Environmental
Governance

  [Perspectives on RIO+20 > Alan AtKisson ]

PERSPECTIVES ON RIO+20

Linking the Green Economy to National Happiness


Can we create “happiness for all” while preserving the planet? Will humanity manage to create “green economies”, and convert our current economic systems from destructive forces to sustainable and indeed restorative processes, in time? The new report Life Beyond Growth — issued on March 1, 2012, by the Tokyo-based Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society — maps the past and future of this emerging vision, and the growing revolution in economic thinking that is behind it.

The report, however, takes a nuanced view. Notice the word “economies” in the paragraph above: while we often refer to a single “global economy,” the truth of the matter is that human civilization is comprised of a complex network of many different economic systems, powered by many different kinds of energy and information, guided by many different hands, both visible and invisible. Many of the world’s economies are still free-standing, subsistence communities, where people farm or hunt and live off what is around them, with relatively little interaction with global-scale processes.

Of course, even indigenous tribes living deep in the Amazon are increasingly tied into the world’s larger network of economic transactions, clustered (at least for reporting purposes) into nation states, and woven tightly together by trade, technology, and currency exchange. But the “the global economy” is not a monolith. The process of using resources, creating value, and meeting human needs and aspirations looks very different from one place to another.
And so does happiness.

The rise of the Green Economy has been accompanied by the rise of happiness and well-being as new paradigms for national progress, complete with new indicators. Countries around the world are studying, preparing, or already using these measures as policy tools. The measurement of happiness may differ in methodology depending on whether one is British or Bhutanese, but within that diversity lies a clear commonality: the desire for a good life, and the growing realization that it is good lives, and not GDP growth per se, that our citizens actually want, and that our economies are truly meant to provide.

Life Beyond Growth, after surveying the dizzying diversity of concepts and measurements now being experimented with across the globe, makes a simplifying proposal:  let’s link these two concepts, Green Economy and National Happiness, explicitly.

There is ample justification for this linkage in existing international agreements; indeed, happiness — or at least, the possibility for achieving it — may already be a human right. None of the thirty articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, specifically mentions happiness. But Article 25 states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family....” It also specifies many of factors identified by researchers as the precursors to subjective happiness. These basic needs include food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and other social services, including support to those who are unemployed. Many other rights guaranteed by the Declaration are also related to what researchers say make us happy, including work, recreation, and the possibility to participate in the decisions that affect our lives.

If a phrase like “National Happiness” is at least a close cognate to the concept of universal well-being sketched out in the Declaration — and despite debates over nuances of definition, few would deny that it is — then the adoption of National Happiness measures, in conjunction with Green Economy policies, could be seen as an overdue implementation of the ideals embraced by the world more than sixty years ago. More importantly, embracing happiness as a human right could create the possibility for compromise and common vision regarding a fair distribution of global resources. Happiness, research now confirms, does depend on having achieved a certain minimum standard of material prosperity. But growth beyond that minimum appears to return less and less happiness, until it finally reaches a point where growth itself, green or otherwise, turns into nothing more than waste.

Marrying the concept of Green Economy to the concept of National Happiness can help us see the differences between growth that enriches, and growth that actually impoverishes. It has the potential to describe — perhaps for the first time — a clear and actionable vision for sustainability at the global scale. Where do we truly need growth, to ensure that happiness is at least within reach? And where do we need de-growth, for example in our carbon emissions or impact on biodiversity, if we are to insure that all have a chance to exercise their right to happiness, now and in the future?

For the first time, research techniques can even provide us with measurable, quantitative targets that link economic progress to wellbeing. New indicators can give us feedback on our progress toward this integrated vision vision, using measures that compete favorably with traditional economic signals in terms of robustness. We really do have all the tools we need to aim effectively toward transformation.

The world is in serious need of a new vision, one that can make the concept of sustainable development more real for people, and that can provide the nations of the world with a new sense of common ground. I believe that vision is already emerging all around us, in places large and small — as noted earlier, from Britain to Bhutan.

It’s a simple equation, easy to remember:  Green Economy + National Happiness = Sustainable World.

DISCLAIMER    
                                                                     

The opinions expressed in these articles are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of UNEP



 
Further Resources

 

 

                    BIO

Alan AtKisson is lead author of the report, Life Beyond Growth (on which this article is based), and a consultant on sustainable development who works with companies, governments, and international agencies. To download the 73-page Life Beyond Growth report, which traces the emergence of Green Economy, National Happiness and other concepts, please visit this website:  www.lifebeyondgrowth.org





OTHER VIEWS

Generation Y and the Global Green Economy: Counting Us In - Ximena Prugue

National View: Women must be leaders of the green economy - Kathleen Rogers

Ocean Life in the Balance: Will Science Overcome Politics at Rio+20 conference? - Susan Lieberman

International Environmental Governance Reform Within The United Nations - Sylvestre Manga

Ready for a Commitment - A View from the Regions - Suzana Kahn

The future's lateral: the new (green) economy-Jeremy Rifkin

A World Environment Organization to serve Developing Nations – Professor A.H. Zakri is the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia

Time for a global environment organisation?

Models for Local Government Organizations (LGOs) involvement in a strengthened UNEP -Konrad Otto-Zimmermann

No sustainable development without healthy, nutritious and culturally adapted food for all – Hans Herren is an internationally recognized scientist and president of the Millenium Institute in Washington

Let’s Make Some Progress at RIO+20!- Andre Giacini de Freitas

Let's lock in green growth - Oliver Letwin, Minister for Government Policy, UK

What does the Green Economy have to do with us (Africans)?- Meles Zenawi

A unique opportunity to make the fundamental “change of-course” - Maurice F. Strong 

Time to Consider a World Environment Organization - by YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak Prime Minister of Malaysia

Six minutes to save the earth by Severn Cullis-Suzuki

Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) can preserve the planet, protect the poor and promote prosperity - Prof. Mohan Munasinghe

When the best options are unavailable: what space do we really have? - Mark Halle


VIDEOS


India makes a strong case for a Green Economy  
 
President Felipe Calderon on the Green Economy
 
 Perspectives on the Green Economy