Over the past 50 years in Britain, we’ve lost well over half of our biodiversity. But that statement – whilst true – fails to capture the full reality of the carnage that’s been wrought. To put it more clearly, through the intensification of agriculture in particular, we have wilfully destroyed well over half of the populations of birds, butterflies and wild flowers which most of us have simply taken for granted will always be here. Not just that, our continued reliance on fossil fuels means that the accelerating climate crisis is playing its own part in destroying habitats and hastening ecological collapse.
We clearly need urgent action. But politics as usual simply doesn’t seem able to make the far-reaching changes we so desperately need. All too often captured by corporate interests, dominated by a silo-mentality and driven by short-term fixes, our political system is singularly ill equipped to challenge the dominant economic model which all too often still appears to be based on digging resources out of a hole in the ground on one side of the planet, persuading people to buy them, and then dumping them a short time later in a hole in the ground on the other side of the planet.
Take the plastics crisis as an example. No-one who watched the BBC’s Blue Planet series could fail to have been moved by the graphic evidence of the way plastic in our oceans is choking marine life.
The government’s response has been primarily to consider increasing the plastic bag tax, to consult on a latte levy, and to pledge to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic by 2042 – a full quarter of a century away. This approach doesn’t come anywhere near to tackling the structural causes of the crisis we face. We don’t simply need a “better” form of consumerism. We need to challenge the whole throw-away culture and shift to a model that is based not just on efficiency, but on sufficiency – a whole new approach to production and consumption.
Already, the cost of clearing up the social and environmental impacts of growth is starting to outweigh the value expanding GDP creates. We need to flip our political conversation on its head – so that we treat the economy as a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way round.
This is vital – not just for the planet, but for all of us. Research shows that, after basic needs are met, happiness and wellbeing depend on contented families, strong communities, meaningful work and personal freedom – not on endless economic growth and material wealth.
Instead of obsessing over GDP – which merely measures the amount of economic activity in an economy – we need to build a new model that measures our nation’s success by the health and wellbeing of its people and itsenvironment, ensuring that we meet the human rights of everyone within the means of our life-giving planet.
And if we’re going to achieve a fairer, more sustainable society, we need an overhaul of our democratic system so that decisions are made at the most local level possible and every vote genuinely counts.
We don’t need authoritarianism to force through the changes necessary to build a healthier country. We need a fuller, more vibrant, more inclusive democracy than ever before led by politicians willing to prioritise the needs of people and planet.
9 September 2018
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