Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Growth is dead

Forty years ago, the 17-year-old king of Bhutan was asked: What are you going to do to increase your countries Gross National Product. The king responded, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”  Happiness – or well-being/quality of life/holistic sustainability- became the goal of the government of Bhutan. 

Thirty years ago Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers published a book called Limits to Growth. They modeled our future based on five trends: natural resource consumption, industrial production, population, food production and waste.  If all trends continued as they were, we met with an ugly future. If any one trend changed - decrease resource consumption, cut out waste, consume less - our future could be sustainable, people could enjoy well-being and happiness.

In the meantime, the U.S. and most other nations held one goal and one goal only: economic growth. The theory behind this goal is that if the economy is strong, then we will be happy.  It turns out we are not. The economy has not made many Americans happier. Average real wages today are lower than they were 40 years ago. Up to 50% of Americans are struggling to meet ends meet. But the rich have gotten richer: 1% of the people in the U.S. earn 24% of all the money made in a year. If you count wealth and subtract the value of each person’s home from that equation, that number is much higher: 90% or over. 

Even more importantly, the economic growth that has fueled these facts is no longer feasible. Growth - the engine of our economy and society - is dead. Why? We are running out of natural resources to fuel that growth. 

A few facts highlighted at the a High Level Meeting held at the United Nations on April 2-4 convened by the nation of Bhutan:
·       20% of the world’s people consume 86% of its goods while the poorest 20%
·       consume just 1.3%;
·       The richest 20% use 58% of all energy and the poorest 20% less than 4%;
·       20% of people produce 63% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions while another 20% produce only 2%;
·       12% of the world’s people use 85% of the world’s water;
·       The richest 20% consume 84% of all paper and have 87% of all vehicles, while the poorest 20% use less than 1% of each.

Today we are 7 billion people on this planet. In 20 years, we will be 8 billion. If everyone consumes as much as American’s, we need five to seven planets.  Today we are borrowing from the future to fuel our economy.  Oil, trees, phosphates – the earth can not keep up with our level of consumption. The hard truth is that growth, which seemingly gave us everything we needed  – is dead. 

Alan AtKisson sent a message to the Balaton Group when I was first invited that said: if you see one video only this year, let it be this one.  

And so, in a world where we must let go of growth, well, then we must determine a new economic paradigm.  Bhutan's Gross National Happiness presents this, as does the happiness initiative, which brings the GNH philosophy to the US in tools and resources. We need a paradigm shift. But....the answer is not that easy.   Or is it?

Posted by Laura Musikansk, ED Of HI

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