There is a reason why we immerse ourselves in nature on holidays; a reason why, as kids, we spent hours at the local creek gawking at the bugs. Nature relaxes and reinvigorates us. It captures our imagination and curiosity. I believe that connection with our natural world is innate in all of us.
My connection with our natural environments grew through showing people stunning snow-covered mountains in Australia and around the world through my work as a Snowsports Instructor. My awareness of environmental challenges developed and led me to study an environmental management degree to explore how we can live sustainably within the natural world. My curiosity had been sparked; that inner child that doesn’t stop asking “Why?” resurfaced. I was asking myself, “What’s causing our environmental challenges?” The answer seemed to be our environmental management decisions. So I asked, “Why are we making those decisions?” The answers I found placed economics as an important driver. The more I began to understand our current economic system I discovered it is distracting us from our connection with nature, and each other. Our environmental challenges are actually issues with our economic system. Shockingly, mainstream economics doesn’t recognise our living world’s importance and limits. Not the best place to start when it has the ability to drive what everyone does, everyday.
Economics is essentially about allocating resources and managing our home. Our planetary home; our community; or our own homes. Our current system is based on assumptions that humans make decisions based solely on logic and that our economy is a closed system circulating between households and businesses. It claims inequality and pollution will decrease after a certain point of income per capita is reached. We have chosen a single indicator of wellbeing - Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the value of goods and services produced within a nation. Our current goal is for GDP to increase at a faster rate every year. But humans are emotional over rational, and our products and services come from a finite planet. Wealth inequality and pollution is increasing, not decreasing. Having GDP as our indicator and goal means we need to make and sell more things every year, forever, to indicate our society is doing well. But is how much we make and sell the best indicator of our society’s wellbeing? Should it be our only one? It seems the economic system we currently have is not working for us, our communities, or our planet. It’s driving global warming. It’s driving wealth inequality. It’s driving social injustices. It drives our daily decisions and actions to focus on individuality over community.
The good news is that it’s something we’ve created, so it’s something we can change. And when all of us are doing it everyday, added up, that’s a lot of opportunities to improve. My next question was, “What are the alternatives?” Environmental economics seemed to offer more of a band-aid approach, simply building on the assumptions of the current system and applying that rationale to try to solve our environmental challenges. Ecological economics, however, was something altogether different. Ecological economics uses a trans-disciplinary approach to explore how humans act as a part of our planet. It incorporates insights from a number of disciplines, including ecology, anthropology and economics. It recognises our finite ecological system and places society within that, and our economy within society, with them all interacting. It sets the goal of our economy as living within ecological limits and above social basic needs. It has numerous ecological and social wellbeing indicators. Its vision is a regenerative and distributive economy. It challenges the assumptions of our current model.
More and more people are experiencing the failures of our current economic system but don’t yet understand the root cause. They are used to hearing our economy talked about in neoclassical terms, and perhaps feel that economics is something far more abstract than what it is; or that economics is for business-minded people; or simply just not for them. But economics is for everyone. We all do it, everyday. So we should be talking about it, especially if it’s not working. Everyone should be a part of this discussion. We have an incredible opportunity to make our economic system regenerate our natural world and our communities.
So let’s all talk about it. Let’s talk about ecological economics within and outside of NENA. Let’s talk about it over a coffee, on the train and in our homes. Because it will make our home flourish – our planetary home, our society and each of our own homes.