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Bob Willard is a member of WEAll who has just recently published his first white paper. You can learn more about Bob and his work by visiting his website here

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Here are the opening paragraphs of my first white paper, “7 Bold Strokes To Save Our World.”

“We are at a pivotal point in the course of human civilization. We need to acknowledge that the system that got us into this global quagmire is not fit for our future. Let’s capitalize on this rare opportunity to truly transform global systems.

“It’s easy to criticize the status quo. There have been glaringly obvious national and global failures to mitigate our current crises effectively, let alone prepare for them. But it’s time to challenge ourselves to propose what we would do if we were in charge of the world. If we had a magic wand, what are the actions that we would immediately take to transform our world to a more resilient, just, inclusive and safe socioeconomic system?”

A 16-page paper is too long to be a blog and too short to be a book, so I decided to make it a “white paper.” According to Wikipedia, a white paper “is an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.” That summarizes my intent perfectly.

Donella Meadows’ famous advice is that we should work on the highest leverage points in the system that we want to change. Her most effective and highest leverage point is: “The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, power structure, rules, its culture — arises.” The seven bold strokes take direct aim at the mindset / paradigm of our current global system. They are:

  1. Replace the GDP with an SDG-based GPI for governments.
  2. Mandate a multi-stakeholder wellbeing purpose for all corporations
  3. Implement SDG-based sustainable procurement
  4. Implement a fair and consistent global tax system
  5. Ensure gender equality in public and private sector leadership positions
  6. Implement a Green New Deal
  7. Reform the banking and securities systems

There are 28 specific actions within the seven bold strokes. We can all work on whichever bold strokes and actions we are closest to, have the most energy for, or have the best possibility to influence. I expect that you are already working on a couple of them, as am I.

We do not have a deficiency of understanding; we have a deficiency of bold, paradigm-shifting action. The urgency of the self-inflicted global crises gives us the courage and duty to act. Collectively, we can accomplish the necessary transformation of our global systems, in time. Let’s get on with building back better.

What do you think? Are the actions too bold, or not bold enough? Are any missing? Please feel free to add your comments, suggestions and questions using the “Leave a reply” comment box. For email subscribers, please click here to visit my site and provide feedback.

By: Lisa Boll, ZOE Institute for future-fit economies

ZOE, the Institute for Sustainable Economies, is a non-profit think & do tank. Together with politics, science and civil society, ZOE develops trend-setting impulses for the fundamental questions of a sustainable economy.

COVID-19 has revealed the deep-rooted vulnerabilities of our current socio-economic system. “Business as usual” cannot guarantee sustainable prosperity on a healthy planet for all citizens. Relaunching the economy with the usual tools and policies won’t create the just transition we need.

This is a crucial moment to steer economic transformation towards structural resilience: enabling economies to be in a stronger position to absorb and recover from future shocks. It’s time to implement new policies that are fit for a just future. This means a shift away from structural dependence on the ‘growth paradigm’ and the use of GDP as the ultimate measure of success for policy decisions.

To tackle this challenge, today, the ZOE Institute has launched a new interactive website that offers a toolbox for ‘future-fit’ policymaking – which leads towards a sustainable, wellbeing economy.

Background Information: in-depth knowledge on different growth dependencies & strategies to overcome GDP-reliant economic frameworks, based on Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics.

Interactive Policy Database: The website features a state of the art, open-access policy database for sustainable prosperity, with over 200 transformative policies in the realm of employment & income, the environment, money & finance, and many more.

Users simply selected specific goals and objectives, and the interactive database displays relevant policy strategies for each topic, giving users concrete tools to work for a just and sustainable future for all.

Evidence-based Argumentation Strategy: Along with the policy database, the website features an interactive reflection game, which helps policymakers enhance arguments in favour of progressive policymaking, based on insights from scientific studies.

Visit www.sustainable-prosperity.eu to explore the vast interactive, open-access policy database and join a network of progressive thinkers across Europe.

“Sustainable Wellbeing Futures: A Research and Action Agenda for Ecological Economics” is an important new book laying out an alternative approach that places the sustainable wellbeing of humans and the rest of nature as the overarching goal. Each of the book’s chapters, written by a diverse collection of scholars and practitioners, outlines a research and action agenda for how this future can look and possible actions for its realisation.

Edited by founding WEAll members Professor Robert Costanza and Ida Kubiszewski, along with Jon D. Erickson and Joshua Farley, it is available now via Edward Elgar publishing.

The editors describe the book as follows:

“Climate disruption, overpopulation, biodiversity loss, the threats of financial collapse, large-scale damage to our natural and social environments and eroding democracy are all becoming critically important concerns. The editors of this timely book assert that these problems are not separate, but all stem from our over-reliance on an out-dated approach to economics that puts growth of production and consumption above all else.

Ecological economics can help create the future that most people want – a future that is prosperous, just, equitable and sustainable. This forward-thinking book lays out an alternative approach that places the sustainable wellbeing of humans and the rest of nature as the overarching goal. Each of the book’s chapters, written by a diverse collection of scholars and practitioners, outlines a research and action agenda for how this future can look and possible actions for its realisation.

Sustainable Wellbeing Futures will be of value to academics and students researching environmental and ecological economics, as well as individuals interested in gaining a greater understanding of the concept of a wellbeing future and how we might act to achieve it.”

The publication of this book marks a major step in economic thinking, bringing wellbeing economics ideas and practice to the fore.

 

The covid-19 pandemic has made the inequalities and absurdities of our current economic systems clearer than ever. Economic policies are oriented towards emergency response and meeting basic needs, and there is no longer an economic status quo available to us.

This provides an opportunity to advance the vision of a wellbeing economy, with even more urgency than before the crisis. It has never been more crucial that we focus our systems on delivering wellbeing for all.

Ten Principles to Build Back Better

The COVID-19 pandemic is having devastating effects on vulnerable communities around the world but we are also seeing glimpses of hope, where societies are working to “build back better” by ensuring basic needs and protecting our natural environment.

In a new WEAll briefing paper published today, we outline a set of ten principles for “building back better” toward a wellbeing economy. “Wellbeing economics for the covid-19 recovery”, by Milena Buchs et al, showcases examples of inspiring actions around the world that are moving us towards a wellbeing economy, along with examples of actions that are moving us away from this vision.

 

1. New goals: ecologically safe and environmentally just

Prioritise long-term human wellbeing and ecological stability in all decision-making; degrow and divest from economic sectors that do not contribute to ecological and wellbeing goals; invest in those that do; facilitate a just transition for all that creates jobs in and reskills for environmentally friendly and wellbeing focused sectors.

2. Protecting environmental standards

Protect all existing climate policy and emission reduction targets, environmental regulations and other environmental policies in all COVID-19 responses.

3. Green infrastructure and provisioning

Develop new green infrastructure and provisioning, and sustainable social practices as part of the COVID-19 recovery. For instance, transform urban space towards active travel and away from car use; scale up public transport, green energy, environmentally sustainable food production, low carbon housing; attach environmental conditionality to bailouts of high carbon industries.

4. Universal basic services

Guarantee needs satisfaction for everyone, including through health care coverage for the whole population free of charge at point of access; universal free provision or vouchers for basic levels of water, electricity, gas, housing, food, mobility, education.

5. Guaranteed livelihoods

Ensure everyone has the means for decent living, for instance through income and/or job guarantees, redistribution of employment through working-time reduction.

6. Fair distribution

Create more equal societies nationally and globally through a fair distribution of resources and opportunities. E.g. more progressive and environmentally orientated income and wealth taxation; public/common ownership of key resources and infrastructure.

7. Better democracy

Ensure effective, transparent and inclusive democratic processes at all levels; end regulatory capture from corporate interests and corruption.

8. Wellbeing economics organisations

Prioritise in all businesses and organisations social and ecological goals; implement circular economy principles to minimise resource use and waste; ensure economic and organisational democracy.

9. Cooperation

Ensure cooperation and solidarity at all levels, including in international politics and the global economy; across industrial sectors and government ministries; across scales (global, national, regional, local).

10. Public control of money

Introduce public and democratic control of money creation. Spend newly created money on investments that promote social and environmental goals and avoid post-recovery austerity.

What does building back better look like in practice?

There are already great examples around the world of governments starting to employ these principles.

The city of Amsterdam has sped up the adoption of a doughnut economics framework in response to COVID-19 to guide decision making.

New Zealand, Iceland and Scotland are already implementing wellbeing economics principles, through the formation of the Wellbeing Economy Government group, and wellbeing budgets and decision-making frameworks. These countries have also achieved better outcomes in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

Of course, other decision makers are opting for business-as-usual, what the WEAll Briefing paper calls a “back to worse” approach. Notably, several governments, including in the US, UK, Australia, Sweden and Denmark have bailed out airlines, without environmental conditions in response to COVID-19.

Download and read the paper for more examples under each of the ten principles of Build Back Better and Back To Worse approaches.

“Building back better” will require great creativity and coordination. Concerted effort is needed to truly value wellbeing and ecological sustainability simultaneously and for all.

New ideas are a crucial ingredient for such an endeavour. We’ve suggested the ten principles above for responding to COVID-19 – and we recognise that this is a unique moment of change. So, we invite you to engage in this discussion as we work to build back better together. Comment below with further suggestions of principles and examples for what this means where you are.

New WEAll Briefing paper published today:

‘With your support we kept going, what else were we to do?’ Linwood as a microcosm of the beginnings of a wellbeing economy (click to download PDF)

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Advocacy and Influencing lead with Kirsty Flannigan and Jim Boyle

For any new idea to be supported, let alone adopted, it needs to be visualised.

Sometimes that is via story telling that offers a coherent and compelling narrative. Sometimes that will be by seeing the idea played out in practice and getting a sense of what it looks and feels like.

Ideally, it will be both.

This applies to the diverse movement working to build a wellbeing economy: we need to work upwards from practical experience and outwards from conversations that open up people’s sense of the possibility that the economy can operate for, rather than against, humanity.

Rarely though (under the current economic system), is it possible to see the richness of an idea embodied in so many dimensions in one place. Fortunately, in Linwood, a town of just over ten thousand people on the outskirts of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, efforts to build what can be described as a wellbeing economy can be seen in action.

The Linwood story encompasses not just what a wellbeing economy might entail, but also why such a new economic model needs to be built, in Linwood and beyond.

In many ways, the story of Linwood reflects the story of the global economy. It has powerful actors in the form of corporate and institutional protagonists. And it has those who suffer from an economic model misaligned with what people need: local families who just want to get on with their lives and buy produce locally, play football on local pitches, share a cup of coffee together in a local cafe, and feel that the economy with which they interact is working for them.

The characters in Linwood’s story include heroic women fighting against an impersonal bureaucracy. It has heartache and triumphs, and its long history is still ongoing with the possibility of another instalment just around the corner.

Rather than telling the story of Linwood in a chronological sense, its story of the last few decades is set out here via challenges and objectives that will be familiar to those in the wellbeing economy movement around the world:

  • Deep systemic causes beyond the manifest symptoms
  • Local perseverance in resisting an imposed and inappropriate agenda, but so often coming up against power and system intransigence
  • The cultivation of business models that are designed for social benefit
  • Bottom up economic development; and
  • A bold new vision for how the economy can operate.

Together, the story of Linwood provides hope that a wellbeing economy can be built in the face of system resistance, by a few determined people with their eyes set on an economy that works for them.

Download the full paper here.

Image: Linwood CDT

A pioneering new book “Sustainable Wellbeing Futures: A Research and Action Agenda for Ecological Economics” is soon to be published, outlining the various dimensions of a wellbeing economy and setting out a research and action plan for change.

Throughout February and March, WEAll is highlighting some of the book’s ideas by sharing short abstracts from each chapter. It is due to be published in May 2020 – find out more and order a copy here.

 

Creating Positive Futures for Humanity on Earth
By Robert Costanza, Elizabeth M. B. Doran, Tatiana Gladkikh, Ida Kubiszewski, Valerie Luzadis, and Eric Zencey

We cannot predict the future, but we can design and help create the future we want.  To do this we need to better understand how cultures evolve and change and how to overcome societal addictions and roadblocks to positive change.  Creating a shared vision is a critical step in this process. Goal setting, envisioning and scenario planning are important tools that have been used to guide and enable transitions in businesses, communities, and individuals. On the world stage, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an important step toward creating a shared vision of a positive future for all countries on Earth. This chapter discusses these theories, tools, and processes and how they have been used to create alternative futures to motivate and guide major transitions.  It then proposes a research and action agenda to enable better understanding of cultural evolution, how to direct it toward desired goals, and how to create a shared vision of the goal  – a world of sustainable wellbeing we all want.

 

Work, Labour, and Regenerative Production

By Kaitlin Kish and Stephen Quilley

In this chapter, we revisit Marxist critiques of deskilling and alienation and review recent work in relation to the ontology of the labour process and the possibility of more meaningful work in an Ecological Economics (EE) context. The movements and phenomena that we survey include: the re-emergence of the arts and crafts sensibility in the form of the ‘maker’ movement; the sharing economy; ‘regenerative’ economies; new forms of bartering, gifting and trading facilitated by information and communication technologies; a new significance attaching to residual and seemingly anachronistic guilds; and emerging traditions associated with new forms of work. On this basis of we review potentially fertile areas for future EE research, demarcating in the process a number of significant themes including: making as a hobby and leisure activity, a vocation, an occupation and a career; making as a dimension of transformative education; automation versus/or integrated with fabrication by hand; the issues of hand/brain re-integration and de-alienation; the connection between making and patterns of place and reconnection with local biosphere; the connections between this kind of radical political economy on the one hand and restoration ecology and indigenous studies on the other; and the tension between the prospective regenerative economy (repair and reuse) and the tendency towards increased ephemeralization. On this basis we explore possibilities for a simultaneous contraction, expansion and innovation in the roles of municipal and regional governments in facilitating the emergence of a vibrant and more embedded reMaker economy.

 

Ecological economics can help create the future that most people want – a future that is prosperous, just, equitable and sustainable.

Ecological economics (EE) is a transdiscipline. While it is difficult to categorise ecological economics in the same way one would a normal academic discipline, it can be characterised in general by its goals, worldview, and methodology.  The overarching goal is sustainable wellbeing of both humans and the rest of nature, with three broad sub-goals of sustainable scale, fair distribution, and efficient allocation of resources.

An exploration of what ecological economics is and why we need it more than ever, is the opening chapter of a pioneering new book “Sustainable Wellbeing Futures: A Research and Action Agenda for Ecological Economics.” Authored by the book’s editors Robert Costanza, Jon D. Erickson, Joshua Farley, and Ida Kubiszewski, the article sets out how the ecological economics worldview includes an interdependent, co-evolving, complex whole system perspective of economies embedded in societies embedded in the rest of nature.

In the foreword to the book, Professor Jacqueline McGlade reflects on the wellbeing economy movement and where it must go next:

“The first global political manifestation of a shift towards wellbeing economies becoming mainstream emerged in 2018, with the decision by the leaders of Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand, to form the Wellbeing Economies Group. Their goal is to implement economic policies with the objective of delivering the collective wellbeing of their nations, looking at how happy the population is, not just how wealthy it is, creating fair work that is well-paid and based on worthwhile and fulfilling work, and which values a transition to longer term sustainability.

Sustainable Wellbeing Futures provides the robust and well-articulated body of knowledge that these national endeavours will need.

The ideas that Sustainable Wellbeing Futures brings to life have been borne out of thousands of hours of discussions about the multiple aspects of wellbeing and ecological economics. Shortcomings have been probed and examined and answers found. The importance of this book is that it provides solutions and examples of how we – as individuals, organisations, governments – can work together to turn the tide against the destructive changes in our world. These examples should give us hope and inspiration. We should also take encouragement from the volume itself; it is heartening to see so many leading researchers and thinkers working together to provide a coherent, multidisciplinary voice, stating loud and clear what is happening and how we can deliver our future wellbeing.”

This forward-thinking book lays out an alternative approach that places the sustainable wellbeing of humans and the rest of nature as the overarching goal. Each of the book’s chapters, written by a diverse collection of scholars and practitioners, outlines a research and action agenda for how this future can look and possible actions for its realisation.

Over the coming weeks, WEAll will be highlighting some of these ideas by sharing short abstracts from each chapter. It is due to be published in May 2020 – find out more and order a copy here.

 

 

 

It used to be the case that focusing government efforts to growing the Gross Domestic Product made perfect sense. Post-WWII Finland was a poor and agricultural country devastated by the war where the oldest people still remembered the great famine of 1866-68 when over 100,000 people – over 5 % of the whole population – died of hunger. Against this background, the rapid economic growth that has made Finland one of the richest countries has been a remarkable success story: Not only are Finnish people materially well off and protected from famine but also – according to World Happiness Report – the happiest people in the world in both 2018 and 2019.

However, two key concerns force governments to refocus their aim away from increasing GDP and into measuring and improving human well-being more directly.

First, for wealthy Western countries, GDP growth no longer produces well-being. In low income countries economic growth often helps to lift people out of poverty, thus contributing to well-being. Money that buys food on the table buys happiness for the family. However, there is a threshold beyond which the needs that money can satisfy are satisfied. And thus money no longer produces happiness – not for countries and not for citizens. As for citizens, a recent study published in Nature Human Behavior utilizing data from 1.7 million individuals from 164 countries demonstrated that beyond annual incomes of $95,000 money no longer contributes to life satisfaction and for experiencing positive emotions, the satiation occurs already at $60,000. As for countries, the wealthy Western countries have passed decades ago the satiation point beyond which pushing for economic growth produces only marginal gains in well-being. If even that.

In the last ten years, the US economy has continued its growth. At the same time citizen happiness and even the average life expectancy of citizens is declining. Since 1999 suicide rate has increased by a third, while drug overdose deaths have quadrupled. The economy is getting better, the citizens are doing worse. Unfortunately, the politicians focusing on the former are blind to the latter, which provides one key explanation for the populist backlash against the establishment that we have seen in recent elections in US, UK, and many other countries.

Second, it is no longer possible to deny the devastating impact of economic growth on our planet. Intergovernmental Panel in Climate Change has made it clear that keeping the global warming below 1.5 C requires rapid globally coordinated action to mitigate the worst-case scenarios. There is currently much talk about whether it is possible to decouple economic growth from environmental impact by taxing emissions, switching to cleaner energy sources, and various technological solutions. Many experts are skeptical about the possibility of achieving decoupling fast enough to allow for ‘green growth’ while still stopping the global warming.

But the true question is not whether it is possible to decouple economic growth and environmental impact. The true question is why we should care about economic growth if it has decoupled from human well-being. Decoupling human well-being from environmental impact is what really matters. Economic growth used to be the means to growth in well-being. Now that it no longer works, we should stop fetishizing the means, and concentrate on the target.

True enough, some economic growth produces well-being. However, other economic growth – like medications for the burned out, petrol consumed while stuck in traffic, or treating lung cancers caused by polluted air – are symptoms of ill-being. Accordingly, we need to distinguish between economic growth that produces well-being and economic growth that produces ill-being. Getting rid of the latter is good from both human and environmental point of view.

To get there, we need reliable and timely measures of human well-being.

A few decades ago citizen happiness was an impossible policy goal for two reasons: 1) There was not enough reliable annual data that could be used to track how happiness of the citizen is developing within a country. 2) Given the lack of data and subsequent lack of research, there were not many evidence-based policy recommendations that politicians interested in improving citizen happiness could apply.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Commissioned by French president Nicolas Sarkozy two Nobel-winning economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen wrote in 2009 a report on broader measures of well-being that initiated a new era. UK Office for National Health started to track citizen well-being extensively in 2010, OECD has tracked the well-being of its member countries since 2011 through its Better Life Index, and World Happiness Report has tracked citizen happiness around the world annually since 2012, with various national efforts to make happiness the key policy goal underway in countries ranging from New Zealand and Scotland to United Arab Emirates.

This has led to an explosion of research on how various institutions and policies affect citizen well-being, demonstrating, for example, the importance of social trust, rule of law and low corruption, and the extensiveness of welfare benefits and labor market regulation for citizen happiness.

Finally, we have the tools and measures in place that make it possible to realize the true aim of every democratic government, as articulated already by Thomas Jefferson in 1809: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the only legitimate object of government.”

So, if we want to still save the planet and if we believe that the true object of governments ought to be improving the well-being of citizens in a sustainable way, then now is the time for paradigm shift: Instead of tracking GDP growth as the prime measure of government success, we need to track citizen well-being more directly.

Achieving this paradigm shift requires action from us all: Media should use as much space to report well-being metrics as they now use to report economic metrics and hold politicians accountable for shifts in people’s life satisfaction. Political decision-making should become two-dimensional: Assessing both the economic and well-being impact of policy proposals ought to be a routine part of all policy-making (see figure above). And we, as citizens, should be mindful in our voting decisions and push for our representatives to take the issue of citizen happiness seriously.

Time is running out. Blind economic growth for the sake of economic growth is pushing us beyond planetary boundaries – often without contributing to our well-being. It is time for well-being economics and well-being politics that ensures that economy serves people and their happiness, not the other way around.

Photo by Singkham for Pexels

By Samantha Kagan

Those who follow the development and proliferation of wellbeing economics are likely already aware that earlier this year, New Zealand became the first country to reorient its national budget and decision-making framework to centre on wellbeing expansion, rather than on GDP growth. The shift was momentous, and it was executed with the intent from the Government of improving its service to citizens. Minister of Finance Hon Grant Robertson claimed in his speech introducing the new approach that “The things that New Zealanders valued were not being sufficiently valued by the Government”, and this was leading to outcomes undesired by citizens.[1] However, he relayed confidence that implementing the new wellbeing framework would rectify previous missteps and improve outcomes delivered by government. The new approach was well-intentioned, but little evidence existed to support the notion that citizens are more satisfied with a government that pursues wellbeing expansion over one that focuses on GDP growth. I conducted a study to investigate this assumption, and I found evidence that the Minister, in fact, was correct: in New Zealand, citizens are more likely to regard the government highly when wellbeing expands, rather than when GDP grows.

I came to this conclusion using two complementary methods of analysis. First, I examined correlations between GDP and satisfaction with the government’s performance, then between wellbeing and the same measure. I found a tendency for government satisfaction to move more closely with wellbeing factors than it does with GDP level or GDP growth rate. Next, I distributed surveys to New Zealanders that pitted hypothetical policies against one another and asked participants to indicate which option they would support. One policy would grow GDP, while the other would expand wellbeing, and results showed a preference for the latter.

The findings of my study are encouraging, as they suggest leaders in New Zealand acted rationally by shifting government priorities to focus on wellbeing. The objective for adopting this scheme was to improve satisfaction among citizens, and it appears that the strategy was well-calculated. According to Adam Smith, the value of any government is judged in proportion to the extent that it makes citizens happy.[2] Leaders in New Zealand improved their performance in this sense and have good reason to claim victory.

In other nations where government satisfaction is a concern, leaders would be sensible to consider launching a response like New Zealand’s. In Iceland and Scotland, such action is already underway, as each country’s government has introduced a plan to comprehensively restructure its framework.[3] In Britain, although the proposal is yet to be approved, individual policymakers are pushing for wellbeing to take precedence over GDP in government decision making.[4] Examples set by these countries and findings like those in this study should motivate policymakers to contemplate pivoting toward wellbeing to earn more satisfied citizens.

While improving contentment of citizens is itself a valuable objective, the findings of my study also have important implications for policy options available to legislators. Traditionally, policymakers are bound by the paramount goal of GDP expansion. If an otherwise sensible policy appears to threaten growth, it is usually denounced for precisely that reason. This study suggests when a policy is generally constructive, the fact that it may hurt growth should not lead to its automatic dismissal, and if the policy will enhance wellbeing, then it should be given serious consideration. In response to issues like the climate crisis or worsening mental health conditions, the most effective solutions may not be those most conducive to growth. They may even diminish GDP. This study, however, suggests that the public would prefer policies that sacrifice growth in the name of wellbeing, rather than forego wellbeing to consistently safeguard growth. Therefore, policymakers should feel encouraged to maintain a level of indifference toward GDP while observing wellbeing as the primary measure of their legislative success. A new range of policies will become available to them, and citizens will likely become more satisfied as a result.

Samantha Kagan from LSE with a distinction in Inequalities and Social Science. This blog summarises the findings of her dissertation: “Satisfied citizens: how GDP growth and wellbeing expansion relate to government satisfaction”

[1] Robertson, G. (2019) ‘Budget Speech’. New Zealand Government. Available at: https://www.budget.govt.nz/budget/pdfs/speech/b19-speech.pdf (Accessed: 25 June 2019).

[2] Smith, A. (1976) The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Oxford University Press.

[3] WEGo: Wellbeing Economy Governments (2019). Available at: http://wellbeingeconomygovs.org/ (Accessed: 7 July 2019).

[4] Partington, R. (2019) ‘Wellbeing should replace growth as “main aim of UK spending”’, The Guardian, 24 May. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/24/wellbeing-should-replace-growth-as-main-aim-of-uk-spending (Accessed: 7 August 2019).

The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle has been learning about the wellbeing economy during her visit to South Africa, according to coverage by CNN.

The official Sussex Royal instagram shows the Duchess being given a tour of the Victoria Yards in Johannesburg by Simon Siswe – who is a WEAll Research Fellow.

Read more on the CNN website. 

Image: Sussex Royal

WEAll members and partners have collaborated to publish a new academic paper in the journal ‘Sustainability’ on the wellbeing economy.

Led by Luca Coscieme of Trinity College Dublin, the paper was also contributed to by: Paul Sutton ,Lars F. Mortensen ,Ida Kubiszewski ,Robert Costanza ,Katherine Trebeck ,Federico M. Pulselli ,Biagio F. Giannetti  and Lorenzo Fioramonti.

The authors explain the article as follows:

Increasingly, empirical evidence refutes many of the theoretical pillars of mainstream economics. These theories have persisted despite the fact that they support unsustainable and undesirable environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Continuing to embrace them puts at risk the possibility of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and overcoming other global challenges. We discuss a selection of paradoxes and delusions surrounding mainstream economic theories related to: (1) efficiency and resource use, (2) wealth and wellbeing, (3) economic growth, and (4) the distribution of wealth within and between rich and poor nations. We describe a wellbeing economy as an alternative for guiding policy development.

In 2018, a network of Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo), (supported by, but distinct from, the larger Wellbeing Economy Alliance—WEAll) promoting new forms of governance that diverge from the ones on which the G7 and G20 are based, has been launched and is now a living project. Members of WEGo aim at advancing the three key principles of a wellbeing economy: Live within planetary ecological boundaries, ensure equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, and efficiently allocate resources (including environmental and social public goods), bringing wellbeing to the heart of policymaking, and in particular economic policymaking. This network has potential to fundamentally re-shape current global leadership still anchored to old economic paradigms that give primacy to economic growth over environmental and social wealth and wellbeing.

You can read the article in full here.

The Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) has published a new working paper making the case for an early zero carbon target for the UK.

‘Zero Carbon Sooner’ by Tim Jackson addresses the question of when the UK should aim for zero (or net zero) carbon emissions. Starting from the global carbon budget which would allow the world an estimated 66% chance of limiting climate warming to 1.5o C, the paper derives a fair carbon budget for the UK of 2.5 GtCO2. The briefing then analyses a variety of emission pathways and target dates in terms of their adequacy for remaining within this budget.

A key finding is that a target date for zero carbon is not sufficient to determine whether the UK remains within its carbon budget. Policy must specify both a target date and an emissions pathway. For a linear reduction pathway not to exceed the carbon budget the target year would have to be 2025. Nonlinear pathways, such as those with constant percentage reduction rates, have a higher chance of remaining within the available budget provided that the reduction starts early enough and the reduction rate is high enough. It is notable that reduction rates high enough both to lead to zero carbon (on a consumption basis) by 2050 and to remain within the carbon budget require absolute reductions of more than 95% of carbon emissions as early as 2030. On this basis, the paper argues in favour of setting a UK target for net zero carbon emissions by 2030 or earlier, with a maximum of 5% emissions addressed through negative emission technologies.

Download and read the briefing paper here.

We can sense it.  A watershed moment in history.  A growing realization, among young people in particular, that the old systems are failing us. The grown-ups asleep at the wheel, or, worse, racing toward the cliff in full knowledge of the consequences. Or trying to fool us with the promise of returning to some mythical bygone era.  Or all of the above.

Established parties are folding, students are marching, and experts emerge from behind computer screens to tell us with near unanimous voice:  continue on our old path and we may well perish.

In the U.S., high school valedictorians get censored for wanting to address climate change, while young people force aspiring politicians to endorse a Green New Deal.  In Germany, a blogger gets 15 million views on YouTube (that’s one out of six Germans) with an hour-long video explaining how established parties are betraying future generations by promoting a crash course with nature and society. From Sweden to England and France and Germany, what unites millions of students is their fight for a viable future. Meanwhile, crusty elites admonish with a cynical “leave it to the experts.” Scientists, the real experts, come out to side with the young – by the tens of thousands.  Established politics no longer follows best available knowledge.  It slavishly obeys money and power instead, the future be damned.

Time, it seems, is running out on our human experiment. At least the one based on currently dominant ideas and paradigms, almost all based on exclusion, domination, plunder, and exhaustion—homo economicus run amok.

Missing almost entirely from mainstream debates is the fact that this is not just a moment of existential crisis.  It is also a moment of unprecedented opportunities.  Around the world, millions of people are engaged in finding alternatives to models of plunder and exploitation, individual utility maximization and loneliness.  They build sharing economies and design cyclical production methods.  They begin to learn from, rather than dominate nature. They understand the world to be a system, one form of life inseparable from the other.  Above all, they rediscover what reciprocity and kindness and meaningful work could look like once we ditch the pathological addiction to ever More; once we replace artificial scarcity and fear with community and belonging; once we conquer crippling inequality with respect and opportunities for everyone.  Once we start building a society that provides wellbeing for people and planet.

The freshest perspectives, overwhelming in their logic, come from the young.  They start with fundamental questions – “How can you continue to do what will destroy us?  How can you so thoroughly ignore what experts keep telling you?” They lead to logical follow-ups – “Why are we not all rolling up our proverbial sleeves and get to work on solutions that are inclusive and regenerative and just?  Why not listen to those who have transformative ideas, and ignore those intent on leaving the young behind in a sinking boat?”

We can only achieve what we can imagine.  And imagine we must.  Imagine not just reforms and improvements to the old, self-destructive corpse. Rather, imagine development that doesn’t depend on ongoing depletion and growth.  Imagine cities no longer built around the needs of cars, but around the needs of people – cities in which everyone can walk or bike in safety to everything they need. Imagine work in the name of prosperity, not output or profit. Imagine growing food in ways that regenerate soil and communities. Imagine energy production that is decentralized, local, renewable, and clean. Imagine governing that actually represents people and their experiences.  And, not least of all, imagine we power down our screens and build communities where everyone feels a sense of belonging.

No one has all the answers, and lots still needs to be figured out.  Yet we actually do know a lot. We know how to avoid the “uninhabitable world.” Above all, we have to start.  Start by saying a clear and decisive “no” to the old model of ever more plunder and depletion, and “yes” to each other and the environment we inhabit.

There are lots of opportunities – every day.

WEAll can inform you, inspire you, connect you.

“But how would things actually be different in a wellbeing economy?”

This is probably the question that our team gets asked most often – and while there’s no single answer, there ARE lots of answers. It all depends on the location, and the issue area.

WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead Katherine Trebeck has created a new section of the WEAll website exploring how the dominant economic system tends to respond to issues, from mental health to the climate crisis, and how a wellbeing economy would respond differently.

The current economic system (the “old way”) responds to the common needs of humanity and the planet in ways that do not address the heart of problems and do not make life better for all. In fact, often problems are made worse or at best responses act as ‘sticking plasters’.

In a wellbeing economy (the “new way”), responses would be person-centred, positive and long-term. The exciting thing is – the new way is already emerging, with inspiring examples around the world showing us the way.

This new online resource sets out indicative wellbeing economy responses to some of the major issue areas that decision makers deal with, and that affect all of our lives. It’s a work in progress and open to further contributions –we’re inviting people to submit their suggestions to keep developing the ideas and examples.

Check out the “Old Way vs New Way” resource now.

Based on the results of the 2018 IPCC Special Report, all countries and sectors should speed up emission reductions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. In addition to regulations, carbon taxes are effective at reducing emissions. Based on research, the best way to introduce them is via a budget-neutral environmental tax reform (ETR).

This research analyses the potential tax instruments that could be used in Finland to support emission cuts and the circular economy. From the potential pool of instruments, a total of three different types of ETR scenarios are formed and their impacts on the economy and emissions are analysed. The first scenario includes environmental taxes that mainly target firms and that might harm the cost-competitiveness of energy-intensive Finnish industries without compensations. The second scenario includes environmental taxes mainly targeting consumers; we analyse their regressivity, which is one of the main concerns regarding environmental and emission taxes. The third ETR scenario aims to promote circular economy solutions.

Based on the findings, all three scenarios would bring about the “double dividend” effect by significantly reducing emissions and increasing employment and GDP compared to baselines.

WEAll Youth leaders are undertaking research into sustainable lifestyles and behaviours for under 30s.

If you are aged 30 and below, please take part by completing this simple survey: CLICK HERE

 

2018 and 2019 launched a wide range of dire warning about the fragility of our planetary systems, notably David Attenborough’s speech at COP 24 on climate change and another dire warning about the alarming loss of planetary biodiversity from the UN’s biodiversity chief, Christiana Pascal Palmer. All of which cries out for a global call for action to exert immense pressure on our governments to set ambitious global targets.

Yet our political systems seem incapable of responding at scale and urgency to this existential crisis.  Our government was one of the first to sign up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) in 2015. The 17 Global Goals and associated targets represent an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the root causes of climate change, biodiversity loss, eliminate extreme poverty and put the world on a more sustainable path. And yet three years after the goals were agreed, the UK government does not have a compelling and coherent plan on how the UK is going to achieve them. The government has made a commitment to report on the UK’s progress at the UN in New York in July 2019. This is closely followed by the UN SDG Heads of State Summit on the 24 and 25 September. The UN SDG Summit will be one of three high-level events taking place in September, along with the 2019 Climate Summit and the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development. These events will be mutually reinforcing in identifying areas for action to accelerate the progress towards sustainable development.

Growth in all of its forms is one of the greatest conundrums facing humanity in the 21 century. It can improve our living standards and health and well-being. Yet as a recent global photographic competition (www.prixpictet.com) has depicted in graphic detail the dizzying growth of our cities and their dependency on scarce resources along with the relentless growth of the world’s population, all of which now threatens our very existence. We face a global environmental catastrophe in land use, food production and resource use which could undermine existing fragile economies and the sustainability of our civilisation.

And our politicians search relentlessly for solutions which will re-energise economic growth, with little evidence to date that their interventions are making any fundamental difference. So it’s not surprising that some of the worlds’ so – called sustainability experts have also found it impossible to reach any consensus on whether sustainable consumption and economic growth are compatible

But some recent analysis of the UK’s Material Flow Accounts for 2001-2009 suggest we are using less stuff now than the previous decade (Guardian 1/11/11- The Only way is Down http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/01/peak-stuff-consumption-data ).

It seems that the grand total of stuff we use (minerals, fuel, wood etc) in the UK amounts to roughly 2 billion tonnes per year about 30 tonnes for each and every one of us. For our former London Mayor’s benefit that’s as heavy as 4 Route Master buses!

This data is potentially good news because it implies at least as I read it that we may have “decoupled “economic growth from material consumption. Genuine decoupling has been seen by many of us as unachievable. But is this really de-materialisation and hence the emergence of a Green Economy or as others have suggested is it the dawn of de-growth?

Whatever the answer our unsustainable lifestyles and commitment to perpetual economic growth are major political and social obstacles because they have become the major drivers of climate change on Earth. Jason Hickel recently suggested that the solution is “about changing the way our economy operates” (Guardian: 5 March).

Encouragingly, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form a new roadmap for our future that in principle aligns the economy with the Earth’s life support systems.  Yet a recent report by the Stockholm Resilience Centre[1] shows that attempting to achieve the socio-economic goals using conventional growth policies would make it virtually impossible to reduce the speed of global warming and environmental degradation.

The research team tested three other scenarios and the only one that met all goals was the one that implemented systemic transformational change. A key element in the model was reducing inequality by a redistribution of wealth, work and income, including ensuring that the 10% richest people take no more that 40% of the income. A huge challenge for many of our wealthy political elite!

We need immediate action and committed leadership now from our government to create a movement for change that embraces and actions the Global Goals: why is it so rare that we encounter in our political leadership the qualities needed to enable sustainability: humility, respect for all forms of life and future generations, precaution and wisdom, the capacity to think systemically and challenge unethical actions? And more worryingly on the basis of current performance, what hope of improvement is there for our collective future?

We have an unprecedented and immense challenge before us – with little choice but to engage.

[1] https://www.stockholmresilience.org/publications/artiklar/2018-10-17-transformation-is-feasible—how-to-achieve-the-sustainable–development-goals-within-planetary-boundaries.html

Guest blog by:

Dr. Stephen Sterling is Emeritus Professor of Sustainability Education at the Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth, UK. A former Senior Advisor to the UK Higher Education Academy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), he has worked in environmental and sustainability education in the academic and NGO fields nationally and internationally for over four decades, including as a consultant and advisor on UNESCO’S Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) programmes.He is currently co-chair of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on ESD International Jury, and a Distinguished Fellow of the Schumacher Institute.  He has a reputation as a thought leader in ESD and is widely published in this area, including The Sustainable University – progress and prospects. His most recent book is Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education: Remaking Education for the Future,  (co-edited with Bob Jickling, Pivot/Palgrave, 2017).

Professor Stephen Martin: Hon FSE; FRSB; F.I.Env Sci is a passionate advocate for learning for sustainability and has spent nearly 40 years facilitating and supporting organisations and governments in ways they can contribute towards a more sustainable future. For nearly a decade he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Further and Higher Education with national responsibility for Environmental Education and served as a special advisor to the Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment in drafting the education and training sections of HM Government’s first white paper on the Environment-Our Common Inheritance. More recently he was the founding Chair of the Higher Education Academy’s Sustainable Development Advisory Group and a former member of the UK‘s UNESCO Education for Sustainability Forum. He has held visiting professorships at the Open University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Gloucestershire and  currently, at the University of the West of England Over the past 15 years he has been a sustainability change consultant for some of the largest FTSE100 companies such as BP, Barclays, Tesco and Carillion as well as Government Agencies such as the  UK National Commission for UNESCO,Environment Agency, OFSTED, the Higher Education Academy and the Learning and Skills Council. He was formerly Director of Learning at Forum for the Future.

Please see this recent publication from Stockholm Resilience Centre for more on the themes explored in the blog: Transformation is feasible – How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within Planetary Boundaries

 

This article was first posted on Open Democracy

A few weeks ago I spoke on a panel at an economics conference alongside an academic who specialises in analysing results from surveys that ask people how they feel. These are the kind of surveys that ask people to rate how happy or anxious they are on a scale of 1-10, which in turn inform the evidence base of ‘subjective self-reported wellbeing’.

The results from these surveys certainly matter, but they do not depict the whole story of how a society is doing. To put it simply, you could report being very happy in an economy that is doing a lot of damage to the environment, becoming more unequal, or failing to ensure everyone has their basic needs met. But that’s another story.

What was interesting (and irksome) was his response to my suggestion that we need a new economic system. A system that does not see nature as simply an input to the production of things and a waste sink at the end of the production processes; but one that enables people to collaborate and build strong communities; that attends to reducing the inequalities that separate people from each other. In response to this, the academic declared that this was “fluffy bunny stuff”, and that I was being naïve.

This was not the first time I have been called naïve. As with this panel, every previous instance has been from a man older than me who seems to pride himself as a defender of the current economic system. The naïve insult is hurled to give the impression that to even think that things might be done differently is daft, and that serious and sensible people do not talk about changing the economic system.

My fellow panellist told the audience that if they “look at the data” they will see that things are fine in the UK, that the welfare state is working well, that people are naturally competitive, and that inequality doesn’t matter.

The problem is that just as only looking at how happy people say they are does not provide the whole picture; by only looking at selected pieces of information, defenders of the status quo effectively turn a blind eye to the mounting evidence against it.

There are many examples of this. For example: data is often subject to the tyranny of averages, as is the case with GDP per capita which masks the extent of inequality. Moreover, looking at headline employment statistics misses that many of those in work are not earning enough to live on and are turning to food banks. And while average subjective self-reported wellbeing in countries like the UK might be relatively high compared to other countries around the world, it misses the growing number of people self-harming or feeling stressed or lonely.

Furthermore, those who say that we are in an era of unprecedented prosperity conveniently disregard the impact that the creation of this ‘prosperity’ has had on the natural world. And even if, when pushed, they recognise that the environment matters, they tend to point to ‘green growth’ or casually say that things are fine due to the potential of decoupling CO2 from GDP growth. But that again ignores other aspects of environmental breakdown, and that decoupling is often achieved by offshoring to other countries – like a child sweeping their toys and books under the bed in order to tell their parents their bedroom is tidy.

As my intellectual hero Maja Gopel says, the burden of proof now sits with those who claim the current economic system is working fine or – perhaps worse – that it is the best we can do.

The defenders of the status quo need to explain why ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ will sufficiently attend to the interlocking crisis: how it will give people a sense of control over their lives; how it will ensure they are optimistic about the prospects of their children; how it will stop the world plunging into dire climate change; how it will bring people together rather than push them apart behind gated communities and twitter bubbles.

Fortunately, those of us working on building a wellbeing economycan do this. We can explain how a new economic system which is geared up around the purpose of human and ecological wellbeing will attend to these questions, and how it will be better for current and future generations. That, of course, doesn’t mean that shifting to such an economy will be easy, it just means the possibility is there.

Returning to that panel.

As an Australian, from a country where rabbits were introduced and did great damage to native flora and fauna, I’m not the biggest fan of bunnies.

But in the context of asking who really is naïve in discussions about the economy and the future of society and the world, then I am proud to be a fluffy bunny.

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

Image by Joe Brusky, CC BY-NC 2.0

We, Professor Robert Costanza and Katherine Trebeck, are thrilled to invite you to contribute to a special issue of the journal Sustainability  that we are guest-editing.

The title of the special issue is: Toward a Sustainable Wellbeing Economy.

And we are keen that everyone  submit an article. You can find more detail about the special issue here: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability/special_issues/Toward_sust_wellbeing_economy

In a nutshell, it is devoted to articles that address the theme:

 What are the characteristics of a Sustainable Wellbeing Economy and how do we get there?

While it is about describing the problems with our current system, we also want to showcase solutions to make the transition to a better, more sustainable and desirable world.

It is open access so you and WEAll can share the pieces far and wide!

Do note that research articles, review articles as well as short communications are most welcome. More detail is on the website.

Next steps?

If you have any questions or are ready to submit, please contact: Josep Milà at josep.mila@mdpi.com

Deadline is 31st August 2019.

We are looking forward to seeing an article from you for this important special issue.

Bob and Katherine

Guest blog by Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy, Carnegie UK Trust

Over the past two decades, the word wellbeing has increasingly been used in public policy. The relevance of the conversation in both policy and people’s individual lives suggests a deep-seated sense of unease at the way prevailing economic and policy processes are failing to enable wellbeing for all.

But there remains conceptual confusion about the core meaning of the term, what one academic referred to as ‘a cacophony’ of different meanings. This confusion brings a wide number of people into wellbeing discussions but does so at a cost – not all concepts of wellbeing have the same underpinning philosophical root and there are potentially rather contradictory implications from these different conceptions.

In the international wellbeing movement, of which WEAll is now a key player, wellbeing is understood as a way of measuring and thinking about social progress. The movement is often defined by what it is against, namely that social progress cannot be defined solely as economic progress, as measured by GDP. But there is less agreement about what the movement is for – ‘Living well’ (personal wellbeing) and ‘living well together’ (societal wellbeing) give us two broad mechanisms to do this but the policy implications of these two definitions are often in tension.

Personal wellbeing focuses on ‘living well’ and measures quality of life through subjective measures of life satisfaction and happiness (and so it is sometimes called subjective wellbeing). It has its philosophical roots in Epicurean happiness and utilitarianism. In classical utilitarianism, it is not the distribution that matters, merely the total amount of utility. That some are left behind is not necessarily problematic. A broader, but still personal, version of wellbeing has been promoted in the UK over the past two decades.

There are reasons for caution in using personal wellbeing as a guide for public policy. For one, evidence shows that there is a genetic component to wellbeing, which means that the proportion of personal wellbeing that governments can positively affect is smaller than it might first appear. Related to this, there are well known life cycle trends in personal wellbeing and distributive effects which require careful analysis and care. Environmentalists caution against the short-termism of an approach which does not factor in the potential medium to long-term environmental costs of policy decisions. And there are critiques that argue personal wellbeing is further individualisation of the role of governments, focusing on interventions on the person rather than structural changes that would alter the contexts in which people live, work, and play.

Societal wellbeing, or living well together, addresses these concerns by setting out measures that are understood by the society as being essential components of a good society. The philosophical roots are in the Aristotelian-eudemonic tradition which sees human flourishing as the goal for society. To flourish, basic needs must first be met, housing, education, health and so on. Basic needs are universal to human beings, but their realisation is relative. For example, we may agree that housing is a basic human need, but the quality of that housing, how it is to be provided and what is tolerated as good enough housing, will differ across societies.

While the absence of income, health or education may make flourishing difficult, their availability does not itself create flourishing. To flourish is understood as having a purpose in life, participating in society, having a community around oneself. Amartya Sen developed the Capabilities Approach which seeks to supplement purely objective measures with an understanding of what people can do (functionings) and be (capabilities). Societal wellbeing, based on this philosophy, is therefore a multi-dimensional concept that describes progress in terms of improvements in quality of life, material conditions and sustainability. Further, societal wellbeing includes the assessment of longer-term harm caused by actions that create short-term happiness, it is therefore a system for assessing social progress that incorporates both the present and the foreseeable future, often described as the wellbeing of future generations.

The balance between personal and societal wellbeing plays out in practice across the jurisdictions of the UK. In my experience, perception from outside Westminster is that personal wellbeing has ‘captured’ the wellbeing movement in the UK, with key proponents reinterpreting the word wellbeing as relating solely to personal wellbeing. Meanwhile the small devolved jurisdictions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have developed frameworks for measuring societal wellbeing. Their use of societal wellbeing, and the transformative impact it has on public policy, is explored in my next blog ‘The Value of Wellbeing’.

Jennifer’s book Wellbeing and Devolution: Reframing the role of government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is available open access available via Springer Online.