For the past seven years, I have been expressing my concerns for human degradation of our natural world, by writing a twice-monthly blog and publishing two books. The scientific statistics leave no question as to the validity of the current state of the natural world, required to sustain life on Earth. A recent United Nations backed report highlighted the scale of destruction humans are inflicting on our planet and offers hope for better life if we take actions to stop destroying Earth. My interest has been to find, organize and present the scientific data in a way others might begin to appreciate the importance finding realistic methods to insure our future. Recently, the Intergovernmental Science-Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems released a report which presented a bleak global assessment of the shocking state of life on Earth. The report stated that 12% of all known animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. Worse, humanity is destroying entire habitats, and with them the web of life that supports societies and economies.
The gloom and doom reports can have devastating emotional impacts on our people, but the truth is before our eyes and must be recognized. There is good news, once we accept the true, we can do something about it. What we do to Earth we do to ourselves! It is also true that what we have done to Earth we can help undo. The truth also tells us we have limited time to initiate positive action.
So, how do we start? To reverse the past trends, humanity must transform its economic models and food systems, treat the world’s oceans far better, and think carefully about the best ways to tackle climate change. The Centre for Complex Systems in Transition suggests humans need to undertake four major transformations immediately.
First, we must substantially change our legal, economic and technological systems. Conservation steps are clearly needed, but humans will have to make far more fundamental changes. The report concludes that sustaining Earth’s living systems will require redefining what a good quality of life means. Societies will have to cast aside the idea that a good and meaningful life can be found only through increasing material consumption. If we look closely, it is apparent that well-being has been stagnating in most developed countries over the past decades, even as consumption has continued to increase. Realistic solutions would have to focus on building new social and political narratives that show happiness can be achieved with lowering total consumption and reducing waste. The report also recognized the importance of local and indigenous knowledge, in finding realistic solutions for managing the sustainability of the various ecosystems. This requires re-building a trusting relationship with our indigenous people. The world desperately needs to adopt new economic paradigms that look beyond a single focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP). New Zealand, for example, has just announced its first “Well-being budget”, while China is again developing measures of “Green GDP”. Green GDP seeks to quantify the cost of environmental damage caused by economic growth. The first effort, by China, to introduce green GDP failed. China is reintroducing “green GDP” due to the urgency of environmental protection as the country is being plagued with serious smog and air pollution in recent years. Proponents of green GDP believe it promotes a more comprehensive accounting of economic development and gross domestic product (GDP) growth, and allows the authorities to chart and assess the progress of conservation efforts.
New Zealand’s well-being budget approach represents new ways of working and thinking about how we measure success as a country and government. Their 2019 budget has five priorities: creating opportunities for productive businesses to transition to a sustainable and low-emissions economy; supporting a thriving nation in the digital age through innovation, social and economic opportunities; lifting incomes, skills and opportunities; reducing child poverty, child well-being including addressing family violence; and supporting mental well-being for all, with special emphasis on under 24 year-olds. Economic growth is an important contributor to well-being but not an end in itself, and not an adequate measure of what we value in our lives. A well-being approach is described as enabling people to have the capabilities they need to live lives of purpose, balance, and meaning for them. Faced with complex issues like child poverty, inequality, and climate change; we cannot hope to make the best choices for current and future generations if we do not search beyond economic growth and consider social, environmental, and economic implications together.
The United States Greedy Capitalistic focus on GDP is continuing to have devastating adverse impacts on our natural world. Reducing gender and wealth inequities will help improve society’s well-being, as demonstrated by the Nordic countries. A society where 2% of the people control 90% of the wealth, fails to support the wellbeing of the majority. We hear the discussions between capitalism and socialism and what is good and what is bad. If you study the history of the development of the Democratic fundamentals of the United States, it is evident we have always been a blend of capitalism and socialism.
The drastic fundamental changes being proposed, will require strong knowledgeable leadership, which is obviously lacking in the United States today. We cannot even agree there is a problem, let alone work together to identify possible solutions. Our economic system and focus on building wealth and affluence is preventing the needed changes to provide for future life. Historically, significant change like we are describing comes from the bottom up, not top down. The new concept is, “Purposeful Capitalism”. Under this concept, we must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. The question is, how do we find and direct leadership to initiate these changes? When the people have had enough, they ably pressure to get the leaders to agree to lead the parade.
We will continue next time with information on the remaining three fundamental changes humans need to implement.