“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world.”- Glaciologist and environmental philosopher, John Muir.
Many important and impactful decisions are made today on the basis of narrow focused interests and un-integrated (silo) perspectives.
This is because such thinking has been educated and trained into most of us through our current educational systems and thereafter, in our careers. Both in higher education and in our careers, we are encouraged to specialised because typically the more specialised we become, the higher the salary we can command. Whilst the advantage of specialisation is that it helps to increase the depth of knowledge and experience in a particular field, the down side is that this often comes at the cost of commensurately narrowing our perspective and understanding of the broader ‘big picture’. The result is that many decisions are made, that may be quite logical, appropriate and beneficial from a narrow (silo) perspective, but may be absolutely inappropriate or even harmful to the wellbeing and balance of the greater whole.
Nowhere is this more evident and with devastating results than in our current accounting and economic models that drive most of human behaviour today. The economy directly affects ecology. Yet this reality is not included in our accounting and economic models that do not include or account for the use of air, water, soil and the Earth’s ecosystems. They are referred to as ‘externalities’ and as such are regarded as ‘irrelevant’. Thus, according to our current accounting models, the pollution of our world and destruction of our natural resources does not matter!
This un-inclusive and un-integrated thinking extends into our economic modeling. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has become the common basis to identify and measure the wealth and health (growth) of our economies and wellbeing of our societies.
However, GDP excludes and ignores the qualitative aspects of financial growth, which influence the quality of our lives.
In terms of GDP measurement, it makes no difference if you spend the same amount of money on buying a machine gun, drugs or a piano. The contribution value to GDP is the same. The GDP viewpoint would also see ‘benefit’ from a huge oil spill that pollutes seas and coastlines, destroys fish, seabirds and ecosystems, and could take centuries to recover. The vast sums of money spent on cleaning up the oil-spill will contribute positively to GDP. In terms of this ‘unwholesome’ perspective, divorce is a more positive contributor to GDP than maintaining a united family and a working marriage, because when divorced, the family will need two houses instead of one, two fridges, two washing machines, more transport, additional expenditure on lawyer’s fees and more stress which results in more medical expenditure.
Thus through such an un-inclusive and un-integrated way of measuring our wealth and well being – we are not only destroying the foundations of environmental sustainability, we are also undermining the foundations of social sustainability and human wellbeing.
As Amory Lovins (Chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute) puts it “Today we have a temporary aberration called ‘industrial capitalism’, which is inadvertently liquidating its two most important sources of capital – the natural world and properly functioning societies. No sensible Capitalist would do that.”
To be Eco-Logical, we should therefore replace GDP with a more inclusive and integrated measurement tool for our economy. It is time to redefine our concept and measurement of ‘wealth’ to include:
- Physical security
- Rest and leisure time
- Family and community relations
- Our state of mental and spiritual peace
- The quality of the physical environment that we live in
- Creativity and self-expression through arts, crafts and self-enhancing skills
By including and integrating these qualitative aspects into how we measure wealth and wellbeing, there will be less of an obsessive focus on money and material assets. Promoting such an integrated and inclusive perspective of wealth motivates and incentivises a very different way of thinking, living and being in this world. It can potentially reduce the drive to extract and use up the Earth’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate and promotes a much richer, healthier and happier society to live in.
Happily, at senior levels in many larger corporate businesses, the need to serve ‘People, Planet and Profit‘ in equal measure is being recognised. It is referred to as ‘The Triple Bottom Line’ However too many give only lip service to this concept and many smaller organisations still see profit as their sole objective. This is not sustainable and it is not morally acceptable. We should all therefore use ‘the power of the purse’ (i.e. our spending power) by actively choosing to buy products and services from organisations that demonstrate care for people and planet as well as their profit. Such consumer power is likely to motivate a change away from environmentally and socially destructive practices far quicker than any moral argument.
THE ‘POWER OF THE PURSE’ IS YOURS – USE IT!
Getting back to the original point of this VIRTUE, let us always remember in business, government and in our communities, that we are all interconnected and interdependent parts of a greater whole. Damage to one element will invariably in the long run negatively impact the whole. It is therefore in our own best interests to care for each other and to take an inclusively integrated view before we take any major decision or action that significantly impacts and affects other parts of the whole.
With more than 50% of the world’s population living in cities or urban environments – how relevant is Nature in your life today? In the next blog we explore the advantages and dangers relating to R is for ‘Reconnecting with Nature’.