Black clouds surround the skyscrapers in the skyline of Frankfurt, skyscrapers which are the symbols of an uncontrolled capitalism, of banks which are “too big to fail”, of the rich and filthy 1%.
The Blockupy movement has called for a anti-austerity march in Frankfurt today (18.03.2015), the day of the opening of the new European Central Bank headquarters. But the activists do not only want to put an end to the austerity policy in Europe, a policy which has achieved nothing to put Greece back on his feet but everything to secure the loans of German banks.
Besides the call for a better, fairer policy regarding the Euro crisis, the activists demand nothing less but an economic revolution in Europe: The end of capitalism. They no longer want to accept the outrageous environmental and social problems which were the price for growing GDPs worldwide: resource depletion, biodiversity loss, climate change, increasing inequality – just to name a few. While the earth used to be a relatively stable system for millions of years, capitalism – which turned us from being “citizens” into “consumers” (see Fig. below) and made us believe that the only goal in life is to earn loads of money in order to consume more and more stuff to show everybody how successful you are – has smashed this stability.
In 2009, 28 internationally renowned scientists around Johan Rockström published the framework of “planetary boundaries” in Nature. The idea was: within these nine planetary boundaries, humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. But when crossing these boundaries, abrupt or irreversible environmental changes can be generated. For the current state of our planet they found three of the nine categories to already exceed the safe operating space: biodiversity loss, human interference with nitrogen cycle and climate change. And two categories have not even be quantified! Rockström himself explains this concept thoroughly in a lively TED talk.
With regard to climate change, the IPCC has just released their latest report last year, in which they state that if we followed a business-as-usual (or “high-emissions”) scenario, average surface temperatures may increase by up to 12°C in some areas of the world until the end of the century! With safe levels of temperature changes somewhere around 2°C – this is a crazily high value! Accompanied by these temperature changes, all kinds of natural disasters will occur – what happened to Vanuatu last weekend is just the sad, sad foretaste of what is going to happen more often and more extremely all across the world.
To deal with the problem of climate change, the UN has established the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) as well as an annual Climate Summits to which Heads of State and Government along with business, finance, civil society and local leaders are invited to “catalyse actions on climate change” – but so far, no binding agreements have been reached and high expectations lie on the 2015 Summit in Paris.
To tackle all sustainability related problems, the UN has established the framework of sustainable development (SD) which aims for an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable world – but how much can be reached within a capitalist system where profit is the only objective and neither the wellbeing of the people who live within the system, nor the “health” of the environment is regarded as important as long as no negative monetary effects are attached? Could perhaps policy changes pave the way to a better economic system?
Governments could for instance decide to move away from measuring development achievements through increasing economic activity. Research has proven that a positive correlation between health and wellbeing and GDP is only true for very low GDP values. But once a certain level of wellbeing or life expectency or any similar indicator is reached, further increases of the GDPs do not contribute to further increases in health and wellbeing.
We could instead use the “Happy Planet Index” (HPI) (created by the New Economics Foundation NEF, explained in this TED talk by Nick Marks) or the “Gross National Happiness” as a new measure for development – which is already done in Bhutan – a country which, despite of its human rights problems which should not be forgotten, has understood that economic growth says nothing about social or environmental achievements, not even about as also expenses for military activity or health care lead to an increasing GDP even if nobody would say that more ill people or an increased need for arms is a positive development.
Robert Kennedy said already in 1968:
“GDP measures everything, except that which makes life worth while.”
Governments could also introduce stricter legislations regarding environmental and socially unsustainable actions of companies. But isn `t the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) moving the world`s economy into the exact opposite direction? If multinational companies can sew states for the implementation of new environmental or labour laws, which government could then introduce stricter laws? And aren `t the laws already – even in rather eco-conscious countries like Germany – highly influenced by powerful companies which blackmail politicians by menacing the loss of taxes and job opportunities if they are e.g. not freed from the energy apportionment (EEG-Umlage)?!
Theoretically, also carbon trading could be a good way to lower CO2 emissions and thus handle climate change – but in practice, industrial lobbies have done a good job in making this measure completely useless.
Politics appear to be puppets of big corporations which can do whatever they want, if only they provide jobs and pay at least a proportion of their taxes.
So perhaps there is no other way but to go through a revolution – hopefully a peaceful one – to free ourselves from this unsustainable economic system To get rid of brainwashing marketing mechanisms which work so efficiently in making us believe that we only have to work hard enough and earn enough money and we will be happy and healthy and free. Who cares about health problems such as burn-outs, heart diseases, obesity, if you can buy the latest I Phone, or Porsche, or Gucci bag?!
But what would be a good alternative to our current capitalist system? Which economic system could create a sustainable economy, in which people are aware that there are limits to Growth, that we cannot buy a new smartphone every single year and that we no T-Shirt can be produced sustainably for 2€?! I hope to find some answers to that question in the book I `ve just started: “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein. A book which is currently everywhere in the media – let `s see what her proposal is!