10 February 2006

The seeds of wealth

There was a time when we commonly used a phrase ‘the wealth of natural resources’ to describe our world. It conjured images of a safe, green, life-giving landscape... bountiful fruits, grains and water... a fertile soil... and below that, an abundance of minerals and fuel to last us for ever. The seeds of wealth were found within these natural resources and renewal was a natural process we didn’t need to dwell on.

Inspired by this wealth, or perhaps out of boredom or some dissatisfaction with it, we embarked on new ventures, setting up industries using technology and inventive minds to create wealth of another kind: A wealth of machines and power and production; of transportation and housing and labour. A new process was in place. It was called industrialisation; and it created wealth out of mass production.

As a result, people flocked to these industries in groups. Groups grew into towns, towns into cities. Along with this came pollution, industrial waste, soil deterioration, deforestation and hazards of health not encountered before. Healthcare became important; so did education and entertainment. Many more inventive minds got down to work and planted seeds of wealth of another kind: A wealth of services to cater to our every need.

Our needs grew astronomically, and the safe, green, life-giving landscape with its wealth of natural resources was stretched to its limits. Even industrialisation, with its technology and mass production, was not enough to save the world. Questions soon arose about sustainability and development, but no-one seemed to find the right answers. The romance of nature with its wealth of natural resources dried up in our minds. What was left was a debate over ‘needs versus nature’, a dualism unresolved even as I write this blog.

But all is not lost. Not yet, anyway. The World Economic Forum – with industrialists, economists, politicians, scientists, environmentalists, social activists, journalists and even religious leaders – is not giving up on this agenda. Inventive minds are at work once again. Soon they’ll plant the seeds of wealth of another kind.

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