Why are we afraid to walk into the light of a circular economy?
When something is broken, we throw it out. It’s what we do. Usually without thinking.
We are remarkably good at throwing things out — consequences be dammed.
We also throw out broken theories. We once believed the world was flat, now we don’t.
But when it comes to the economic theory of GDP, we seem hell bent on saving an outdated theory that is killing us and taking the planet with it.
Do we have Stockholm syndrome on a planetary scale?
Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition where hostages or victims of severe abuse cling to, or even defend, their abductor or potential killer. Although the syndrome is extremely rare, the idea that we have been “brainwashed” into loving our killer fits loosely as a metaphor here.
Our irrational clinging to GDP in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is killing us, killing the planet through climate change and environmental destruction, seems to suggest we have been duped on a global scale by a very powerful authoritative force.
We have been loving the very thing poised to destroy us all. We’ve been living lifestyles with resource-use well beyond the ecological limits of the planet. And we don’t seem to care . … or rather “we care” but not enough to elect leaders who will actually make the changes we say we support to save ourselves.
By the millions we continue to live exactly the way we did the day before, even though we “believe” in climate change, and even though we know we shouldn’t.
What is GDP? And what it is not.
GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, is a highly simplified and narrow measure of economic performance. It basically takes the amount of products made and multiplies it by the price.
It is simplistic portrayed as an exponential curve on a graph.
Just one little line that has galvanized the way economics and prosperity have been imagined and measured for decades.
With GDP as the scoreboard, the name of the game is deadly simple — maximize GDP — the country with the most stuff wins.
But GDP is not concerned with how you came to make the most stuff.
It doesn’t care if the workers have health care.
It doesn’t care if children are hungry.
It doesn’t even care if we are happy with the stuff we make and buy.
It doesn’t care if you make it and throw it out the next day.
This game appears to have only one significant rule, maximization, and those who play it best strive for ruthless efficiency. The human, social and environmental consequences of maximizing GDP are secondary or even irrelevant. These things are not considered on that happy little curve that we report on by country like sports scores.
Our insatiable focus on GDP has brought us to where we are today — on a dying planet at 100 seconds to midnight on the doomsday clock. Our policies have landed us here: Floods, wildfires, droughts, and mountains of garbage.
Our trade agreements. Our belief that it is cheaper to ship stuff in tankers around the world and haul it hither and yon on the highways rather than manufacturing things we need closer to home. We’ve chosen efficiency over resilience, and it’s costing us all.
It has created the 1% — the rise of the ultra-rich while millions go malnourished.
It has polluted water sources, destroyed our air and decimated global forests.
We have watched this game for decades now. The US and China are “winning”. So is it any wonder that they are the biggest greenhouse gas emitters?
And still we cling to GDP as if somehow our captor is going to change and now do the right thing. But even if the 1%-ers gave away half, as many ultra-rich pledge to do, this act does not address the global destruction caused by creating their wealth in the first place. It is not enough to give the money back! We have to stop the global economy that allowed such accumulation of wealth in the first place at the expense of the planet and the remaining 99%.
We need to banish GDP from our collective minds. The time has come to say our goodbyes to the beast.
Let GDP Flatline to Save the Planet
We have to give ourselves permission to let go and move on.
We were duped. We have been led to believe by business and political leaders for decades that economic growth was a righteous path. It’s not.
And don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to dismiss our individual roles in creating this mess. We must step up and take action to change this. We fell in line and became enamored with the money and the lifestyle and the stuff.
But as sea levels rise, Australia burns, and unpredictable weather threatens food crops around the world, seems like the blinders are coming off.
We cannot have constant growth. It even sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud — what planet could EVER support constant growth? It would mean we have endless supplies, and of course we do not. It’s an over-simplification that was kept as a guiding focus for decades too long.
The time has come to right ourselves onto a path with a humanitarian and ecological focus.
“The world is facing three existential crises: a climate crisis, an inequality crisis and a crisis in democracy. Yet the accepted ways by which we measure economic performance give absolutely no hint that we might be facing a problem.”
It’s time to embrace a new way of thinking about economics. It’s time to walk into the light of a new theory.
What is the alternative to GDP?
Strange as it might sound at first — the way forward is something called “Doughnut Economics” (Go on — take a bite!)
In her book Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth lays out the economic theory, and the therapy our societies need, to shift off GDP and into a new vision for our economies that won’t kill the planet and us along with it.
If you read one book to start 2020 — this one should be the top of your list!
The concept has been around for years and is at the heart of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Kate makes the theory accessible with her clean writing style, while carefully explaining how we ended up in this mess and what we need to do to get out.
The “doughnut” is based on two limits that must be respected at all times, which form an inner and outer circle:
“A social foundation of well-being that no one should fall below and an ecological ceiling of planetary pressure that we should not go beyond. Between the two lies a safe and just space for all”
— Kate Raworth — Doughnut Economics
Regeneration by Design
We follow patterns and protocols all the time, and this time we have been working with an economic design that was blind to its impacts. Now that the impacts are staring us in the face, we need to create the system to be “regenerative by design”. It must support the planet instead of destroying it.
Our way forward is not rocket science. We are already working on regenerative systems and learning how they work, such as rotational grazing with livestock to improve soil carbon sequestration while also growing food. Ironically many of the traditional and cultural practices of the world were regenerative before the advent of “modern economics” —(think seed saving and selective breeding as two such ‘old-is-new’ ways we used to be connected in a cycle). Reconnecting to our roots can help us here.
We need to redistribute wealth. . . . seriously no one needs a billion dollars to themselves while people are starving or while others work in sweat shops to create more stuff no one really needs.
We need to take back control of our food and grow it where we live, and share it with our neighbors and community, instead of buying junk that erodes our bodies and wellness.
We need to make sure no child is going without food, health care and education.
We need to do the work that creates renewable energy for all, without the destabilizing threat of energy cost spikes and power outages.
And we need to restore the ecosystems we have broken, and recognize them for the amazing co-habitants of our planet that they are.
In short, we need to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Our nightly news casts should be reporting on progress towards the UN Goals like sports scores. We should be celebrating every win.
Lay GDP to Rest
None of these necessary acts are possible under the overlord of GDP.
We can only transform by laying down our outdated paradigms and embracing new ones. GDP cannot be tinkered with and saved.
GDP Must Flatline — Or We Will.
You might also be interested in reading:
Why we need more role models (and influencers) to spark sustainable behaviors
My “pay it forward” story of change about climate change
Zero Waste and the Rise of the Backyard Chicken
How your individual actions really do matter in the fight to save the planet
From the climate change montage
From Ultra rich vs starvation:
From Global Impacts: