My friend and well-informed blogger Simon Goldie makes a nice point here
about the devolution of decision making to the level most appropriate to the problem at hand. This will be a fundamental feature of a sustainable society should we ever succeed in building one. Any sustainable system exhibits local feedback control mechanisms. These co-exist with longer range linkages that typically act on longer timescales but immediate, local mechanisms take precedent.
So in the examples Simon cites, a threat to local environmental quality is being controlled from its point of origin and bonds of credit and investment are maintained within the area where the money is being spent.
This is in stark contrast to the normality we have become acclimatised to in which faceless nameless vandals foul our streets and we respond with a plaintive "why doesn't the council do something....!" and our willingness to entrust our savings to impersonal corporations from whom we gladly accept credit with sanguine imprudence.
The credit crunch is providing us with a blunt lesson: we must become responsible for our own lives and seek the legal and administrative mechanisms that allow us to exercise this responsibility. The lesson is timely as a crisis in the economic system precedes an altogether more intransigent environmental crisis.
Diverse, decentralised, self-regulating systems are common in nature and as the product of several million years of evolution, they could be considered sustainable. The key question is at what scale should the self-regulation occur and what do we mean by 'self'?
In nature it is the system that self-regulates not the individual component. So the development of a sustainable society is a question of appropriate system design and a recognition of the importance of scale. Clearly the international banking system was the wrong scale at which to self-regulate. In societal design there appears to be a scale at which the gears of morality, self-regulation and personal responsibility engage and the machine runs smoothly. In considering this, an ecologist would refer to mutualism and symbiosis but ecologists are rarely to be found in financial services.