/ 19 March 2009

Upside to the crisis?

The global financial crisis presents a ”great” opportunity to create an ecologically sustainable and socially just economic system, an economic researcher said in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Jeremy Wakeford, the research director of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil South Africa, a non-profit organisation which conducts research into the peaking and decline of world oil production, was delivering a lecture at the Centre for the Book in the city.

Although the short-term effects of the crisis might be trying for the world economy there was a good chance it could lead to a ”quantum leap in humanity’s socio-cultural evolution”.

”The deepening economic turmoil implies hardship for many people all over the world, with poorer households generally taking the brunt,” he said.

”However, if we view the current disjuncture through the lens of long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability, then there is a silver lining to the dark clouds.

”Global leaders and local communities have the opportunity to craft a more ecologically sustainable and socially just economic system. This process could ultimately represent a quantum leap in humanity’s socio-cultural evolution.”

Wakeford predicts that the world could experience an alternative path of ”proactive cooperation” as the crisis lifts. This would involve redesign of the financial system, an oil depletion protocol to stabilise oil markets as supplies deplete, an effective climate stabilisation treaty, reduced military expenditures, greater technology and aid transfers to poorer countries.

There were would also be ”sustainability mobilisation” involving government expenditure on projects, such as renewable energy, public transport systems, freight railways, telecommunications and a recycling economy.

At the local level, individuals and communities can strengthen their resilience to the tough times by spending wisely, reducing debts, acquiring appropriate new skills, building local economies and even adopting local complementary currencies, Wakeford said. Boosting food security through sustainable agriculture and urban food gardens would also be vital.

”The ‘transition town’ movement — whereby communities pro-actively reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and foster local resilience-is spreading like wildfire in countries like the UK, and is just igniting in South Africa,” Wakeford said. — Sapa