Earth Overshoot Day reminds us that humanity’s richest are breaching the limits of our planet’s ability to support life in all its forms. According to the Global Footprint Network’s analysis, Earth Overshoot Day symbolises the critical point at which humanity exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate its resources. Reimagining a sustainable future requires understanding that nature, people, society and the economy are all interconnected and depend on each other for their wellbeing.
Creative solutions to fix the economic system can address not only the socio-economic problems we face but the climate and biodiversity challenges as well.
Greenpeace Nordic brought together a range of global experts in the rapidly expanding field of economic system change to look at the root causes ingrained in a harmful economic system and to offer solutions that could bring about transformative change. Together, they make up Season 1 of the SystemShift podcast.
Architect and visionary Indy Johar frames the problem as humankind finding itself at the tail end of a 400-year-old economic system that has outlived its usefulness. We need to redesign a new, more interconnected and holistic model that will fundamentally change society and our relationship with things such as energy, work, and ownership.
Root causes: Too many of us want more
Beginning to unravel the elements that drive this unjust and unsustainable path is complicated, but here are five key root causes with solutions that the podcast experts identified:
Growth Vs Sustainability
All the experts highlight the prevailing paradigm of infinite economic growth. Tim Jackson (Director of the Center for the Understanding for Sustainable Prosperity at the University of Surrey) explains how unbridled competition fueled by the pursuit of ever-greater Gross Domestic Product (GDP), completely ignores the true costs of environmental degradation and social inequality.
Solution – Redesign: Jackson advocates for an alternative economic system that shifts away from relentless growth-focused mindsets and prevents certain activities, such as fossil fuel extraction. Eva Von Redecker (author and philosopher) introduces a regenerative concept of environmental freedom, emphasising our right to be free from pollution and entitlement to a clean and healthy environment.
The future of work
The focus on infinite growth rather than sustainability has led to outdated notions about work itself. Juliet Schor (Professor of Sociology at Boston College) explains that excessive work hours counterintuitively serve only to reduce efficiency and productivity and devalue many aspects of life that are essential to human well-being, such as the care economy and spending time with friends and family.
Solution – Reduce: Schor draws on her extensive real-world research to argue for reduced work hours and increased leisure time as a way to significantly benefit well-being, productivity, and the environment by reducing global carbon emissions.
Solution – Rebalance: Jayati Ghosh (Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst) calls for greater voice and power for the care workers and unpaid caregivers whose marginalisation exacerbates the undervaluing of care work compared to the significant influence of financial institutions and corporations.
The hidden economic system
The destructive aspects of the hidden economic system are worsened by a lack of public and democratic control over money creation and the profit-driven global monetary system. Ann Pettifor (Director of the think tank Policy Research in Macroeconomics) points the finger at the mysterious complex concept of money creation that allows for central bank resources to be expanded and deployed in the private interests of vast, unregulated, and systemically risky capital markets – a sort of “shadow-banking” system.
Solution – Reregulate: Pettifor calls for greater democratic control over money production that reintroduces capital controls, re-regulates global banking, re-nationalises pensions, and restores political and economic power to elected assemblies.
Ongoing impacts of colonialism
The stories of empire continue to shape our daily lives worldwide with millions of people enmeshed in the historical and ongoing impacts of colonialism. Kojo Karam (lecturer at the School of Law at Birkbeck, University of London) explains how the colonial legacy persists in the current economic model, perpetuating centuries of socio-economic inequalities.
Solution – Taxation: Kojo Karam and Kate Pickett add their voices to the call for the immediate removal of tax havens and the veil of secrecy they offer to corporate players. Jayati Ghosh says we should tax people’s wealth wherever they hold it, and ensure that multinational corporations pay at least the same tax rates as domestic corporations.
Effects of inequality
Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (academics and authors of the hugely influential book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better) explain in detail the detrimental effects of inequality on the health of individuals, relationships, and overall well-being – and how it is intricately linked with environmental degradation.
Solution – Feminist Economics: Jayati Ghosh says we must recognise the ‘massive underbelly’ upon which the economy is resting and create a framework that is effective for everyone, valuing the undervalued care economy, especially in its unpaid form.
Solution – Our Shared Commons: Guy Standing (former Professor of Development Studies at SOAS University of London) proposes reviving the concept of our shared wealth and a Universal Basic Income system to ensure that resources are distributed equitably, in direct counterpoint to fiscal austerity and neoliberal policies which have deprived us all of our centuries-old common rights to share fairly and equitably in our public wealth.
An ever-increasing ecological footprint is not inevitable. We must join together to call on our governments to regulate corporations and the financial markets, to halt their exploitation of us and our planet. The raft of ideas presented here is just a taster of the deep discussions on economic system change you can enjoy in the SystemShift podcast on YouTube and all the main podcast platforms. So join us.
Attila Kulcsar is communications lead with Greenpeace’s Money for Change campaign.