You can't have an economy without ecosystems

Progress Namibia - You can't have an economy without ecosystems
13 March 2017

I was inspired the other day by the words of Phoebe Barnard and Lorenzo Fioramonti who co-wrote an article in The Conversation about how it makes sense that ecosystem restoration should be built into economic growth plans. So, I wanted to share their musings here.

Right now, we live in a world where eight individuals own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the global population. We have the paradox of obesity and starvation on the same planet. We continue to destroy this planet, the living system that supports our survival, for short-term profit.

Not many can argue anymore that the current economic paradigm undermines the well-being of billions of people. If we do not willingly, and as soon as possible, ditch the current paradigm for one in which the people and the planet actually matter, we will soon be forced to (under much worse and uninhabitable circumstances).

So. Natural capital is defined as the world's stocks of natural assets: all living things, geology, soil, air, water. From this capital, we get a wide range of services. Natural capital makes human life and economic activity on earth possible. Then there is human capital. Everything that we bring to the table as individuals (our skills, our networks, our knowledge). Produced capital is the only component of economic growth captured by the gross domestic product.

Ten African countries signed the Gaborone Declaration in 2012 and the Cairo Declaration in 2015, to protect natural capital and integrate it into economic planning. The United Nations also supports the work of a group of lawyers called for a global law giving rights to other species living on this planet.

A global call has been made for the establishment of a public trust to manage the atmosphere, our most precious resource (yes, currently we live in a world where we value a diamond more than we value clean air).

Traditional practices of measured capital flow do not reflect the very important degradation of natural assets, or of labour. In the early 1970s, while the outside world ignored the Club of Rome's 'Limits to Growth' and the global environmental movement, the King of Bhutan led the way with a fundamentallly different parallel systems to GDP. He called it gross national happiness.

Since then, there has been a rise in alternative indicators to measure progress, and a country's success, founded upon the living system's capacity to support our development, as well as on the determinants that make up a successful society (those that have been largely ignored, resulting in social unrest, to put it mildly).

The recent Sustainable Development Goals demand that the global development policy discourse is changed to one of human well-being, linked to ecosystem health. The only way to do this is to build on shaping a new economy, one in which people and the planet truly matter.

Photo Credit: Le Roux van Schalkwyk