International conservation groups meeting in Merida, Mexico this week have released the Merida Message: "runaway carbon emissions are driving the climate towards irreversible tipping points, we are contaminating our planet with pervasive toxicity, destroying the diversity of life on our planet, exhausting freshwater supplies and causing acidification in our oceans, and over-exploiting our oceans, causing fisheries to collapse. As a result, we are deepening poverty, weakening social structures and threatening global security. This situation is in stark contrast to the world we can have if wilderness and its contribution to natural life support systems are properly valued and protected. Wilderness sustains us, generating the essential services that make possible our economic and social prosperity, our physical health and our spiritual well-being. Our essential choice - indeed, the imperative - has never been clearer.
This statement underscores a persistent problem with the modern economy, an imbalance between short-term and long-term value. Geared toward perpetual growth and quarterly profits, our economy is drastically distorted toward short-term gains. As the current economic crisis proves, financial titans are willing to take huge risks, and they have gamed the system to immunize themselves from harm. They play with everyone's retirement savings so they become "too big to fail." More critically, an economy focused on growth rather than sustainability risks squandering resources that will be worth much more to future generations than to us. We destroy wealth by discounting the long-term value of resources we exploit.