The first few millennia of human existence produced little growth. The barter system remarkably kept everything in balance. Once money, finance and stock exchanges came into being, all changed. Humans could raise resources to take unimaginable risks. Christopher Columbus discovered America by accident only because Queen Isabella financed his crazy risk trip. The joint stock company could raise resources from people who could come together from all over the world. Today the market capitalisation of all stocks is in excess of global GDP. The innovation machine kept cranking up.
Discovery of territory took place, many new sciences began delivering insights and the domestication of the wild, nomadic human became complete. Homesteads expanded rapidly and many original inhabitants were displaced. Cities replaced villages. Suddenly urban populations exceeded rural populations. This continues even today as new islands get taken over. Greed and ambition hit full flow and man started exploiting nature. Global warming became a critical issue and started receiving the attention it deserved last decade. We are just 2 degree Celsius away from an unbearable temperature. As the risk of annihilation increases, the richest persons in the world are looking at emigration to other planets/ moon. Bezos and Tesla lead the way.
Nature was sought to be exploited through unbridled mining for minerals, extraction of oil both onshore and offshore, release of noxious fumes from fossil fuel burning and from chemical processes, release of untreated waste, littering of plastic and the continuous encroachment of land. The nature finally rebelled through wild fires, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and now with the dreaded coronavirus. As activities around the world reduced, it has become clear that we can do more with much less.
As we take a brief pause in our so-called progress, we begin to realise that there are alternatives that we must pursue. Exponential technologies are converging at unimaginable to give us a glimpse of these opportunities. While the winners of the past six months are all from the information technology space and digitisation is growing at a furious pace, there is also a move towards harnessing environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices. Inclusion, diversity and equity have become strong forces. Most companies are beginning to define massively transformative purposes and are proceeding on these defined paths.
We can now dream of exponential energy from non-fossil-fuel sources delivering clean power at the cost of 2 cents per unit. A combination of solar, wind, hydrogen, wave, hydroelectric and storage and transport using hydrogen have opened up this possibility.
Equally swift is the growth of exponential locomotion. Electric locomotion, 5-G driven autonomous vehicles, solar power-driven aircraft, ships using wind, wave and solar and a creation of infrastructure at scale are driving us towards a new definition of energy security. Many old behemoths of the fossil fuel age are pivoting to a clean fuel world.
In building materials, the rapid pace at which the human race is using up fly ash and learning to burn municipal waste are setting new benchmarks. Ultimately, we might see a complete circular economy paradigm emerge. We shall be making new buildings from the rubble and retrieval of those that are destroyed systematically or by accident.
Vertical agriculture, hydroponic and aeroponic delivery of water are resulting in conservation at a scale unimagined. Multi cropping, AI-ML led plant growth and productivity enhancement and a new approach to using tractors, farm equipment and robotic labour are transforming agriculture to an extent that global food security can be established. We then need to figure out approaches to storage, cold and dry chains, silos and swift movement to reach food to where it will be consumed with the least amount of waste.
Equally, 3-D printing is changing the way we construct and manufacture. Every manufacturer is contemplating a shift that will eliminate waste, conserve speed and on-time availability of components and a comprehensive approach to making human parts transplantable. Even the killing of animals can be eliminated as we harness DNA driven, 3-D printed meat equivalent production. Manufacturing will be the strongest pillar that will assure India an 8.5% CAGR over the next five years to make it a $5 trillion economy. There is no reason why a nation with a young population constituting over 15% of humanity should not reacquire its old position as the nation with the highest GDP.
All aspects of life progress can be accomplished by clean technology. We need to dedicate our imagination and our resource allocation to ensure that we become socially responsible environmental stewards who can find ways to practice good governance. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria will drive all future investments and will encompass the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to enable us to report on the six capitals of Integrated Reporting. The human race must finally acknowledge the supremacy of nature.
(Shailesh Haribhakti is corporate leader based in Mumbai. He is a chartered and cost accountant, and writes regularly on the Indian economy and public policy.)