“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This famous quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, who seemed to be rather fond of the erudite sentence.
Always acknowledging the great man, I have often quoted this one myself, with a secret wish that it were my original. I use it so much because it always seems to be true.
So often we use the same thinking over and over again in the vain hope that the outcome will be different.
A recent proposal to solve our environmental woes is to account for nature. The idea is that if we can fully account for the resources we use by putting all the costs and values onto the dollar balance sheet, then this true costing would determine an adequate price paid to be paid for the array of environmental goods and services we consume. Even those sneaky externalities would get dragged onto the books.
I can see the logic. If resources are made available at full cost, then we might think twice before we buy them.
We could also begin to value and start to pay for the hidden services – clean air, fresh water, pollination, nutrient cycling etc – that we rely on but are currently free. And, by definition, we have a hard time valuing something that is free. Trouble is that this accounting logic is the child of an economic system that got us into the mess in the first place.
There is no evidence that accounting will slow demand. It is, after all, just a tool to understand the numbers, not a driver of resource use. Indeed it may have the opposite effect of increasing demand for certain resources, especially in high demand locations, because if use is accounted, then it is legitimate. After all it is on the balance sheet.
I believe we need to think this one through very carefully.