“It’s hard to talk about moving the world forward when so much energy is being expended just trying to keep it from sliding backward.” 
I’m 25 years old and I spent the last ten years of my life trying to fight against the environmental degradation. However, just in these last years I realized that we are facing too many interlinked environmental and the social crises. Therefore, instead of adjusting one issue at the time, I understood that I needed to act at the root of all these problems changing our economic system.
Can we find better paths for our pursuit of well-being than the destructive model of growth-driven development?
Altering the economic governance rules is challenging and it can lead to feel powerless due to the complexity of the current system. For this reason, in my journey I decided to focus on two limited aspects. I spend my energy and time trying to change our consumptions patterns and highlighting the need of new index to measure our economic success.
Shifting the consumption culture
Our culture became centered on consumptions of all types and this life-style is affecting our health and well-being. If our brain focuses on what we do not have, then we will be always unhappy. Furthermore, overconsumption impacts negatively our social relationships and the environment.
Through research and community events, I started to face the problem of the (over)consumption of our society because everyone can directly challenge this issue. Acting on consumption means that we need to rethink everyday human behaviour, from what we eat, to what we wear and how we spend our leisure time.
The logic of abundance leads to abuse of resources, polluting energy to produce goods that we do not really need and to exponential increase of waste. It is time to shift the culture of “buy-use-dispose-repeat” toward a less voracious development that lead to well-being and not just to growth as a goal in itself. Breaking this cycle is not always easy, but it is entirely possible. Decreasing our consumption, and the annexed production, is an important step toward sustainability. Reducing our desire of shopping would lead to stops polluting resources to continue powering globalization and it will drive us to fundamental changes where we will need to reuse, repair and share, where collaboration will gain importance over reductive competition and where the system will promote quality over quantity.
To deconstruct the consumption oriented culture another necessary step is to redefine humans in a new economic system and to not play anymore the role of “consumers”. A new term that replace “consumer” could shape a new worldview.
Measuring what matters: new index
Starting from the fact that fulfilling lives cannot be achieved through industrial output alone, we need therefore to break the production-consumption cycle that affects the natural and social equilibrium. If on one side, as explained earlier, it is important to act on our daily life style and on a new definition of the role of humans in the next system, on the other side it urges to measure differently our economic success.
Our current hungry development is reinforced by the predominant measurement which is gross domestic product (GPD), that consider just the “priceable” output. The GDP considers only the monetary transaction of the total spending by households, governments and investments across the nation, ignoring all the non-monetized activities. Sending a child to a day-care center rises the GDP, while caring at home by member of family does not; a forest cut down and turned into pulp adds to GDP, but a standing forest does not. In fact, one main problem of basing our economy on an index such as the GDP, is for example that natural wealth has no value unless owned and exploited, by consequence environmental destruction is not deducted from the GDP measurement. Also cancer, crime, car accidents and divorces lead to rising GDP. Hence, if your country is not growing as fast as expected, think about one of these activities, such as divorcing, it can be your good action in order to increase the GDP!
In addition to the above, this index does not count all the full social and ecological costs, and does not integrate information about distribution of good and services. By consequence the GDP results an inadequate index of the societal well-being, but our decision makers still use it as proof of (economic) success.
It urges to reframe the new economic system and to measure our activities with index that go beyond the narrow definition of economic growth. My interests are more and more focused on the need of new performance assessment indicators that promote quality over economic quantity and that are capable of integrating the key dimensions of human and ecological well-being, measuring what “really matters”. Considering the monetary and non-monetary measurements, we could measure our economic success integrating the natural and social capital and being aware of the limits that cannot be exceeded without affecting our prosperity. A well-being economy takes into account the positive and negative externalities and genuine progress indicators are becoming more and more explored. In this directions the United Nations developed the Inclusive Wealth Index, a beyond GDP tools. Index of Social Health, Ecological Footprint, Happy Planet Index, Gross National Happiness are all index that try to integrate the social and ecological health, such as the level of inequality, suicide, species loss and GHG emissions.
In the light of the new parameters substantial research and work should be done to introduce them in the political debate and to implement them.
Rethinking the economic system is challenging because it will trigger profound changes politically and socially. However, pockets of experimentation are mushrooming around the globe. Actions and events, such as the New Economy Conference (2017) that we are organizing in Brisbane, enact the revolutionary changes necessary to create a sustainable, prosperous and more equitable future.
Morgan Clendaniel, https://www.fastcompany.com/3068902/the-world-changing-ideas-of-2017
Sustainable development has been the focus of all the contemporary climate negotiations. All the environmental agreements and media releases mention the words “sustainable development”, however the COP22, as many other socio-political arenas, are rooted on the definition of economic growth as the route to development. Article 10.5 of the Paris Agreement set out that “Accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long- term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development. (…)”.
Growth-driven development lead to social and environmental deterioration. This current economic system achieved a plateau and a crisis where now there are more people and ecosystems that suffer because of it rather than benefit.
Our current economic model is measured with the gross domestic product (GDP) that recognizes only the contribution of the formal economic activities that have a “priceable” outputs. This index does not count the full social and ecological costs. It does not consider the informal and non-monetary activities, therefore it is an inadequate measure of the societal well- being. A forest cut down and turned into pulp adds to GDP, but a standing forest does not. Also this year at the COP22 the dialogue of the failure of the current economic system is missing. The environment has no value unless owned and exploited. The Paris Climate deal introduced the goals to curb carbon emissions, however even if the carbon market is implemented, it cannot work in long term if we continue pursuing infinitive growth. For example we can and we should shift to renewable energies, but the best energy will always be the one that we do not need. In other words a reduction of our consumption, and therefore of our production, is required to fulfill the needs of the growing population in a finite planet.
We need to discuss at the Conference of Parties (COP) better economic channels in order to achieve a real well being of the majority of the world population and ecosystems. It would make sense to have climate summits, such as this COP22, only if topics such as production, distribution, consumption and management of goods and services are considered. The other solution would be to discuss and integrate directly the environmental crisis and the related solutions in economic forums, such as the World Economic Forum of Davos, instead of separating these international summits.
We need to rethink the economic system and the rules that frame it must be redesigned. The growth process based on production and consumption does not line up with the environmental solutions that the Paris Agreement aims to achieve. Just restructuring the economy we can achieve profound changes in the socio-political system. If profit would continue to be the core of our societies, adaptation and mitigation plans will fail, because climate actions will need more and more funds. Funds that usually are public, while the private sector continue polluting and seeking the self-interest. As Lorenzo Fioramonti wrote in his paper Well-being Economy: A Scenario for a Post-growth Horizontal Governance System, the current economic system that emphasizes the costs associated with highly centralized, polluting and wasteful production lead to a situation where large corporations are taking wealth away from the society rather than adding value.
The UNFCCC, and in particular the COP, should acknowledge that industrial outputs cannot lead to a real well being. The Paris agreement mentions also “that sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, with developed country Parties taking the lead, play an important role in addressing climate change”. However it should be clarified what sustainability really means and how we can shift to “sustainable” patterns. Even if all these questions sound naive, in name of the profit, nobody deals, or just partially, with this topic at this Conference of Parties.
The starting point toward a new economic system is to understand and decide how the economic success should be measured. Going beyond the GDP is vital. We need to replace this index with new performance assessment tools that promote quality in economic activities rather than just volume. New frameworks and indicators of our economy must integrate, combining both monetary and non-monetary measurement, key dimensions of human and ecological well-being.