MOVING FROM THE QUANTITATIVE TO THE QUALITATIVE THINKING IS ESSENTIAL IN THIS CENTURY IN WHICH WE HAVE FINALLY REACHED THE LIMITS OF WHAT WE CAN TAKE FROM OUR PLANET
We live in a world in which data and statistics are becoming increasingly important and are seen as almost the Holy Grail of understanding. However,
it is becoming more and more clear that continuing to measure how well a country is doing by how much its GDP is growing has many drawbacks. Weapons manufacturing keeps growing, as pollution of common resources does too, which seems to be inherent to our obsession with economic growth. Misuse of finite resources that are crucial to the functioning of the system itself is not even a factor worth taking into account. Thus, we could go on and on with examples of why GDP is not a smart indicator but rather the opposite.
Almost 100 years ago, after the Great Depression, economist Simon Kuznets wanted to help find a way to measure what was productive in an economy and, thus, help countries overcome the crisis. He wanted to identify the factors that produced welfare for the population. However, extreme competition fueled by World War II managed to pervert Kuznets’ original intention, and his measures were used to evaluate only what was being produced, without distinction.
Quantity remained more important than quality.
Once the war was over, the measure was extended around the world under the pretext that the United States could check whether its reconstruction aid was working in the different countries. Despite the success and internationalization of his unit of measurement, Kuznets was not happy, and made it clear that he rejected its use: “there are many things in an economy that are not good for society but are good for the economy”. So, the most important and most used indicator of our economic system, heard in almost every economic news update, the GDP, is in fact an orphan indicator disavowed by even its own designer.
Measuring production as if everything were worth the same also legitimizes this senseless race towards the precipice, which consists of the search for eternal growth on a finite planet.
As many of you have already begun to notice, this race it is now not far from a finishing line that no one wants to cross. We have multiplied global GDP tenfold since 1950, but we have also multiplied the problems and risks associated with this unsustainable growth.
In 2009 the planetary boundaries were proposed by a group of Earth system and environmental scientists, led by Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Will Steffen from the Australian National University. The concept presents a set of nine planetary boundaries in which humanity must stay below specified limits. At present we have already exceeded several of them, some of the most important ones such as climate change or biodiversity loss have been largely exceeded, and if we continue to act as if they do not exist, they will lead to more and more undesirable and unexpected events, the so-called “black swans”.
So is it time for a change? Yes, and it is already happening.
The Wellbeing Economy Alliance was initially formed by three countries. Those three pioneer territories were New Zealand, Iceland and Scotland, three countries governed by women, who are starting down the post-GDP path in search of greater wellbeing and economic justice. Subsequently, Wales and Finland have also joined the Alliance.
In each of these countries, steps are being taken to adapt to planetary boundaries, implementing wellbeing indicators to replace GDP, wellbeing based budgets, as in New Zealand, and trying to legislate with future generations in mind.
Only 50 years ago, the so-called Easterlin paradox demonstrated that an increase in income does not necessarily correspond to greater happiness. At a point where your basic needs are covered, you are not going to be happier because you have more income but rather because you have more free time, a healthy and clean environment, and happy people around you with whom you can share it.
That is why, if there is a small revolution in today’s ecological economy, it is the wellbeing economies and the doughnut economy.
Proposed by economist Kate Raworth, this method aims to help in this post-growth path that must necessarily be taken, proposing a design that is very easy to understand for everyone: a doughnut. The idea is to make visible the limits that countries must avoid crossing (the external part of the doughnut) -associated to the 9 planetary limits-, and on the other hand, to represent the minimum quality of life, health, education, equality… in the internal part of the doughnut. That is to say, the safe space is inside the doughnut; neither outside (which would be unsustainable), nor in the inner hole (which would not offer the minimum desirable standards of life).
Very high income levels are often associated with countries with an equally high ecological footprint. But It is more important that public services and standards of living are guaranteed and that they also make it possible to stay within these limits. Moreover, we have now seen very clearly that everything that happens in one place affects the planet as a whole, because in an increasingly globalized world, everything is interlinked more closely than ever.
So we have to move from the false –and impossible- need to grow forever to the obligation to stabilize ourselves within the planetary limits. From quantitative growth to qualitative development -which will mean developing strategies for redistribution of wealth. From competing to cooperating because the challenges we face require global cooperation. And at the same time, we must be aware that we must also move towards a more local world, one that does not require the amounts of energy that we will probably not be able to sustain in the coming decades. A world as complex as ours is at the same time tremendously fragile. Above all,
it is vital that we stop damaging ecosystems and move on to regenerate them quickly, to face the challenge of climate change, in which technology will help us, no doubt, but it will not solve a problem that technology itself has helped to create. We must heed Einstein: “If we are looking for different results, let us not always do the same thing”.