Paxeducare’s Blog


Healthy, Wealthy and Wise
May 17, 2011, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dear Friends-in this and subsequent newsletters you will notice that the focus of our content is shifting to increasingly include elements of the concepts of global sustainability. This reflects a deep awareness that we are at a crucial time in the history of our planet.  The mission of Pax Educare, over the past 10 years, has been to focus on the importance of educating both about and, more importantly, for peace.  It has become increasingly clear to me that to insure that our children and grandchildren have a habitable earth in which to live we are called to an expanded concept of peace education to include sustainability. The urgency is upon us.

                The word “sustainability” is one that my fellow board members of the Connecticut Partnership for Sustainability (www.ctpse.org)  and I labor over.  We wonder-do most people understand just what this term means? Does it convey the urgency of the problems before us in ways that can excite others to action? We play with other terminology. The one that I like is one that was shared by fellow board member Emily Bowling, who is the Eco-House Coordinator at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. It is one that was coined by the Permaculture folks http://permacultureprinciples.com/index.php. Imagine a flower with 3 petals, each petal representing one of these three principles: “earth care, people care and fair share”.  Simple enough. Yet, in my recent endeavors to understand more fully the tasks before us, this way of viewing sustainability can also represent a thoroughly integrative and more radical view toward transforming our present society.

                Author Bill McKibben, in his book Deep Economics,  (a recommended read), quotes the economist Herman Daly, formerly the World Bank’s Senior Environmental Economist, as saying “anyone who says they understand money hasn’t thought enough about it”. With the old adage in mind that there is nothing like teaching to help one learn something, my husband, Bill Upholt, and I decided to convene and to host, through our Quaker Meeting, a discussion series on ecological economics. The group meets monthly, discussing reading assignments and occasionally viewing movies, the latest one I highly recommend, “The Economics of Happiness” http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/. The film highlights the effects of our economic globalization and makes a powerful case for a movement toward localization. It features Bill McKibben, eco-feminist Vandana Shiva and others in the forefront of this new thinking.

                Humbling it is to realize that I have been a part of an economic system of which I know and understand so little. It makes me eager to learn more, if for nothing than to understand more fully how I might take control over my own production and consumption. I realize how little I have understood of the concept of debt and how our entire banking system would collapse without it. That continued economic growth as we know it rests on the notion that growth and debt are inextricably linked in a cycle. And that because of this, our system continues its growth as some become wealthier and others become more impoverished. There is always someone indebted to someone else. And who becomes the debtor and who the indebted so often is determined by who holds power.

                What excites me is learning more about “no growth” and its possibilities. Author McKibben notes that more monetary wealth does not create more happiness. American happiness peaked in the 1950s, when we as a nation produced and consumed much less than we do today. At the same time, the last few decades have seen a surge in the number of hours Americans are working, less time we are able to devote to family and a huge upward trend in the amount of “things” we consume. As we consider the effects of peak oil (some experts claim we are already on the downward spiral of having extracted as much oil as is easily accessible) we can consider a radically transformed society in which we are not “slaves” to an economy that rests on consumption, which  largely rests on the extraction, production and use of fossil fuel.  This new society will, inevitably, be more local.

                Scottish economist Malcolm Slessner notes that currently about 55% or the energy we consume is required for the processes of economic growth (in Deep Economy).  British economist Lord Nicholas Stern, in a lecture sponsored by the Tufts University Global Development and Environmental Institute, remarked that continued growth as we know it could commit the planet to a warming of 5 degrees Celsius. This would result in a higher average temperature than any time in the last 30 million years. This, in turn, could, in all likelihood, impact where people are able to live and include mass migrations and global warfare. Journalist Mark Hertsgaard, in his new best-selling book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, makes the case that in the best scenario, our planet’s temperature will rise only 2 degrees Celsius, not 5, still problematic. We should plan for this through policy changes, utilizing mitigation to prevent further rise and adaptability to this new increase, such as the Dutch are doing in relocating residents in low lying areas that are likely to flood due to rising sea levels. Even if we stop emitting carbon now, our planet will still warm up. Adapting to new conditions is therefore not only important but imperative.  Lord Stern notes that, in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, a new industrial revolution will be required, and this can begin in part with a new agricultural system. I believe that this new agricultural system must be based on localization.

                Our tasks as educators are urgently laid before us. I fervently hope that we can come to a new realization of what wealth is. Wealth as human happiness means wealth in relationships and community. I hope that we might expand our notion of a healthy economy as one encompassing not only markets of production and consumption, but natural and human resources as well. Let us value time with family, the nurturance of children, our interactions with nature. Research by Yale scholar Stephen Kellert has shown that we as humans have an inherent need to affiliate with our natural world and that 90% of an average American’s time is spent indoors. Bill McKibben’s point is that we have substituted oil for people. The antidote  to this is might rest in the knowledge that ten times as many conversations take place at a local farm market as they do at a supermarket.

                We will have to learn to live with risks and the safest way to do this is within community.  We will also need to learn to live with ambiguity and uncertainty. As Quaker author Ed Dreby writes “the problems are ones for which there is no solution within our current framework”. Given that we do not know for certain what will be the impact of our current actions on our future, but realizing we must act as we continue to seek knowledge, here are some suggestions  from the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy http://steadystate.org/.

  • Limit our resource use and waste
  • Stabilize population growth
  • Limit economic inequality-work toward more equal taxation and reducing the enormous gap of salaries between the top and bottom earnings
  • Reform the monetary system  (the control of the money supply made public)
  • Change how we view progress, taking into account human happiness
  • Increase leisure time and reduce employment hours (see the New Economics Foundation http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/21_Hours.pdf )
  • Rethink our business models toward more cooperatives
  • Reduce our consumption
  • Engage policy makers and politicians toward these changes
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Best wishes for a Happy Planet.

Mary Lee Morrison