‘Living well’ as an alternative to limitless growth
Indigenous idea challenges Western assumptions about economic growth at Cochabamba’s alternative climate summit
By Karl Hansen
Indigenous participants at this week’s climate change summit in Bolivia have challenged Western ideas about economic development with an alternative vision known as ’buen vivir’ (‘living well’). ‘Living well’ emphasises respect for nature, reducing waste and generally living within the limits of planetary life support systems.
The ’living well’ philosophy underpins Bolivia’s new constitution and one of its architects, Peregrina Kusse Viza from the Bolivian indigenous group CONAMAQ, promoted the concept, alongside Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara President, Evo Morales.
The scholar and World Social Forum leader Dr de Sousa Santos said the Cochabamba climate conference offered an opportunity for the world to explore different visions for the future, based on people living within the finite biophysical limits of the planet.
Not surprisingly, socialist president Morales made jibes about the global capitalist system. “Capitalism is what started the problem and it has to end,” Morales said.
Whether capitalist or socialist, however, more and more people around the world are dissatisfied with the failure of traditional economic systems to value and protect nature properly. As a result, in recent decades a new field known as ’ecological economics’ has grown, driven by attempts to reconcile economic activity with ecological limits.
Bolivia’s ’living well’ concept resonates with a growing international dialogue on how to build green economies and live within the ecological limits of the Earth. For instance, the United Nations Environment Program is coordinating a Green Economy Initiative while the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Canada runs a ’green economy discussion group’. The growing international recognition of the need for new approaches is refreshing.
A growing number of scientists now agree that we have already breached safe global ecological limits in areas such as biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen pollution. Few doubt that fresh approaches to managing resources will be needed to satisfy the needs of the 21st century.
At the Cochabamba climate summit, the indigenous people of Bolivia have warned that the path to a safe economic future lies not in ever-increasing production and consumption, but in the traditional moderation and pursuit of ‘buen vivir’ of the past. Those of us in Western – and westernising – economies would do well to contemplate the wisdom behind these words.
Karl Hansen was unable to attend the Bolivia climate summit due to the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. Karl is a member of the green economy discussion group of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and contributed to an upcoming UNEP ’green economy’ report.
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