17 May 2017
We are obsessed by economic growth – infinite growth on a finite planet does not work. In any case, our measure of economic growth: GDP, does not measure human welfare and so is a very poor guide for policy.
Economic growth is the holy grail, every mainstream politician’s mantra, but what does this GDP thing measure? Basically it measures things anything that leads to an exchange of money. So it includes things that don’t add anything to our quality of life, such as waste clean-up, repairing broken equipment etc. So a good way to get growth is to make goods become obsolete or wear out as soon as possible so that people buy new ones. Remember a few years ago the Government paying anyone with a ten year old car to scrap it and buy a new one even though the old one was perfectly alright! This was just to help make this GDP number bigger. On the other hand, GDP doesn’t measure lots of things that matter to us: security, happiness, freedom from anxiety, health, and leisure time. We could improve all of these and not do much for GDP and the media would tell us that we are failing. For a good video on how wasteful our economic system really is go to the Story of Stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GorqroigqM
In order to feed this GDP growth machine everyone is exhorted to work harder, faster, (and if you are a worker this is for less money and if you are a boss, for more money!). People now work longer hours than they did 40 years ago and in Britain we have the longest working hours in Europe! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16082186
We have greed all around us – not just the bankers but the neo-liberal economic revolution of the last thirty years has seen a massive shift of wealth from the poorest 10% to the richest 10%. The top 10% now earn 12 times the bottom 10% whereas in 1985 this was 8 times. The top 1% earned 7% of national income in 1970 and over 14% in 2005. Real earnings for the bottom 10% have been static or falling for 30 years whilst company bosses earnings have trebled in the last decade alone. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/aug/08/uks-top-bosses-earned-10-pay-rise-2015-average-salary-hit-55m
Inequality on this scale is not just about money and wealth, it affects almost every other dimension of life such as physical health, mental health, education, job prospects and life expectancy. Physical and mental health issues have worsened and stress lies at the heart of every working person’s lives these days with less job security, longer hours and higher mortgages.
For a really good introduction on the impacts of inequality on the quality of life see Wilkinson and Pickett: http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html?quote=1138
Local communities have been fragmented and towns have been hollowed out so that most local specialist vendors (butchers, bakers, hardware stores, clothes stores etc) have been driven out of business by large supermarkets and out of town shopping centres with next to no connection with the communities which they serve. Our food is no longer produced locally but is created through global, convoluted interlinking activities that mean we have no idea any more where our food comes from, how it is created, or even what it is – witness the horsemeat scandal a couple of years ago as just an example. The food industry is so warped that we are now wasting 50% of all the food that is produced globally.( http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/)
Excessive consumerism is propelled by an advertising and marketing industry wholly geared to making people feel inadequate without the latest “must have” item and seducing them into buying things they don’t really need. Oliver James describes the impact: http://www.selfishcapitalist.com/affluenza.html However, not only is excessive consumerism bad for stress levels it is also hugely damaging for our world’s resources. Our throwaway society is literally robbing future generations of the natural resources that they would need to live their fulfilling lives.
At the heart of this consumerism is fossil based fuel – not just for travel but intrinsic to almost every manufactured product in existence. If every human on the planet consumed like the average UK citizen we would need FOUR worlds to provide for them.
Almost every scientist now agrees that climate change is both happening and accelerated by the actions of mankind. Global warming is causing extreme weather systems (we are witnessing the coldest spring for decades whilst in the southern hemisphere NZ and Australia suffered an unprecedented heatwave this year.)
The evidence is all around us that burning up fossil fuels is literally burning up our planet. The case for investing in renewable energy is overwhelming but Governments all over the world are so hooked on the fossil fuel drug that they will do ever more expensive and dangerous things to achieve it. We saw the dangers of deep-sea well drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the latest fad is Fracking – blasting pressurised toxins into the earth is an accident waiting to happen both in terms of polluted water supplies and earthquakes.
We humans have been destroying our eco-system at a much more rapid rate than ever before. Literally thousands of species of flora and fauna are made extinct every year leading to a poorer mix which also means a less resilient earth as there is less diversity to deal with changes.
Our skewed value system led to grotesque distortions in our financial system as bankers sought short term profits rather than long term service relationships. Obscene and conspicuous rewards drove dysfunctional behaviours so that bankers effectively gambled with your money – and in many cases lost! The taxpayers shall be picking up this tab for years to come. This behaviour is not confined to banking – we see greed and selfishness in the utility industries as well – as utility bosses salaries and bonuses have skyrocketed whilst the pricing for customers has been made as complex and bewildering as possible. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/millions-in-fuel-poverty-as-energy-bosses-pocket-164m-payout-8551461.html
The Green Party runs on a different set of values to the mainstream. We believe that there is a more caring way to manage our affairs. A way that harmonises technological advances and human well being with the needs of our natural environment. A truly sustainable society is one that provides sufficient incentives to do well whilst providing a sense of fairness. A sustainable society is at peace with itself without excessive ill health and stress where people care for and support each other in their own communities. A sustainable society can meet its food and other resource needs without depleting all the earth’s natural resources so that the world that a generation bequeaths is better than the one that it inherited.
Paul de Hoest
Green Party Candidate for South West Hertfordshire