Cattle and other domesticated animals, grain and seeds, shells and beads, tools, stone, metals and alloys, leather, paper: all have been used at some time in human history as currency. Currency is defined as the accepted medium of money used within a group or society to conduct business transactions within that group or society. The value placed upon an item to be used as currency is determined by the item’s importance and availability to the population using it. Often, the rarer and the more useful an item is, the more value will be placed upon it; however, availability did not/does not always result in an item being used as currency. Societies and individuals use currency, money, for many different reasons: to purchase materials (resources) not readily available, to buy freedom, to extend influence over another group, or as a means of displaying power.
Money is a neutral creation; it has no intrinsic moral value. Money is not the root of all evil as is often stated, nor is it the means to every happiness. How money is obtained, how it is used, what humans do to keep it and/or to remove it from others determines its moral value. Income disparity has long been a hallmark of developed societies; those individuals or groups without wealth historically have been judged as morally inferior, lacking in creativity, intelligence, and/or motivation, and responsible for their own poverty. Rarely have the actual causes of poverty been addressed by those with the means to correct these causes. Often, those groups or individuals with the means to address poverty are the very causes of that poverty. History is filled with examples of the damage that individuals and/or groups with large amounts of money have done. It is, also, true that an altruistic population of wealthy individuals or groups have done tremendous public good with their wealth. There are fewer examples of the latter than of the former. Money may not be the root of all evil, nor is it the path to every happiness, but it does influence how a society treats those struggling through poverty. And money’s influence is pervasive.
Today, world currency is not coin and/or paper money, nor any of the materials listed above. It is fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and natural gas power our world and create unimaginable wealth for a small number of companies world-wide. And these companies (between 20 – 200 depending upon which source you use) that obtain fossil fuels control these substances for the approximately 7 billion humans living today. These companies, and the even smaller number of individuals at the helm of each company, dictate where and how this resulting wealth is disbursed and used. It is realistic to believe that no more than 500 individuals control most of the wealth resulting from fossil fuel companies world-wide. These individuals have demonstrated the ability – and desire – to determine political and environmental policies in countries they do not live in but extract their source of wealth from. And the wealth from fossil fuels continues to grow despite the awareness of environmental harm resulting from these energy sources.
How much money is needed in today’s world for one individual to live a productive, healthy life? Of course, the answer involves many factors – country, available opportunities, resources, health – to name only a few. But, I believe the amount needed to live a productive life with physical and emotional needs met is far less than most believe. When health, educational, and desired employment needs are met, most people are happy with their life. I don’t believe the need for more is inherent to humankind; the need for enough is, the need for more is not. At what point does a person move from working towards meeting his own and his family’s needs to the desire to obtain so much wealth that it can’t be spent in a lifetime? This is not a naive question. How does an individual develop the desire to gain wealth to such a degree that harm to others arises? How does this need grow and thrive when damage occurs in a place that is the source of the individual’s wealth to such an extent that he refuses to live there, and that the lives of people he has no desire to meet are harmed by his remote decisions and actions? How does this develop? Does this desire develop in increments, in slow but constant steps towards a single-minded, intended goal? Or does it happen because of a life lived with little insight and reflection until one day he realizes he has achieved a level of wealth and power that surprises even himself? And at what point does this wealth and power grow so immense that it becomes self-contained and immune to the laws and constraints around him? Is having so much wealth and power that one individual can influence a government of millions to act in a self-defeating manner fill some unmet need in that individual? At what point does that individual say I have enough. What need is met by harming, and potentially destroying, a delicately balanced, fragile environment on which vast numbers of beings depend? What need is met by having so much power that one individual can instruct others to drill deep into underground rock and fill the spaces with toxin-filled water which generates earthquakes? What prevents him from holding back, what prevents him from realizing his actions harm not only others but himself as well? What motivation can an individual find so compelling and seductive that having the power to destroy the beauty of creation would not give him pause?
Greed. Simple, lethal greed.