Saturday, February 20, 2010

What does it mean to be wealthy?

Image from An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore, Page 271

First off, it's not about the money. Sure, it's the first thing that comest to mind, but money is only a tool. It's only worth what you can trade it for.

Does that make the things that you can't trade money for worthless or priceless? The way you answer that question is important, because it determines whether you get tar sands and paved paradise or national parks and thriving ecosystems.

Putting the economy first would suggest that a forest is worthless until it's cut down and sawn into boards. Was the forest really worthless?

Let's go out on a limb here. Human civilization will flat out do better with intact ecosystems than it will by 'developing' everything. From a big picture perspective, this is undeniable. If we wreck the environment, we wreck our civilization.

What else can't you trade money for? Relationships. People don't look back on their lives and wish they'd spent more time at work. They mostly look back and reflect on the quality of their relationships.

If your relationships aren't uplifting, how much money is it going to take to make you happy?

Trick question. Beyond the having the basics covered, money doesn't actually correlate very well with happiness. Forget the money. Focus on improving your relationships - with each other and with nature. The payoff in terms of happiness will far outweigh the money you'd gain from that extra shift at work.

No matter how you slice it, most economic activity consists of taking materials out of nature - which we all share, and selling it to individuals after some processing.

Since about the industrial revolution, we've been taking more than the life on this planet can regenerate. All the energy comes from the sun anyway. If we're smart about it, it's more than we need.

Instead of being stuck in the short term, scraping for quarterly profits, we can be wealthy in perpetuity by focusing our attention on relationships and maintaining the ecosystems that sustain us. It's not about the money.