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Posts Tagged ‘economic growth’

Bengal Tiger [photo credit: Ali Arsh, https://www.flickr.com/photos/76877186@N06/8258715760]

Bengal Tiger [photo credit: Ali Arsh, https://www.flickr.com/photos/76877186@N06/8258715760%5D

Here’s a disturbing fact about the state of the world’s Bengal tigers:

One of the world’s largest populations of tigers exists not in the wild—but in captivity in the United States. With an estimated 5,000 tigers, the U.S. captive tiger population exceeds the approximately 3,200 tigers in the wild.

Is this the future of our beloved wild animals? If animals aren’t being poached or crowded out of natural habitat, too many are being hunted for trophies or to keep as “pets,” with often disastrous consequences.

Many people may love animals, but as a species, humans are doing a terrible job protecting them. The New York Times recently ran an op-ed that noted that an elephant is killed every 14 minutes.

As for tigers, with July 29 noted as International Tiger Day, their outlook is becoming bleaker and bleaker. At the turn of the 20th century, there were 100,000 tigers roaming the wilds. Today, there are at best 3,200, most of them in India, which will soon be the most populous nation in the world. And it is intent, understandably so, on developing its economy, which means less habitat for tigers and other animals.

The United Nations just reported that the current global population of 7.3 billion is forecast to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, slightly above the last set of U.N. projections. Most growth will happen in developing regions, particularly Africa, where many species are at great risk.

 

Shrinking tiger habitat [WWF]

Shrinking tiger habitat [WWF]

Global society should be doing everything possible to protect tigers. If this majestic animal cannot withstand the human onslaught, what species can?   Certainly elephants, rhinos, giraffes, chimpanzees, and gorillas are losing the battle in Africa, as are orangutans in Indonesia, pandas in China and lemurs in Madagascar.

It makes one shudder to think of Earth without these creatures in the wild, yet we continue with business as usual, plundering the planet for the last remaining bits of coal and drops of oil, searching for rare earth metals to power our lives, oblivious to the true cost of the way we live.

There are efforts that can be taken to change course. At the top is stabilizing human population growth – which can be done voluntarily with investments in maternal and newborn health, providing health care for families – especially contraception, supporting girl’s education, ending child marriage, and promoting women’s empowerment.   This is the “low-hanging fruit” – things that should be done and can be, at a relatively low cost.

Protecting tigers and other species also calls for changing a global economic system dependent upon constant and unsustainable growth.   This is definitely a more difficult task, but there are numerous organizations, academics, and other experts working on alternatives. And now we have Pope Francis calling for an economic system that supports the poor and protects the environment.

Of course there is much to be done. It really boils down to a paradigm shift – recognizing that nature has rights and that it isn’t here for humans to use and abuse and to provide us entertainment. There are consequences to our actions, and if we as a global society allow species that are an important part of the web of life to disappear in the wild, we might be changing it to our detriment.

We need to rethink/re-envision our relationship with Nature.

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[Note: This is slightly off-topic, but it applies to how we call structure our societies and address human well-being.

Just released, Enough is Enough is a visionary and actionable blueprint to transition from a global economic system dependent upon unsustainable and endless growth to a steady-state economy.

I hope you find it as interesting as I did!]

 

[H]ere’s the deal: forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done. ~Paul Hawken

 

This quote by Paul Hawken epitomizes the ideas and initiatives reflected in the new book Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, which lays out a path for overcoming so-called impossibilities in our world. The book constructs a realistic and actionable plan that should guide all of us as we confront increasingly dire and critical issues facing the planet. There will always be naysayers yelling out “impossible!”, but clearly we are way past listening to them.

 

The basic question that Enough is Enough asks is how we can transition from a global economic system dependent upon unsustainable and endless growth to a steady-state economy. According to authors Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, the purpose of the book is to show “how to establish a prosperous yet nongrowing economy.”

EnoughIsEnough

 

A steady-state economy is defined as an economy which “aims for stable or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and material.” Even Adam Smith realized there were limits to economic growth. He predicted that eventually natural resources would become more scarce, population growth would depress wages, and division of labor would approach the limits of its effectiveness.

 

For some people, a steady-state economy is a radical idea. For others, it makes perfect sense in a world of finite resources with gross inequalities and a lot people stuck in the daily grind and not so happy, despite the latest got-to-have-it technology.

 

Enough is Enough actually builds the groundwork for moving towards a society that lives within its means and focuses on the things people want – happiness, well-being, economic security, food security, good health, clean environment, strong communities, and so on. Perhaps most importantly, it does so in an straightforward and reader-friendly manner.

 

The book suggest an actual blueprint of policies that could create a sustainable economy. Proposed solutions include: establishing more worker-owned companies, prohibiting banks from issuing money as debt (essentially preventing banks from creating money “out of thin air”), local currencies, and work-time reduction (to help reduce unemployment and improve citizen well-being).

 

Dietz and O’Neill believe the following policy directions would serve as pillars of a steady-state economy:

  • Limit the use of materials and energy to sustainable levels;
  • Stabilize population through compassionate and non-coercive means;
  • Achieve a fair distribution of income and wealth;
  • Reform monetary and financial systems for stability;
  • Change the way we measure progress;
  • Secure meaningful jobs and full employment;
  • Reconfigure the way businesses create value.

 

Enough is Enough also positively and pro-actively deals with the often taboo subject of population growth. Just as with the economy, a steady population is needed in a world of finite resources. Most importantly, Dietz and O’Neill recognize that “hidden in population numbers are real people”, something that often gets lost in the discussion of a world of 7 billion people, and likely to grow to between 8 to 10 billion by 2050. Unless compassionate, non-coercive policies are devised, any population policy will ultimately not work. Successful policies include actions such as educating girls, empowering women, and providing family planning services.

 

The two authors bravely wade into the immigration debate, also a tumultuous issue. They are in favor of honoring current U.S. immigration policy of accepting refugees and reuniting families. As for admitting workers with specific skills to fill jobs (also U.S policy), they suggest that the U.S and other wealthy countries are tapping the best educated and skilled foreign workers, which results in a “brain drain” for the developing countries from which these workers mainly come. Developed countries want top talent to spur more economic growth. Yet in doing so, the wealthy (and high-consuming) countries increase population growth to the detriment of less wealthy nations.

 

It’s a sensitive subject, yet if you look past the emotional arguments around immigration, as the authors do, you’ll see that their position is one where, in their words, “Instead of recruiting educated and entrepreneurial people from abroad, wealthy nations should cultivate talent at home and encourage nations abroad to retain their most capable workers.” In a sense, it’s localizing the workforce, for the good of societies in both developed and developing countries.

 

The world is facing many critical issues, yet for the most part stubbornly continues with business as usual, to the detriment of society and the planet. Enough is Enough effectively tackles issues too many people want to ignore. Moreover, it not only provides fodder for lively discussions, but practical ideas for achieving a sustainable economy and healthy communities.

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The piece below was published earlier this month on Earth Island Journal.

I just spent the better part of my weekend in a class discussing a global movement springing up around the concept of recognizing rights of nature, something I have been thinking a lot about recently. The class (and the movement) addressed a big concern facing our society — that our way of living is built on a structure of endless economic growth. Yet we live in a world of finite resources and limited space. Why is there this blind faith in growth when we know that it can’t last?

Simply put, it is what we are constantly told by our leaders and media.  Corporations and economies must grow or they will fail. We must buy more stuff to support business and be happy. Somehow we choose to ignore the reality of non-renewable resources. Our way of living is on a collision course with nature. In our technology-obsessed world, we forget that humans are part of a natural system that provides for our well-being.

Science and technology will indeed play an important part in figuring out a sustainable future. But I think looking at how our relatives lived and interacted with the natural world not that long ago (and many indigenous peoples still do today) is also crucial. Acknowledging that nature has rights puts a priority on ceasing the rampant over-consumption and exploitation of natural resources and species. It is what lies beyond the growth paradigm and what I believe will set us moving in the right direction.

Respecting Nature

“Rights of Nature,” as defined by the Global Alliance on the Rights of Nature, is the recognition and honoring that trees, oceans, animals, mountains have rights just as humans do. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. People have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. Once nature is accepted as having standing in the eyes of the law, then when a man-made disaster occurs, such as an oil spill, a lawsuit can be brought on behalf of the polluted ecosystem.

Ecuador and Bolivia have included rights of Nature in their constitutions, recognizing the legal right of ecosystems to exist. In Ecuador, a significant milestone was achieved recently when a provincial court ruled in favor of nature, saying that the flow of Ecuador’s Vilcabamba River was being affected by a road expansion project and ordering corrective action. This is the first successful case defending rights of nature.  Other countries too, are beginning to explore legal rights for nature and what it could mean for their communities.

This will obviously require a major shift in thinking for many people, but we need something other than “business as usual” if we wish to sustain life on this planet. We can’t expect the system that caused our problems to solve our problems. The world economy is based on exploiting the earth for all that we need, be that coal, oil, trees, fish, precious metals, water and air. According to Indian physicist and environmentalist Vandana Shiva, “Further economic growth cannot help regenerate the very spheres which must be destroyed for economic growth to occur.”

Small Norwegian town

The Growth Imperative

Economic growth has been the mantra since the Industrial Revolution, and especially so since post-World War II. Businesses, stock markets, and bottom lines must grow to succeed, and companies must explore, drill, and mine for ever-dwindling resources in order to grow. Certainly this is what we all hear in the news day in and day out.

James Gustave Speth, professor and former dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, recently wrote about the need for creating a new vision of economic growth. According to Speth: “The never-ending drive to grow the overall US economy is ruining the environment; it fuels a ruthless international search for energy and other resources; it fails at generating the needed jobs; it hollows out communities; and it rests on a manufactured consumerism that is not meeting the deepest human needs. Americans are substituting growth and consumption for dealing with the real issues…”

Adopting new measures to gauge progress is important [see alternatives for measuring economic progress in Earth Island Journal’s Autumn issue], but without a paradigm shift in how we interact with nature — respecting the world we are part of and not simply exploiting it for our needs — we will be spinning our wheels. Unwavering faith in the market will not improve the sustainability and livability of our communities.

Human wellbeing doesn’t depend on economic growth and the pillaging of the earth’s resources. As Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network says:

“Long term solutions require turning away from prevailing paradigms and ideologies centered on pursuing economic growth, corporate profits and personal wealth accumulation as primary engines of social well-being. The transitions will inevitably be toward societies that can equitably adjust to reduced levels of production and consumption, and increasingly localized systems of economic organization that recognize, honor and are bounded by the limits of Nature…”

Ultimately, the bottom line that we should care most about is that we all live on one planet, dependent on each other and a sustainable environment. The people of Ecuador and Bolivia are leading the way, showing how recognizing rights of nature can help us achieve a healthy planet. The rest of us should follow.

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