ECONOMICS OF HAPPINESS AND SUSTAINABILITY
Helena Norberg-Hodge is Director of the International
Society for Ecology and Culture. This speech was given at the "Restore
the Earth" conference, Findhorn foundation, April 3, 2002.
I am basically trying to interest people in having more meaningful work
at a relaxed pace with adequate remuneration. This is about reducing
pollution and poverty at the same time, but unfortunately we have been
subjected to many myths for a long time.
Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward Bernays helped shape the
advertising industry in the 1930s in order to make people more insecure
at the level of their innermost psyche. We've created a system which is
so large scale, so specialised that people who contribute to this
psychic destruction are often not aware of it. We need to identify the
central points at which we must intervene in order to arrest these
developments. We have to juggle with the complexity of the problems in
the sense that we don't have much time, ecosystems could flip
unpredictably, but also bear in mind that nature may have a way of
adjusting, it may not be as bad as it seems.
The paradox is that we have to act quickly, but the thing we
need to do is to slow down. We need to look at that economy as a
system. While there has been a loud demand for interdisciplinary
knowledge ever since Silent Spring - when we realised we needed a
science which could deal with the interconnections of a complex ecology
- at the same time in the industrialised world we realised our
fossil-fuel based economy was not sustainable, we knew we needed more
renewable, decentralised energy sources. We recognised that as a
society 30 years ago, with many books and research programmes at major
Universities. What happened to all of that?
I knew some of the people that were involved in undermining
that agenda: Limits to Growth sent a shudder through the Board of
Shell, but their futures forecaster was asked to come up with a
scenario of how to go forward. The problem was not a conscious agenda
to change the citizen's agenda, but the very wealthy corporations when
they went back to planning, their planning seemed to forget their own
shadow, their own need to grow relentlessly, their own role in the
future. It's difficult to recognise that your corporations should be
shrinking when you're inside the system.
They came up with the idea of sustainable development, which
was about reforming the economy to be more sustainable, not about
fundamental change. They are now putting more money into green speak
than into real change to research the things we need to do. The
pharmaceutical companies, for instance, spend almost the same amount on
advertising as on researching and developing new drugs. Similarly with
aid. The Scandinavian aid agencies changed their rhetoric and moved
their funding away from energy and intermediate technology toward
poverty alleviation, gradually telling NGOs, like those doing work in
Ladakh, that they should not be involved in renewable energy. It's
become more and more difficult to get a message out to the general
But in the last 3-5 years there has been a radical shift in
the message about huge corporations controlling things. There have been
some very surprising things getting into the media recently. I think
the process of slowing those corporations down has begun. I think
looking back we will see Seattle as a landmark, there are more and more
speed bumps to their progress.
Remember globalisation is about paving the way for
international corporations to move more easily. But at the same time
there are more and more restrictions on the ability of local people to
protect their economies. Many environmentalists have inadvertently
helped bring in regulations that have helped the corporations and hurt
small businesses. What happens is that regulations are brought in that
destroys the small farmer with just ten chickens; or the small catering
business who cannot afford to pay for the stainless steel kitchens -
they go out of business. Meanwhile the production of our food is in the
hands of ever bigger agribusiness.
If we are aware of this, it is not that difficult to change,
but we need this awareness. I can think of no more effective way of
reducing our dependence on multinationals than to bring the food
economy back home, not just buying locally, but supporting local
farmers to create local labels for local food. We need to encourage
local restaurants to carry local food; farmers covered markets at least
once a week in every city where you can buy food from the region on a
daily basis. We need to help farmers who are producing in a really
sustainable way, with local committees that can inspect local farms.
With every mile more, that food is moved to get to us, the
bigger scale it has to be produced on. The movement of food is linked
to size. In that system the big retailers can't cope with diversity,
and we end up throwing away lots of food just because it is not the
right shape. The way I am suggesting, will help create a market for
more diverse types of local food, which increases biodiversity. Big
agriculture is not more productive, it is not true and never has been -
except measured in terms of labour. We need as rapidly as possible to
encourage farmers to localise and diversify.
We also need to look at the diversity of seeds, we need to
teach children the joys of cooking together, celebrating food together.
Children in modern society are losing contact with the real joy and
pleasure of being involved in the whole process of caring for and
nurturing the natural world, reawakening their senses through producing
food from start to finish. It rebuilds our connection to the natural
world, our sense, our place.
At a practical level we are reducing transport. Britain
exports roughly as much milk, wheat and butter as it imports. This mad
trade of the same goods going back and forth also pertains to live
animals and needs to be stopped, and could be stopped immediately
without causing dislocation if those products were eaten at home. What
we would be talking about is the empowerment of local traders. This is
a strategic solution to a lot of problems. It would massively reduce
packaging and the need to deal with waste. Food is the only thing we
produce which is needed in such large quantities by every human every
day. It is so important to start localising.
We can start this internationally - there's a positive wake
up going on right now among many organisations. Many environmental NGOs
are seeing that the heart of the crisis is the economy. RSPB is now
advocating that we buy local, because globalisation is making
agriculture ever more destructive. I feel optimistic - this is an idea
that has got out of the bottle. No politicians advocating corporate
economic growth have put it back in. Their agenda leads to fear and
insecurity world wide. For these reasons as well as psychological ones
we need to change quickly.
It's not a pie in the sky wish, you can track this change
that is going on. It hasn't changed yet in terms of policy, but the
growth curve of the ideas has taken off. We need all to become more
economically literate and see this information exchange and mutual
education as activism. One of the most exciting things that is
happening is labour and environment organisations linking hands because
they see they have a common agenda in stopping megamergers so they have
more secure jobs.
The gap between rich a poor is getting wider all over the
world. I am not asking people in the north to make sacrifices on behalf
of the third world, but to protect themselves from increasing poverty
and the third world from increasing poverty. Let's have a moratorium on
international trade, a shift in energy because of global warming, to
stop the same things going backward and forward.
People in the third world are being told that we do no work
and that we have got this far by being clever with technology, not
through tremendous exploitation. We have brought people from the third
world on reality tours to the West, and when they see what it's like
here they see that our way cannot work for them. Hopefully through that
we will jointly be able to invent the third way.