Sunday, September 5, 2010


I've been reading a lot of resources lately on global climate change and sustainability.  Most if not all of them are focused on climatology and economics.  It's certainly clear that we must drastically reduce our consumption of material goods and non-renewable resources if we are to survive as a race and as a planet.

However, minimizing consumption is not the root solution.  We must develop a civilization based on respect for each other and for our planet in order to survive and thrive.  If we continue to be self-centered, we may succeed in reducing our own consumption a bit, but we will fail to help others who need to be brought up to a level consistent with a healthy, quality life.

I'm not sure how to do this.  We can't do it as individuals, although many individual efforts can help somewhat.  However, uncoordinated individual behaviors will not achieve a critical mass for global change.  Instead, there needs to be a paradigm shift in our global society - a shift away from economies based on unsustainable growth, toward an economy of mutual benefit.

E. F. Schumacher discussed the concept of Buddhist economics in his seminal book Small Is Beautiful.  It has been in print since it was first published in 1972 .  His words ring as true today as when they were written.  Buddhist economics is not based on material consumption, for attachment to material goods is the basis of all suffering, according to their way of thinking.  Instead, Buddhist economics is based on benefiting people

Our modern economies, whether they be capitalist, socialist or communist, have all used war as a way to line the pockets of the military-industrial complex and fuel the machinery of economic growth.  Instead, we need to be thinking in terms of how to produce the maximum benefit for all humankind and the planet, how to value work as an integral part of life rather than something to be avoided.  In other words, a Buddhist economy is based on people rather than goods, on creative activity rather than consumption. You can read Schumacher's classic essay, "Buddhist Economics", here.

This global paradigm shift must involve re-thinking all our measures of economic success.  Instead of measuring a Gross Domestic Product based on production and consumption of material goods, we will need to consider how to measure a National Quality of Life and a Global Sustainability Index.  The country of Bhutan has it right: it measures its economic success as Gross National Happiness, based on nine components that are given equal weight:

1.   Psychological Well-being
2.   Time Use
3.   Community Vitality
4.   Culture
5.   Health
6.   Education
7.   Environmental Diversity
8.   Living Standard
9.   Governance

This year's World Economic Forum at Davos recognized the need for a major paradigm shift.  One US company, PepsiCo, has an enlightened CEO in the form of Indra K. Nooyi, who has introduced the concept of a Double Bottom Line:  in addition to simple profit and loss, a company should be measured by how much it benefits society.  (The irony of this statement is not lost, as PepsiCo's snack foods undoubtedly contribute to the global epidemic of obesity and the looming crisis in the state of health, healhcare and well being.)

So where do we go from here? Scientists have already figured out if we eliminate all carbon emissions now (which of course is impossible), global warming will continue until 2050 because of the momentum already in place.

And in 2050?  Someone will have figured out another model to predict the effects of unrestrained spending and consumption, while the world continues doing business as usual and the planet reaches a point of no return.

It may be a while before we have a Buddhist in the White House or a Gross Global Happiness Index.  Until then, may we each strive to live in such a way to respect our fellow humankind and our fragile planet.  And may we all move in the direction of a global paradigm shift, as quickly as possible.

San Miguel de Allende:  "Language of Life"


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