The King's Command - Reinvent the Global Economy

by: EJ on 09/13/2018

L. Hunter Lovins, co-author of the best-selling Natural Capitalism: Create the Next Industrial Revolution, shares with us the story of how her latest book, A Finer Future: Creating an Economy in Service to Life co-authored with Andres Wijkman, Stewart Wallis and John Fullerton, came into being. 

Books emerge from unexpected quarters: a dinner conversation, a curiosity: could it be…? 

We all have these moments, but for a writer some queries refuse to fade. A Google search ensues, the debate is joined and colleagues enter the fray. A Finer Future: Creating an Economy in Service to Life, came from none of these, but it eventually required all of them. 

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Jimgme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk King of Bhutan

In early 2013, in a conversation with the King of Bhutan, his Prime Minister charged me with the task that birthed the book: “Hunter, your job is to reinvent the global economy.” 

“Yes, sir,” I stammered, somewhat stunned at the magnitude of the task.

I guess it’s the job of Kings and Ministers to order mortals to do the impossible. His father announced his indifference to the modern enslavement to gross national product by committing Bhutan to increase Gross National Happiness.

“Me?!” I queried in the months that followed.

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L. Hunter Lovins (photo credit:  Norm Clasen)

I’m a Colorado cowgirl. When given a job of work to do, as the country song goes, “I’ll do my best to do my damnedest and that's just about all I guess.”  But clearly no one could do this alone.

Hundreds of colleagues joined the work, ultimately creating WEAll, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. My three co-authors donated their work and time. We secured a small grant from the KR Foundation through the Club of Rome to convene a conversation about whether it is possible to avoid total systems collapse. This was, after all, the warning in Limits to Growth, Dana Meadows’ famous Report to the Club of Rome that back in 1972 launched the discipline of sustainability as the only way to avoid collapse.

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Today, authors like Umair Haque write that collapse is unavoidable. Venerable conservative George Will writes: Another Epic Economic Collapse is coming. Google “Near term human extinction” (well, don’t, because doing that will put you in a very bad mood) and you will find 33 million hits, many arguing that humans will go extinct in the near future.

To my co-authors and me, this is unacceptable. When rabbits are threatened, they freeze. When humans are threatened, we entrepreneur. We create new solutions.

We wrote A Finer Future to argue that while collapse is not uncommon throughout history, it is not inevitable. We have the technologies we need to make the start to avoid it, and doing this is the route to a far more enjoyable future than the lives we live today.

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The book opens with a story about how such a future might feel. This diverges delightfully from grim prognostications of collapse. The story, like the book, is richly footnoted. All the bits are happening somewhere in the world already. You can see just where we drew each assertion. Deniers have a hard time saying it isn’t possible.

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(photo credit: xinhuanet.com)

No doubt, humanity is in crisis. We’re in a horse race with catastrophe. Recent science from Drs. Will Steffen and Johan Rockstrom, et al, makes clear that we risk of entering what they call “Hothouse Earth.” Christiana Figueres, the gallant leader of the UN’s Paris climate conference, who stewarded the nations of the world to the historic agreement to limit carbon emissions, teamed with Steffen, Rockstrom and other scientists to warn that the world has until 2020 to stabilize carbon emissions. We solve that crisis or little else matters.

But we can solve it, and at a profit. A Finer Future profiles how to roll climate change backwards by shifting to 100% renewable energy, and returning atmospheric carbon to the soil through regenerative agriculture.

To get it done, humanity needs a new story. The theologian Thomas Berry once said:

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Thomas Berry (photo credit: Lou Niznik)

"We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story....The Old Story – the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it .... sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with a life purpose, energized action. It consecrated suffering, integrated knowledge, guided education....We need a [new] story that will educate man, heal him, guide him."

The story that now runs the world, neoliberalism, will drive us off a cliff. Invented by 36 men in 1947, the myth that pervades the global economy tells us that humans are greedy bastards, but this is OK, and we don’t need government, because given the manifestly perfect free market, “you against me” will somehow aggregate to a great good for us all.

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(photo credit: Council on Foreign Relations)

No, It won’t. And it hasn’t. Humanity now stands at the precipice: eight men have as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity. Every major ecosystem is threatened. And 67 million refugees, more than at any time since World War II, are on the move, fleeing failed states, war and climate change, and wrecking political stability in the countries in which they seek asylum.

 A Finer Future sets forth a different narrative—a world that works for everyone. Based on John Fullerton’s Regenerative Capitalism , we detail how a commitment to shared prosperity on a healthy planet can:

1. achieve a flourishing life within ecological limits;

2. deliver universal well-being as we meet the basic needs of all humans; and

3. deliver sufficient equality to maintain social stability and provide the basis for genuine security.

It’ll also be a lot more fun. It challenges each one of us to become our better self, to join “Team Humanity” as we craft this Finer Future.

We detail how to transform finance and capitalism, as well as agriculture and energy. We set forth the policy measures to confront and reduce inequality, develop livable cities and empower citizens to entrepreneur the solutions that we need.

It’s far easier to succumb to predictions of collapse and human demise, just as apocalyptic movies are far more common than visions of the world we’d all like to live in. A Finer Future describes what must happen to reach that preferred future, and then shows that we can do it. It concludes by quoting Alex Steffen’s “Talk Given to a Conservation Group a Hundred Years From Now”.  He says,

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(photo credit: Critical Sustainabilities)

If today, in the twenty-second century, we live in an era of optimism and hope, it is because some of our ancestors, in the dawn of the twenty-first, lived in a time of clarity and commitment.

When they understood the planetary crisis they faced, their answer was not cynicism or surrender, but to seek out others and together meet that crisis with action.

When they dreamt, they dreamt of rain and forests, rivers and prairies, oceans and reefs; of fishing and farming and lives lived outdoors. They dreamt of stewardship and healing, wonder and discovery. They dreamt of humanity coming home again….

When they rose to speak, they spoke not for themselves, but for human possibility and the renewed bounty of life on Earth. They spoke for bold action. They got to work, knowing time was short.

Where these ancestors gathered, heroes gathered.

And when they departed, they had given us back our future.

Have we met the King’s command? Clearly not yet. The economy of today, which Randy Hayes calls Cheater Capitalism,” still dominates. But have we succeeded in setting out the way to craft an economy in service to life?

Please, take a read of A Finer Future, then let me know.

The journey has only just begun. But I believe we’ve finally got the compass heading correct.

 

 

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