature if resources are allowed to replenish. A biodynamic farmer is very close to being in balance. This is the practice of agriculture that is not only organic but also self-sustainable. The only external requirement is energy for the production process, so there is waste but it is rather small – especially if renewable energy is used. Wealth is thus intact. There is of course an initial loss of wealth as the natural land is converted into agricultural land and therefore the choice of which land to use is very important. Unsuitable land should not be used because not only is wealth diminished by destroying natural land; the land may be depleted within a short period of time, leaving almost no wealth behind. Rain forests contain far too much wealth to be used for anything else. However, the world economy encourages the destruction of these forests, much as it encourages the destruction of every remaining natural land we have left.
The pursuit of economic growth promotes quantity over quality and diminishes remaining wealth. Industrialization may have added efficiency, but efficiency in production equals efficiency in diminishing wealth as well as efficiency in the elimination of jobs. Practically everything we produce is subsidized by nature. In general, the cheaper something is, the higher the subsidy. Businesses can make a profit by simply extracting wealth from nature. It has become more of an exception than a rule that governments fail at their most basic purpose – protecting the wealth of a country instead of destroying it.
There have been enormous drains of wealth from nature in the past. The vast virgin forests, wetlands and grasslands with rich animal life that once covered the Earth have been destroyed. Early explorers have chronicled their journeys to unimaginable places of beauty so plentiful with fish that you could seemingly walk on water, or grasslands with millions of bison. But this was hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Hardly any virgin forests remain and only a fraction of wetlands and grasslands. Most have been converted to agricultural land or clear-cut forestry to feed a growing population that extracts and consumes natural resources at a terrifying pace.
We need to redefine our own meaning of wealth for what it really is. We need a radical shift to becoming a society of services that retains wealth rather than consumes it. Forget the global economy; we need local, sustainable and self-sufficient economies. As long as we do business unsustainably, the economy – and especially growth – will in fact be a good measure of our diminishing wealth.
Consumption is not wealth but rather a measure of diminishing wealth.
Artwork by me.