How could one small strip mall need two Caribou Coffees? We went into the one to the right of the entrance. I ordered my skim latte and asked the barista: "Explain something to me. You're Caribou Coffee and there's another one right over there. I can see it from here. Why are there two Caribou Coffees here less than a hundred yards apart?" Well, she explained, it was very simple. "There were long lines here every morning, so we needed another one."
"I see," I said to myself. Because people had to wait in line a little longer at rush hour in the morning, the Caribou Coffee folks couldn't just add another coffee machine and a couple more baristas. They had to build a whole carbon copy coffee shop on the other side of the mall entrance. Hey, why not? Money was cheap, resources were available. Why not have two of the same coffee shop in the same strip mall . . .
With all due respect to Dafen and Caribou Coffee, I hope that we never return to the days of Americans just borrowing more and more money to buy more and more stuff with more and more credit fueling more and more Chinese factories or more and more coffee shops powered by more and more coal. Of course, I am not against global trade and economic growth, but our growth needs to be more balanced—economically and ecologically. We cannot just be the consumer and China the producer, and neither of us can allow the goods produced and consumed to be made or used in ways that harm the environment on the scale that we have been. This way of growing standards of living is simply unsustainable—economically unsustainable and ecologically unsustainable.
And that is why the Great Recession that began in 2008 was not your grandmother's standard recession. This was not just a deep economic slowdown that we can recover from and then blithely go back to our old ways—with just a little less leverage, a little less risk, and a little more regulation. No, this Great Recession was something much more important. It was our warning heart attack.
Fortunately, it was not fatal. But we must not ignore what it told us: that we have been growing in a way that is not healthy for either our markets or our planet, for either our banks or our forests, for either our retailers or our rivers. The Great Recession was the moment when the Market and Mother Nature got together and said to the world's major economies, starting with the United States and China: "This cannot continue. Enough is enough."
Indeed. The way we were creating wealth had built up so many toxic assets in both the financial world and the natural world that by 2008/9 it shook the very foundations of our markets and ecosystems. That's right, while they might not appear on the surface to have been related, the destabilization of both the Market and Mother Nature had the same root causes. That is why Bear Stearns and the polar bears both faced extinction at the same time. That is why Citibank, Iceland's banks, and the ice banks of Antarctica all melted down at the same time. The same recklessness undermined all of them. I am talking about a broad breakdown in individual and institutional responsibility by key actors in both the natural world and the financial world—on top of a broad descent into dishonest accounting, which allowed individuals, banks, and investment firms to systematically conceal or underprice risks, privatize gains, and socialize losses without the general public grasping what was going on.