Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The economy is not an act of god, we made it, we can change it.

This is an article by Ruth Chircop, student and Greenhouse member, on sustainble economies and previously published on the Insiter Magazine

In the year 3500 an alien spacecraft was hovering around the planet known as Earth. This planet seemed to be full of biodiversity and a very beautiful planet to live on and it baffled the young aliens in the space shuttle why there is no more humans living on such a beautiful looking planet.

So the captain started explaining how the planet has spent the last 1000 years recovering its beauty after all humans extincted themselves through living in an unsustainable way and eventually burnt out the whole planet and made the planet an unlivable place for themselves.

Hopefully we may be still in time for the scenario above to be just exaggerated figment of my imagination. Right now our economic machine seems to be heading off the cliff to the abyss of environmental, economical, social and cultural catastrophe. We are not approaching the ecological limits to growth we are well past them. Matthias Wackennagel one of the founders of the footprint analyzes says that we will need the equivalent of two earths by the late 2030s to keep up with our demands. But we do not have two earth's and even if we did in a couple of hundred years time if we keep consuming, producing and creating waste at the same rate we are, we will run out of the second earth cause as Einstein points out “You cannot solve problems from the same thinking that created them. A radical change is needed. More economical growth in the rich countries is simply unsustainable. Serge La Touche a French economist, behind the Degrowth movement criticizes economic growth and consumerism.

The Degrowth movement is a political, economic and social movement based on environmentalist, anti consumerist and anti capitalist ideas. Key to the concept of growth is that reducing consumption does not require a decrease in well being but rather aim to maximize well-being through non consumptive means- sharing work, consuming less, while devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community. In late 2001 he spoke in UNESCO conference in Paris calling for a selective economic contraction to stop environmental decay. His influence goes well beyond French borders. In Italy the magazine Carta spreads the critique of development and economic growth. Grass root movement networks formed Climate Justice Action, which aims to take the urgent actions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change including embracing Degrowth as an alternative. The idea is also spreading outside Europe. Ana Ester Cecena from the National Autonomous university of Mexico says Degrowth has also taken root in Latin America “We know that capitalism leads to large scale catastrophe. We need to confront it with radical changes in our way of life”

Sustainability is the key. We cannot continue consuming, creating waste, polluting and extracting from earth at the rate we are doing. Sustainability is the ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself. It’s about taking what we need to live now, without jeopardizing the potential for people in the future to meet their needs. If an activity is said to be sustainable it should be able to continue indefinitely. “Sustainability is the optimal balance of natural, economic, and social systems over time." The Florida Center for Community Design & Research
And our economic system right now is everything but sustainable. We are extracting natural resources at a faster rate than they are being renewed. We are leading lives addicted to mindless consumerism which are depleting the planet's resources. A new way of measuring our well being is needed. One that is not based on continuous economic growth to the detriment of our planet. The kingdom of Bhutan has already done this. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was replaced by Gross National Happiness as its core metric of economic success. Bhutan is asking itself the question that everyone must ask: how can economics, cultural social and environmental issues be integrated in a sustainable way.

According to leading economist Jefferey Sachs this kingdom has “embarked on serious journey” and “the rest of the world’s economies should do the same”. We need a social and cultural conceptual change in the way we evaluate progress , and realize what is truly important in life. The economy is not an act of god we made it we can change it. We need to seriously consider ways of combining economic well-being with environmental sustainability, cultural vitality and social equity before, in the immortal words of Jim Morrison, "the shit house goes up in flames."

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