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By Anna Haw and Isabel Nuesse

This image which sparked memes all over the internet in the last month may compel more people to rethink our consumer-driven habits and current state of our economy….or so we hope.

As consumers, we rarely give much thought to how the multitude of things we buy make their way across the planet and into our homes. That is, until the Ever Given (400m long packed with up to 18,000 containers) stopped $9.6 billion dollars’ worth of products each day that it was stalled in the Suez Canal. That’s $6.7 million a minute.  This debacle reveals the true scale of our global supply chains, and broader global economic system.

How is it that one ship can have such an impact? That so many goods depend on a single waterway, and that 6 days of disruption can amount to over $50 billion in losses? 

With so much money being lost, resources were swiftly mobilised to solve the frantic halt of the Suez Canal. It’s remarkable really, that our dependence on this consumer culture and our need to keep trading goods catalysed a global upheaval. 

The focus on incessant GDP growth has necessitated a relentless drive to create and trade goods, no matter the cost to the environment or human wellbeing. 

This shipping fiasco serves as a clear metaphor of our current economic system. We have an economy that lacks resilience, makes little practical sense and is so heavy that changing direction is almost impossible, despite obvious imminent danger. 

The comparatively tiny tug boats and bulldozers working together to dislodge the massive ship are akin to the many initiatives that are working to dislodge the current economic system. What’s needed to uproot the current economic system is a rising tide to provide much-needed support and create an enabling environment to the many profoundly positive new economic initiatives that are desperately trying to change the course of our damaging economy. 

We can create this rising tide.

It will take incredible mobilisation, bold action, risk and ultimately embracing long-term goals. 

There was support and media attention at all angles covering the crisis of Ever Given. Yet our current economic framework is a part and parcel of causing these crises. Rather than applying a band-aid at vast expense, or incessantly reporting on how many billions of dollars are being lost, let’s focus on the root of the problem. Are we throwing resources at a framework that is too centralised, single-minded and outdated?

What if a potentially catastrophic  global trade event can be viewed instead as an opportunity to give our  system a re-think? Do we need to keep purchasing goods at the current rate that we are? Can consumers buy less, share more and redistribute our wealth to support initiatives working towards achieving social justice on a healthy planet?  

As the Ever Given moves forward towards its destination with hundreds of other laden ships in its wake, let us not miss the opportunity to think about what our society’s priorities are, and where we’re mobilising our resources.

We do have the capacity to catalyse, dramatically shift and re-route our economic system, so what’s stopping us?

Image: Suez Canal Authority via AP

 

Issue Theme Articles:

The love of money

Plumbers and pedagogues

The K in recovery

She dared to meddle

Long covid

People count

Gap analysis

 

Full Magazine 

 

 

• Grado académico – Profesión: Máster en psicología industrial y ciencias políticas de la Universidad de Hamburg. Doctora en Transformaciones a la Sostenibilidad de la Universidad de Twente.

• Lugar actual de trabajo: Fundadora y Directora Ejecutiva del Instituto de Liderazgo Colectivo. Miembro del Comité Ejecutivo del Club de Roma.

• Líneas de investigación: Transformación hacia la sostenibilidad. Desarrollo de metodologías y articulación de espacios para su plena ejecución.

https://congresofuturo.cl/petra-kuenkel/

Blog by Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, WEAll Ambassador and Professor of Sustainability Science at the University of Iceland

Previously published on the WEAll website here

June 2, 2020

A few years ago a  guy called me up in Iceland and asked: “Why do the leftists own the environment?“  My answer was: “They do not but they have taken environmental issues to the forefront of their politics.  All parties should do that.“ He went on to found the Right Green Party which never took foothold in Icelandic politics.  But it was a step in the right direction.   Healthy environment and sustainability is tantamount for everyone’s wellbeing.

I was party to a similar discussion in an international WhatsApp group recently:  “Why is it that left-wing governments are promoting the wellbeing agenda?  In doing so it will be rejected by those to the right in politics.“

My response was: “In Iceland there is a broad political base behind the new wellbeing policy which has a focus on prosperity and quality of life and is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development goals.“

Our Prime Minister is from the Left Green Movement, but her coalition government encompasses the whole political spectrum – with the Independence Party (conservative right wing) led by Bjarni Benediktsson who is Minister of Finance and and Economic Affairs, and  the Progressive Party led by Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson and is Minister of Transport and Local Government.

This broad based coalition government agreed the Wellbeing policy agenda in April 2020.  It has 39 wellbeing indicators that are to be collected and followed by Statistics Iceland.  This is very important when considering what may happen in the next election – when the Left Greens may no longer lead the government.  Then the wellbeing agenda is already engrained in policy with civil servants and public institutional support.

What about the other countries in the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership?

In Scotland, the wellbeing economy agenda is being supported and followed by the National Performance Framework (NPF) which was presented to the Scottish Parliament by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Sturgeon is from the Scottish National Party (SNP) – which is considered to be a centre-left party and wants Scotland to become independent and and have closer ties with Europe and the EU.

Importantly, the NPF was passed unanimously with support from all five political parties in the Scottish Parliament.  Again, with this broad base of support in parliament the wellbeing economy agenda has a chance to survive if the next elections do not return the SNP as the leading party.

In New Zealand, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set the first wellbeing budget world-wide in May 2019 with a central question – how well are our people? The focus is on five priority areas where evidence indicates greatest opportunities to improve the lives of New Zealanders.  The PM´s political party is Labour (left).  Labour is in a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party (right wing) and the Green Party (left wing).  This again, is a broad-based political coalition, giving strength to the wellbeing agenda.

Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand are all members of WEGo – the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership – which is an offspring of WEAll.  A new member has just joined WEGo – Wales.  The First Minister of Wales is Mark Drakeford and he leads the Labour (left wing) government in Wales.  Wales has had the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act since 2015 that has seven wellbeing goals.  Therefore the wellbeing agenda is firmly in Welsh policy – and has been set in law for five years.

The Wellbeing Economy agenda is therefore neither left wing nor right wing.  It is for us all, so that all people and our planet can prosper.  Now that governments across the globe are finding their feet to lead their nations out of the COVOD-19 health and economic crisis – let us remember that pandemics hit us all, wherever we stand in politics. We also know that we cannot go back to business as usual.

In the worlds of professor Frank Snowden, a historian:  “By creating the myth that we could grow our economy exponentially and infinitely, by almost 8 billion people living on earth, excessive travel, environmental pollution, by pushing back nature more and more, we created almost ideal conditions for the coronavirus to emerge, spread and hit us especially hard.“

Let us join hands across political spectrums and make the Wellbeing Economy the new economy for the 21st century.  Would you like to learn more? Then see the WEAll ten principles of Building Back Better.