In a time of economic downturn, government officials, economic experts, scientists and captains of industry work tirelessly to figure out what changes can be made to quickly get the economy moving again. However, environmental experts Peter Brown and Geoff Garver caution against getting this economy moving again, as they believe “it will eventually kill us.”
In their new book, Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, Brown and Garver identify the world’s current economy as one that is destroying the natural world and actively working towards the demise of the human race. Contrary to popular attitudes, our economy is not independent from the world that surrounds it, they warn, and there can be no such thing as unlimited growth on a planet with limited resources.
Presented with the opportunity to thoroughly reflect on current economic practices, Brown and Garver suggest it is time to make drastic changes to the way the world’s economy functions to make sure our economic growth does not lead to our worldly destruction.
The Right Relationship
In their book, the authors propose a plan for bringing the economy, our ethics and our environment into alignment through the Quaker principle of “right relationship.” A right relationship is one that respects the integrity, resilience and beauty of human and natural communities, and an economy following the right relationship principle is one that identifies the human economy as being embedded in, not independent of, the world that surrounds it.
Brown and Garver explain that the prevailing view of the world’s economy puts it in a wrong relationship with the planet. Assuming endless growth and limitless potential wealth, the current economy does not acknowledge the fact that the Earth’s resources are finite and that the world’s economy can grow too big for its britches. However, humans believe that so long as we push forward, there is no limit to the possibilities of what we can accomplish, but this is unrealistic. The human economy is a subsidiary of the Earth and by ignoring the limitations of our world, we run the risk of shutting down the very life-support systems on which the economy depends. We are not the only species on this planet, though our actions have the most dramatic impact, and there are limits to our economical growth.
The current economy allows humans to ignore the negative results of economic “growth.” Impacts on nature and wildlife are marginalized as necessary evils. We do not balance our needs with that of nature. Sitting at the top of the food chain, humans are capable of actions that tremendously affect all the species below us. Each change we make to the environment (cutting down trees, pumping oil, building factories) alters the natural harmony of our planet in significant ways. Examples in the book demonstrate how one industrial project can strip an area of animal and plant habitats, cause lethal diseases and birth defects in neighboring water life, raise the crime rate in local towns and cities and increase rates of homelessness, prostitution and drug use, all just to provide humans with the oil needed to drive gas-guzzling cars.
New Economic Order
To bring our economy into a right relationship with the world, Brown and Garver acknowledge the need for the world to take a completely different approach to economy. There will need to be drastic legislative change to implement the doctrinal changes required to reduce our impact on our world. There will need to be extensive research to develop new practices to provide comfortable lives for humans without endangering Earth’s other species and there will need to be a change in attitude by us humans to lose our obsession with excess material goods. By just producing what we need to survive and live a happy life, we would drastically reduce our negative impact on this world, they contend.