Langscape Articles

Economic Paradigms and Transitions: A Panel Discussion

Friday, October 25, 2013

The subject of the global economy is passionately debated, and it is going to take a diversity of voices to begin to envision what our next steps might be. In the most recent issue of our magazine Langscape, Vol. 2:12, we conducted a lively panel discussion on a biocultural perspective on Economic Paradigms and Transitions. Why is the global economic system collapsing? What solutions can we begin to implement to address this crisis? What is the role  of biocultural diversity in moving us forward in a different, life-affirming direction?

Read the Langscape panel discussion below, then continue the conversation and share your perspective on this issue in our membership forum. If you are not a member yet, register for forum access

A group interview/panel discussion with Felipe Montoya Greenheck (guest editor, Langscape Emerging Paradigms series, Part 1), Kierin McKenzie (guest editor, Langscape Emerging Paradigms series, Part 2), and David Rapport (Terralingua Advisory Panel). Interview conducted by Ortixia Dilts. Discussant: Luisa Maffi.

In 2012, while working on the introduction for  Langscape 2:9 Biocultural Diversity Conservation, I was conducting  a study of the new projects and stories featured on Terralingua’s biocultural diversity conservation portal (www.terralingua.org/bcdconservation), a companion to our book, Biocultural Diversity: A Global Sourcebook (Earthscan, 2010). It was also the time when the Occupy Wall Street movement began, and the world was starting to get restless for real solutions for our global social and economic crises. As I continued the study, the line began to blur for me between economics and ecology.  I began to find some interesting commonalities, and wondered how some of these common elements might be brought together to form a new Biocultual Diversity development paradigm with guiding elements such as: organic and adaptable to regions, community-led endeavours, embracing our heritage of language, knowledge and culture, and honouring our symbiosis with Nature. It was then, that the idea for this issue of Langscape and the following dialogue was envisioned.

The dialogue that follows brings together some of the most inspiring voices within my network in order to make a humble attempt as scratching the surface of the pressing issue of our global economic crisis. I felt that it was important to allow  free thinking and candid expression in our discussion in order  to break out of our preconceived boxes, and open the way to creative victory.

FELIPE: I will take a shot at these questions, not because I feel I have any of the answers, but because I believe that we all should be asking ourselves these questions and searching for answers.

~Editor

1. What is wrong with our economic system?

FELIPE MONTOYA GREENHECK

The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek oikonomia, meaning management of the household (oikos, house) + (nomos, custom or law). All human societies have had their own customs for managing their households or communities in terms of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. Some salient examples are the ceremonial exchange system or Kula Ring among the Trobrianders in the Western Pacific; the gift-giving festival or Potlatch among the indigenous peoples of the American Pacific Northwest; and the self-sustaining community units, or Ayllu, among the indigenous Quechas and Aymaras of the Andes. These and all other traditional economic systems have been part and parcel of the diversity of cultures adapted to and inhabiting diverse ecosystems across the planet. When we ask “What is wrong with our economic system,” we are referring to the current manifestation of a particular economic system that emerged among a particular people in a particular space and time. The Global Corporate Capitalist System (GCCS) is the current manifestation of an economic system that emerged in the mid-18th century in Europe, where supply and demand of goods and services were measured and mediated by cash payments. The simplicity, efficiency and replicability of this system allowed it to take hold like an invasive weed practically wherever its seeds were carried and planted. But like a weed, the success of its own survival does not automatically translate into the success or wellbeing of all the peoples whose own endogenous economic systems it has supplanted. Indeed, the success of the GCCS is now clearly threatening not only the wellbeing of the majority of the peoples of the world, but all the biophysical environments, as well.

The problem with our economic system is only partially explained by its expansive success across the world. The rest of its problematic nature derives from its intrinsic principles of competition and growth, and concentration of wealth and power. These principles drive the system forward leaving the diverse smaller businesses by the wayside, allowing only ever-larger enterprises to continue in the race. Scale practically determines which businesses perish and which persist, scale referring solely to profits and the power this confers.  Herein lies one of the great motors, as well as intrinsic problems of the system.   There is a positive feedback loop between profitability on the one hand, and power on the other, allowing profitable enterprises to gain more power to find the means for making greater profits creating an upward spiral of overarching profitability and power.  Early on this intrinsic property of Capitalism was detected and provisions were made to limit the concentration of wealth and power with the creation of Anti-Trust Laws. In the last couple of decades, however, these provisions were tossed out under the guise of Free Market principles, the feedback loop has gone wild, and gargantuan corporations have now surpassed most nation states as the major economic powers in the world. What was to be a system of managing our households and communities for common wellbeing has abandoned any semblance of seeking the common good, and now feels justified in seeking only the growth and collusion of profit and power. The problem, then, is not human greed as many suggest, but rather the fact that the GCCS has reached a new steady state where it is resilient to most shocks that might threaten its stability. It would seem that as things stand, the GCCS will only continue to grow, expand and concentrate wealth and power at the expense of all other systems, including biological and cultural systems, before reaching its own catastrophic demise.

This economic system is, perhaps, sowing the seeds of its own undoing, not with a cataclysmic end arriving after exhausting the biophysical and sociocultural spheres which sustain it, but rather with a human-directed transformation of the GCCS into a system that will provide for the wellbeing of all life on earth.  Its globalizing tendencies of improved communications and expanding tentacles may have unwittingly generated a shared discontent and facilitated communication among the overwhelming majorities of the world so that ‘We the People’ may collectively act to speak truth to power, set limits to capital, and bring it under the purview of Nature and Society instead of permitting the global tyranny of the GCCS to reign free.  What serves the GCCS to spread its power may actually also serve to dissolve it.

KIERIN MACKENZIE

The largest emergent problem with our system is that it destroys diversity and is based on a throughput model. One of the main reasons for this is that its prime way of keeping track of value is through the concepts of money and debt, which have been constructed to be completely fungible2.Therefore, anything and everything can be reduced to a single number and it becomes possible to consider liquidating a forest, a mountain, or even a group of people if the money that can be made by liquidating that entity is worth more in dollars than its standing value. Our economic system is also geared towards exploiting resources on an infinite planet, and it does a poor job of keeping track of externalities, meaning that if a company can save cash by polluting the river, or catching all the fish and throwing out the dead bodies of non-commercial species, or flaring gas that isn’t immediately capturable, the company will do so. The problems are further exacerbated now that companies and the regulatory bodies have merged through revolving door practices where regulators become business people and vice versa. Who watches the watchers? Our current economic system does not and cannot place any value on the intrinsic value of other species other than their ability to be turned into a source of profit, and rewards ecosystems that mimic the fungibility of currency, i.e. monocultures growing a standardized crop. The last problem I can think of is what my friends who do game design call the runaway leader problem. Those at the top have more assets to bring to bear to capture even more assets, so the imbalance continues to grow. This could be seen as akin to leading to a climax economic system. As a metaphor, imagine an ecosystem that only perpetuates the growth of species already present and where other species that rely on disturbance gradually become choked out. Media in the US appears to be going through such a transition where fewer and fewer companies control a larger and larger share.  The “Too Big to Fail” banks in US banking or any other monopolised or near monopolised sector also displays the lack of diversity.  

In ecological systems, this is  avoided via a disturbance regime either through fire or disease, etc. The analogy is that unless you have a forest fire or an occasional storm or blow-down, you end up with an ecosystem that displays less diversity than one with a disturbance regime; and likewise, if large companies are allowed to utilise their powers to choke out any contenders, you end up with a less diverse economy.

ORTIXIA DILTS

Our priorities for survival have changed. Money seems to define everything we can or cannot do. Much of our time is spent in the pursuit of making money and spending money, rather than simply enjoying life. “Financial Strain” is a killer of leading a happy peaceful life. Many of us are fighting to keep our heads above water financially and are in constant debt. Businesses, organizations, governments are in debt. Instead of focusing on wellbeing or good works, or creating our dreams or a quality product, the focus is on the pursuit of getting out of debt, making a living, securing funding. It’s as if many of us are on this hamster wheel of sleep-work-consume, and we don’t know how to step off.

DAVID RAPPORT

The corporation as it has evolved, has no ethical or moral constraints; but rather has the legal obligation to maximize profits. Naturally, with that mandate, corporations do everything possible to achieve this,-even at the cost of sustaining life in nature and culture.

In pointing fingers at corporations we are ignoring our critical role as consumers as well as the important role of governments: we all in one way or another are part of this system. There are few, if any, organizations that work outside the system: most, including our universities, conservation groups, UN agencies, are part of the global economy. There are institutes set up for exploring alternative options, but they too rely on capitalism to fund their activities. So the crux of the matter is the broad buy-in to an economic system that, although created on false premises, still reigns supreme. And while this system has improved many people’s economic condition and provided much in the way of public health benefits, it has done so at the cost of sustaining life. This is a cost that many seem oblivious to, as it seems too remote, too intangible. As a first step, we need to make the costs more tangible – not in terms of phony “cost accounting” that seeks to put values on the loss of nature (values that are inevitably arbitrary and thus meaningless), but in terms of letting people know just how the biosphere is changing and what that means for our children and our children’s children. The implications of global warming being just one of all too many examples of the perilous path we are on.

To get to the change we need, we need agreement on the goals: What is the “world we want”. Once we have that, we can formulate a set of steps that work to achieve the goals.

FELIPE

I think that Sub-Comandante Marcos hit the nail on the head when he said:

El mundo que queremos es uno donde quepan muchos mundos. La patria que construimos es una donde quepan todos los pueblos y sus lenguas, que todos los pasos la caminen, que todos la rían, que la amanezcan todos.

“The World We Want is one that can hold many worlds. The country we are building is one that will hold all peoples and their languages, that will carry everyone’s steps, that will sound everyone’s laughter, and whose rising sun will dawn on all.” [my translation]

In short, the World We Want is one of Biocultural Diversity.

DAVID

I spent nearly a decade steeping myself in economic thought, then took two decades to get rid of it! Then I created a system (the Pressure-State-Response system) by which governments can at least see more clearly the implications of an economic system detached from the natural world. But this was not good enough to turn things around. Now governments, all UN agencies, and nearly all international assessments of human activity and the environment make use of that system; yet they still remain stuck in an economic paradigm of growth that they cannot shake. To shake it is no easy job because built into our banking system and fiscal policy is  “grow” or “die”... So we continue to grow, but ironically, we are also dying… So the system has failed us.  As I understand it, and I’ve been there, the corporate mentality has only one goal: $$$ – it begins and ends there. So, the corporate greed factor is there, the resulting income inequities are abominable, and the damage to the health of the biosphere is unconscionable. I can say as a former “corporate”: people in that business don’t care about that stuff. They just do their job: make money!

What needs redress is the social system that gave life to this lopsided view of the world and the instrument (corporations) that it created to realize this world view. We have only ourselves to blame for allowing this monster to flower, and only ourselves to blame if we fail to transform it from a destructive to a constructive force – harnessing the incredible talent that corporations access to do whatever they put their minds to.

FELIPE

When I speak of the Global Corporate Capitalist System, I am not referring specifically to the corporations themselves, and even less to corporate greed, but to the System that privileges corporate goals; that is, to produce profit for their stockholders above any other consideration. Again, it is not a greed issue, not human greed, not even corporate greed per se, but the emergent System that seemingly cannot do anything BUT continually pave the way for the pursuit of profit- which automatically becomes more and more concentrated in the figure of corporations, mega-corporations, gargantuan corporations. When David says we have only ourselves to blame, I agree and disagree, depending on who WE are. Are WE the campesinos of Latin America, First Nations of Canada; or are WE the bankers, heads of state, CEOs, and corporate stock holders? These contrasting sets of human beings have differential responsibility for allowing the monster to flower.

Putting blame aside, the urgent question is HOW do WE THE PEOPLE (read, peasants, indigenous peoples, students, workers, etc.- in other words the 99 percent, to use the recent identifier) transform this self-organizing and resilient system in a proactive way before it deepens its damage to People and Planet beyond repair?  I believe we are close to the edge.

Share your perspective on this topic.

2. What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street?

KIERIN

Occupy and movements like it indicate an awakening by large groups of people that there are serious problems with the current systems and the values underlying those systems. Much of it is incoherent, but not all of it. The Occupy movement has already led to new systems of channeling information, and groups of people trying out alternative systems of economics. I think that Occupy will, over time, lead to more co-operatives being set up; as co-operatives have much of the same power as corporations, but are service-centred rather than profit-centred, and services by their very nature are not fungible in the way that money is.

DAVID

This hits on the egregious inequality in income distribution, within and between countries. The movement, however, while calling this to public attention has not been able to rectify it; but it shows that there is widespread discontent with the status quo.  Similar public demonstrations have taken place in developing countries as well as in so-called “emerging economies” like China.

ORTIXIA

It was exciting for me to see all the people standing up and ready to change. However, I was restless, because all these people were standing up to say NO, but I wasn’t seeing a strong and consolidated solution proposed. It was at that time, and from my own reaction to this movement, that I began my dialogue with Felipe and Kierin in order to create the Emerging Paradigms series for Langscape. I think Occupy Wall Street was a catalyst for many people to start looking for similar answers.  The answers are all around us: those ingenious ideas, daydreams and hobbies that we rarely show anyone. For example, my grandfather was an inventor. I have a childhood memory of him rebuilding his car engine so it ran on corn oil.  Occupy Wall Street was part of a series of events that signified that it’s time for us to stand up and make our dreams and passions a reality; to stop using money as an excuse, but start taking one humble step at a time.

FELIPE

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement was one impulse in the right direction. Others include the Indignados of Spain, and the Idle No More among First Nations in Canada. The importance of these movements, and particularly the OWS movement, is that they have made explicit the fact that ‘We the People’ are the 99 percent, as opposed to the one percent at the other end of the stick of the GCCS. It seems to me that We are slowly, but increasingly, lighting candles to light our way out of the dark tunnel we are currently in. The OWS movement is one such candle, and it matters less that it blows out than the fact that new candles are being lit across the planet. When sufficient candles are lit, we may find our way.

3. How do nature, culture, and economics intersect?

FELIPE

In other world-views, nature, culture and economics are not separate but form part of a whole called life, or reality, or Pacha, or Samsara, etc. Economics is a subsystem or product of culture, and that culture is a subsystem or product of nature. From nature emerges all and everything, including life forms; among life forms emerge cultural expressions; among the cultural expressions emerge economic systems. All is in flux and in constant transformation. At present we see that one particular economic system is growing and devouring the rest; that it is even devouring the cultures that engendered diverse economic systems; and furthermore, it is expanding and devouring the life forms that have their own cultural expressions, again, like an invasive weed that eventually ends up choking itself out of existence. So again, the question is: how could Nature, Culture and Economics interact in a more beneficial way for the survival and flourishing of biocultural diversity? What does one do with an invasive weed? It is contained and managed. Maybe this is what we need to do with the GCCS: limit, contain, manage, regulate and by all means, not let it run wild.

KIERIN

Nature could be defined as everything coterminous with the universe; culture could be defined as the sum total of actions by the human species, or the sum total of learned action by any species that learns. Economics could be defined as either the subset of human culture engaged in making a living with the current system of global economics as a subset of all human strategies of making a living, with a particular set of maladaptive solutions. From a human-centric approach, our job would be to find a way to make our economic behavior mirror the natural order of increasing complexity and diversity in a way that does not compromise other species from doing the same. We need to value the diversity of all living things; but that can only be done by creating, maintaining, and strengthening systems that value the particular - the particular forest, the particular tree, the particular variety, the particular bend in the river. We are fortunate because humans are hardwired to do so already, and we have tens of thousands of years of cultural experience living embedded in such systems of economy. I find “The Nature of Economies” by Jane Jacobs to be an interesting take on how to bring economic systems in line with larger ecological patterns.

Global capitalism as practiced today, is by and large, destructive of both nature and culture.  It’s single-minded goal – the pursuit of maximum profits - is very little constrained by the knowledge that human activities stimulated by the economic systems we have created (ranging from capitalism to socialism to communism) have largely ignored considerations of the impacts on the health of ecological and cultural systems.

Share your perspective on this topic. 

4. What are some examples of paradigms globally that would be helpful and inspiring during these shifting economic times?

FELIPE

There are numerous paradigms that are helpful and inspiring that come from far and wide. Hence, the importance of safeguarding biocultural diversity in the places from where these paradigms emerge: Sumak Qawsay from the Andean Quechua; its Latin American interpretation as el Buen Vivir; the Gross National Happiness Index from Bhutan; the exhortation among the indigenous Southwestern Dine to Walk in Beauty; the Buddhist oath to aid All Sentient Beings to reach Illumination; the Costa Rican Indigenous Bribri worldview to see Nature as Community and not Commodity; and even the current alternate trends in our own cultures to look at Wellbeing, instead of Economic Development.

DAVID

Compassion and love! And of course the notions of healthy ecosystems (what they are, why they matter, and how they are abused), biocultural diversity, and ecocultural health. Ecocultural health is thriving in both nature and culture.  It is a situation in which the web of life remains resilient, and cultures remain vibrant and resilient.  In short, ecological functions and cultural practices are fully integrated in a way that sustains life in all its dimensions.

KIERIN

Traditional cultures usually value locality and diversity. Permaculturalists are on the cutting edge of re-adaptation. In Europe the labeling system for regional products (or the French concept of terroir when it comes to wine) values place and diversity. Any work being done to recognize emotions and thought processes in other species works to this end. Seed saving and seed exchanges work to enhance and sustain the value of diversity. Micronesian nations working to create a large tuna and shark safe space are working to these ends.

ORTIXIA

See The Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth:
http://climateandcapitalism.com/2010/04/27/universal-declaration-of-the-rights-of-mother-earth/Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth

Share your perspective on this topic. 

5. What economic solutions would you propose to guide us into the next decade and more?

FELIPE

If I had my way, I would propose that, just as we have National Parks and Biosphere Reserves as spaces for Biodiversity to thrive, we should have contained spaces for Capitalism to express itself; beyond the contained space would be off limits to Capitalism and be available to the Greater Biocultural Diversity. As I suggested before, no amount of tweaking of the current GCCS will in any way change its course. What we need is the activation of a system greater than the GCCS that will keep it in check. We need the People of the World to recognize their right to Life, Liberty, Love, Land, Peace, Water, Security, and Communion with all Living Beings; and demand that the cultural construct known as the Global Corporate Capitalist System (GCCS) be kept in check and at the Service of the Wellbeing of Life, rather than Life being at the service of the GCCS and its insatiable quest for Profit. It is simple. We the People of the World can choose: do we want Wellbeing for All, or Profit for the Few? The two are incompatible.

KIERIN

According to Donella Meadows4, shifting mental states is the most effective way to change a system. Consequentially we need to get people to value diversity for diversity’s sake and highlight the problems with the current system. The easiest way to make shifts then may be to go for gardening backyards and front yards and making every yard organic; keeping in mind the needs for other species, leaving buffers, planting species that may not be of direct utility to the individual but with value as food, shelter, etc for other species; working from a perspective that diversity is health and trying to include as much diversity as possible. You can already see this movement progressing in various towns in North America, the heart of the modern economic system; but for the majority of humans, this never stopped.

Revolving door practices between corporations and regulatory bodies must be consistently highlighted as the transparency itself can be enough to bring change. Greenpeace was founded on the Quaker ideal of bearing witness.  It is possible to share information with a broad cross-section of the population and they will come to their own conclusions. Denouncements can also work; but getting people to make the connections themselves leads to a stronger identification with the ideas that emerge. The costs of the current system must be highlighted. A broader section of humanity must be shown solutions that incorporate natural complexity – rather than linear-control-based solutions.

Talking is important, but witnessing and interacting ultimately converts more people. You can talk all you want about how your organic happy tomato from your biodiverse garden tastes better than store bought; but you’ll convert people by making them a sandwich with your tomato. The current majority economic approach leads to flavourless lives, tomatoes, bread, and culture. By showing the richness of diversity and opening the door to participation, more are likely to begin the process of defaulting.

Economic solutions should move away from the global and more towards the local - taking advantage of the benefits of community-based economies. We need to become more informed of the ‘impacts’ of our economic decisions on the health of our ecocultural systems so that alternatives such as low -impact consumption become both possible and viewed as socially desirable.  This will be facilitated by a new accounting - placing ecological values on economic activity, not the other way around  (i.e. economic values on ecological and cultural functions).  Corporations need to take ‘social responsibility’ far more seriously and be properly rewarded by public appreciation for real actions to reduce impacts and unnecessary consumption, and to produce more durable products from fully renewable resources.  Governments need to give up the ‘growth mania’ and provide guidance for activities that sustain life, while discouraging those that do not.  There needs to be a social consensus on key issues such as population control, greenhouse gas emissions, over harvesting of resources including water resources.  Bottom line: economies need to move toward maximizing human thriving in ways that do not compromise the health of our ecocultural systems.

Share your perspective on this topic. 

6. Transitions: what can we do to assist in the transition from our current system to one that is more sustainable for life on the planet?

DAVID

These transitions are difficult and need to be approached delicately and be well thought out- there will be many roadblocks by entrenched economic and political interests. But in the absence of this shift, the 6th mass extinction of life on the planet – which is an extinction of life in both nature and culture, and which is already well in the making- will continue at its accelerating rate.

None of the ‘isms’ work – not capitalism, nor communism, nor socialism, nor individualism, etc. - all have been destructive of life. They have had their day and have failed on their own terms and in terms of sustaining life. The transition must be to a new ethic, where embracing love and life is the highest goal. That will certainly give more hope in confronting the formidable issues of biodiversity, global health, agriculture, fresh water, the oceans, climate change, income inequality, poverty, political unrest, and war.

KIERIN

Capitalism does have a role. In some areas it makes sense to have the flattening effect of money, and the interchange facilitated by such fungibility. Money as a stand in for information can allow for quick decisions between multiple options.  The “flattening” is the simplification of complex information into a single number. Fungibility likewise makes comparing apples to oranges possible by assigning both a cost. However, that particular part of the grand economy, that is the economy that involves all species and humans doing everything from gifting to sharing to bartering to living largely self-sufficiently, cannot dominate over the rest. I think that other than exposing the problems of the current system, what will truly lead to a transition is the strengthening of all these other systems; buying land, farming locally etc. The problem is that the current system can do so much damage in such a short time frame and only responds to monetary signals5; so the use of protest and delay to create those monetary signals is highly important as well. Pipeline protests in the United States have shown the ability of relatively small groups of people to cost large corporations money, and delay or arrest certain economic actions that were seen as inevitable. Right now I still rely on the large scale economy for the largest portion of my diet and to provide fossil fuels for the majority of my transit. The labour of wage slaves in other countries provides me with the majority of my clothes. The more we strengthen local systems and work on a service-based rather than profit-based model, the more it becomes possible for individuals to reduce or eliminate their participation in the current majority system. Parallel systems need to be created, linked, or strengthened from their current state. We have many models to choose from and many seeds sprouting already.

ORTIXIA

At this point, what comes to mind first is how we can empower our own communities, particularly in regard to food. For some reason in my mind food sovereignty and economic systems - ECO-logy, ECO-nomics, ECO-cultural Health are the same thing - they are entwined. The more local we can be with our resources, the less we have to rely on the big corporations to supply us with our “needs” and we can just let them become redundant; honouring ingenuity and reciprocity, as well as the voices of minorities, women, salt-of-the-earth and indigenous peoples, small businesses, and the crazy genius building a model for sustainable housing.

Simple things like these, which are already in progress, will assist in shifting the system gradually, so no one gets hurt with sudden changes.

FELIPE

When we realize that all those simple things such as water, family, love, community are often the most important elements in life, and that they are still for the most part outside purview of the Global Corporate Capitalist System; if we recognize their value and their worth and dedicate the attention due to them, as opposed to all the consumer products that are sold in malls, then we can begin to bypass the consumerism machine. When we can marvel at the miracle of Life all around us, it will become Sacred in all its diversity, and we will care for it. I think that once the attitude is there the body will follow. The question is how to change the attitude of the Majority, in order to create a critical mass? How to fight the Machine that dedicates billions to keep attitudes in check? I think that the best way is to talk to one another. And now we can! Across the universe - in real time, following the sixth degree of acquaintance, to billions. We just need to share the stories over and over again until we are all on board.

Share your perspective on this topic.

PANEL DISCUSSANT’S COMMENTS

LUISA MAFFI

This is a very interesting discussion, and thanks to our intrepid Langscape editor Ortixia Dilts for getting the ball rolling! As panel discussant, I’d like to attempt a bit of synthesis, bringing it all back to the issue: what does all this have to do with biocultural diversity, and how is biocultural diversity relevant to economics?

To my mind, one of the key points in this discussion is the one made by Felipe: the economy (or better, all the various economic systems devised by different human societies) is a product of culture (or better, of the various cultural systems created by different human societies), and culture is a product of nature. So nature is all-encompassing, and culture(s) exist(s) within nature, and economy(ies) exist(s) within cultural systems and is/are bound by nature. This means two things:

1.  As a cultural product, an economic system can change if and when there is a change in the prevailing values of the cultural system within which the economic system is nested.

2.  No economic system can last forever if it is predicated on endless growth and therefore on exploitation of planetary resources that are either non-renewable or cannot renew fast enough. The current prevailing economic system (what Felipe calls the Global Corporate Capitalist system or GCCS) is one such system predicated on endless growth. In efforts to sustain itself, it is devouring the very bases for life, and therefore it is collapsing on itself. In doing so, it will carry everyone down with it, unless we can make that cultural transition fast enough.

So the other main point is this: how do we come to that cultural transition fast enough? That’s where I feel biocultural diversity comes in, as both the means and the goal. The means, because the greatest hope for humanity’s ability to make that transition lies in the diversity of worldviews on this planet—the diversity of ways to conceive of the relationship of people to nature, and particularly the relationship of people’s economic activities to nature. If we can hold on to that diversity, and still hear and learn from all the different perspectives—especially all those that place non-material values ahead of material ones—then there’s hope that we will wake up from the maladaptive and self-destructive dream of the GCCS and change our course before it’s too late.  Biocultural diversity is also the goal because, if we begin (again) to embrace the non-material values that characterize a majority of the world’s cultural systems that have not yet been gobbled up by the GCCS, then it means that we begin (again) to place the highest value in life itself, in all of its diversity—in both nature and culture.

Biocultural diversity, then, is both what will save us from our current predicament, and what we’ll nurture and aspire to once we’ve made that momentous transition to a bioculturally saner, safer, and sustainable world.

***

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