©Hazel Henderson 2021
Today, we are enslaving ourselves trying to keep up with ever-faster screen-based digitization of our societies, 5G speed, AI, IoT, cryptos, NFTs and virtual reality. Let’s step back, take a deep breath and remember our physics lessons:
Our Information Age technologies all are based on ever more information, Big Data, software and algorithms—all traveling at the speed of light, released from Nature and out of phase with its slower living processes.
These slower natural processes are governed by the laws of physics and thermodynamics. Human hearts can only beat so fast and our legs can only run so far, plants and all animals grow, mature and die at their own pace. Planet Earth still takes 365 days to circle our mother star, the Sun.
Yet, we humans are all desperately trying to keep up with today’s frantic speeds in digitizing all aspects of our economies and societies, as I described in “Steering Our Powers of Persuasion Toward Human Goals”. We try to re-train ourselves, coach our managers to connect all the dots ever faster. We wonder why, after the Covid lockdown, people are taking stock of their lives, the value of their time and whether to stay in this unwinnable rat race.
I first noticed this fatal mismatch in my paper “Perspectives on Reforming Electronic Markets and Trading“ for the UN Inquiry on Sustainable Finance in 2013, when I looked at the frantic contest for speed, dubbed “latency” in high-frequency trading on Wall Street, where firms were trying to shave off nanoseconds to get their orders ahead of others. All this speed was to make money faster and more” efficiently”, all according to earlier economic textbook rules developed in slower centuries, now still encoded in trading algorithms. This crazy speedup of day-trading, with asset managers glued to their screens with buckets handy, so they avoid trips to the bathroom. Trading had already become an addiction, like gambling, along with excessive advertising, as I outlined in “Market’s Problem Twins: Trading and Advertising”, where I review “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis, “Dark Pools” by Scott Patterson and “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf“ (2021) by John Coates, describing the disturbed psychologies of traders in London’s stock markets. Their desperate efforts to keep up with information flows, these traders and asset managers try to manage trillions of pensions for beneficiaries hoping to retire someday!
As the 2021 COP26 climate conference of 200 countries concluded in Glasgow, Scotland, the financial players were still making desperate promises to shift their investments from their “stranded assets” stuck in fossil reserves which can never be lifted and burned without cooking the planet. In the real physical world, climate disasters are affecting every place on Earth, costing trillions in cleanups and mitigation efforts. The mismatch between the INFOTECH sphere and physical realities concerns their assessments of risk. In the information/money world the risks are divorced from those of these climate realities, but are still based on trading algorithms with obsolete assumptions about what is valuable: money, rather than human lives, biodiversity and ecosystems. None of these real-world domains can be measured in the price-system terms of most of our macroeconomic statistics from GDP to unemployment, deficits, debt and inflation. In reality, prices are always a function of human ignorance, allowing balance sheets to “externalize“ costs which they pass on to others and the environment.
So why did the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) group of financial firms committing $130 trillion to addressing the need shift from fossilized assets to renewable, not just tell their asset managers to open up their algorithms which dominate most trading decisions, and change their obsolete assumptions? Tragically, the information sphere is still guided by all those high-frequency trading goals of ever-faster money-making. These well-meaning financiers’ promises, if implemented, would mean correcting these over-valued portfolios and actually shifting these declining assets to the now less-risky, cheaper solar, wind, geothermal, ocean and sustainable agricultural renewables. The paper losses in their portfolios, if acknowledged honestly and written down, would include losses to all those pension beneficiaries!
Thus, the continuing cloud of information in COP26 and Article 6 about “offsets” and “credits” in a global “carbon market” created by economists in Kyoto in 1989 still maintains the fiction that the living planetary biosphere and the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning can be “managed” by trading information in these new hypothetical markets. Much money has been made, without reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a single molecule.
Yet, as Mark Carney, former head of the Bank of England admits honestly in his “Value(s)“ (2020), all fiat (with no intrinsic value) currencies are printed by government agencies and ceded to commercial banks to lend into economies as debt, as explained in our TV special ”The Money Fix”. At COP26, rich country central banks can easily create enough money to compensate smaller “poorer” countries and islands dealing with impacts and losses of climates disasters. So small countries and NGOs reject GFANZ, since they know these disasters are caused by rich country financiers’ fossilized industrialism and money-making. They continue to demand compensation and the $100 billion annually, promised in the Paris Agreement in 2015, still not delivered—as well as trillions more new currency transfers annually to undergird the investments to accelerate the fairer global just green transition to renewables.
So, are we humans going to continue to enslave ourselves to all this rapid information-based digitization and monetization of nature and our personal information? Even as it causes even more drastic disruptions to our lives our mental and physical health and wellbeing? So far, the planet’s real processes are teaching us directly, while the Silicon Valley for-profit goals of our social media external nervous system are still controlling our societies and democracies, as well as our geopolitics. Let’s make COP27 in Egypt in 2022 the real shift of finance to the cheaper, fairer, knowledge-richer, safer climate world of the Solar Age.