An advisor to US president Donald Trump declared earlier in the year that “The environmental movement is, in my view, the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.”
Many of us will have an alternative view about what (or who) presents the greatest threat to the modern world. However, what I’d like to explore further is what is meant by ‘prosperity’? It’s safe to assume that the advisor Myron Ebell was equating prosperity purely with economic wealth. This concept of wealth equalling prosperity infers affluence as a means to itself and suggests that the accumulation of material possessions and power paves the road to human wellbeing and fulfilment.
However, despite the increase in overall global wealth over the last century, we are facing economic crises, environmental catastrophe and increasing social inequality. It is evident that traditional measures of a country’s wealth and prosperity, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), are inadequate when it comes to measuring the wealth and prosperity of people and communities. GDP growth due to greater spending on domestic violence services or clean-up after an environmental disaster, for example, are not indicators of a safe and prosperous society. Rather, they are a reflection of an unsafe one.
We believe that the ripple effect of moving towards an understanding of new prosperity that combines wealth, equity, security, participation and wellbeing would lead to improved outcomes for society. A new prosperity that contributes to thriving environments, resilient communities, equitable growth, participative enterprises and increased wellbeing will support the foundations for a more inclusive, safe and secure economy.
This argument is not new. In 1992, Michael Kinsley of the Rocky Mountain Institute challenged the assumption that prosperity is dependent on economic growth. He suggested that “Prosperity does not require growth, it requires development that is sustainable”. Even earlier, Robert Kennedy argued that “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things”. And their voices are not the only ones.
So how can we be heard as we challenge this still prevailing economic paradigm? Change will be achieved through a process of participation, information sharing and collaboration between all societal actors, from local community groups to international institutions. Far from presenting a threat, the environmental and social justice movements are part of the solution. We must all work together to redefine aspirations for the type of society we want to live in and leave behind. Collaboration is imperative to our capacity to transition to a new prosperity and create an economic system based on sustainable development rather than unrestrained and inequitable growth.
Click here to learn more about Think Impact’s contribution towards a new prosperity.