Categories
Introduction On the Road

Live from South Korea.

While we’re filming and interviewing people here at the “6th OECD Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy“, we’ll be more active on our social media platforms: Nick will have an eye on our Instagram account, and Martin will take care of Twitter. Find us there if you want to keep up with what’s happening here.

We also have a few behind-the-scenes films in preparation, from our previous trip to Scotland and England — but with all the traveling we simply haven’t had the time to edit them. But we hope to get a couple more videos out in December, before Christmas.

Categories
Gross Domestic Product Sustainability

World Economic Forum: “Forget GDP.”

On November 13th, Pushpam Kumar — Chief Environmental Economist at the UN — published a text on the “Agenda” blog of the WEF website, cautioning against the use of the GDP as the primary yardstick for economic and societal progress. Titled “Forget GDP – for the 21st century we need a modern growth measure“, he is quite explicit about the GDP’s shortfalls:

GDP provides measurements of output, income and expenditure quite well, and these are needed to understand and devise fiscal and monetary policies. But this measure flatly fails when it comes to wellbeing.

And he quotes a UN report that shows that nature “goes down” while the GDP goes up:

The UN Environment Programme-led Inclusive Wealth Index shows the aggregation through accounting and shadow pricing of produced capital, natural capital and human capital for 140 countries. The global growth rate of wealth tracked by this index is much lower than growth in GDP. In fact, the 2018 data suggests natural capital declined for 140 countries for the period of 1992 to 2014.

As a consequence, he advocates five factors that a better measure for progress should consider: financial and produced capital (these are the more traditional output-based measures, interested in assessing whether more has been produced and earned), plus: skills in the workforce (human capital), cohesion in society (social capital) and finally, the value of our environment (natural capital). The approach is still a very monetary one — he argues in terms of what all this is “worth” to us, financially speaking:

Natural capital assets such as forests and water bodies have only been valued for the products they provide for the market, such as timber and fish. However, these ecosystems offer a much larger suite of services, such as water purification, water regulation and habitat provisioning for species, among many others. These are clearly valuable services.

I am unsure if true change can happen if we keep considering the financial measurement of outputs as a core element of our economic systems, and if we evaluate nature as “but a resource” that provides services which we just haven’t started including in the calculation yet. The chosen vocabulary betrays a viewpoint that still considers the “accumulation of wealth” as the core idea of any economic activity — just a more varied range of “wealth types”. And yet, it seems like a helpful starting point for those who come from a GDP point of view.

Finally, he presents a Canadian approach to measuring progress more holistically, the Comprehensive Wealth Project, which now includes the five factors. And its current results are summarised as follows in the text:

The report raises several red flags, most notably that Canadians’ comprehensive wealth only grew at an annual average rate of 0.2% from 1980 to 2015. In contrast, GDP grew at an annual average rate of 1.31% over the same period.

In other words, if you look at all five facets, the GDP of Canada may have been growing by 1.31% per year on average — so the country keeps making and earning more. But in terms of a more overall approach to wellbeing, the development has been pretty much flat.

In other words, and once again: More GDP does not mean better lives.

Categories
On the Road poverty Wellbeing Economies: Concept

“In the UK, ‘poverty is a political choice.'”

We are just now returning from our trip to England and Scotland, after conducting a range of amazing interviews for our film — with inspiring people both in Scotland and in England. At the same time, we couldn’t help but notice the ripples of political shockwaves rolling through the United Kingdom. The most obvious one being Brexit, of course, which was incredibly hotly debated right when we were in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The PM Theresa May had just presented the results of her negotiations with the EU in Parliament, and all the media were (and still are) full of the ensuing debate. But on Saturday, I got an even greater shock when I picked up an issue of the Guardian.

The front page article was about a report from the “UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights”, Philip Alston. He had completed a two-week mission to Britain, following up earlier indications that the situation of the poor and their numbers in the UK were highly alarming. His current report confirms that the situation is dire — after years of austerity policies. Even worse, according to his reporting, the situation is not just unfortunate or tragic, it is the will of the ruling political establishment in Britain.

14 million people in the UK live in poverty — that is one fifth of the population. 1.5 million are destitute — they do not have the money for basic essentials.

And that is happening in the fifth-largest economy of the world, with record numbers of millionaires and billionaires. The size of the issue is hard to even comprehend.

Here are a few quotes from the article:

The government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

In others words: a UN official literally says that the British Government is deliberately cruel to poor people.

… compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that significant elements of the post-war social contract (…) had been swept away.

In other words, the British Government is ripping apart the fabric that holds society together, by giving more to the rich and not caring at all about the poor.

In [his] report (…), the eminent human rights lawyer said that in the UK, “poverty is a politicial choice”.

And we are talking here of the world’s fifth largest economy!

(…) Alston said that the problems were “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside of them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation”.

The British Government has a minister for suicide prevention! And yet they don’t think that there is a problem:

The ministers he met (…) were almost entirely dismissive of criticisms of welfare changes and universal credit, he said. Instead they described critics as political saboteurs, or said they failed to understand how it worked.

Scotland is one of the example countries that our film will speak about. And the local Scottish Government is apparently trying to do what it can to work against the horrible effects of the political decisions coming from London:

(…) authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the government’s benefits policy (…)

The way many economists and policy-makers think is not only deeply troubling because it is destroying our planet. It’s also deeply troubling because it is destroying people.

That is why we are making our film about Wellbeing Economies. Because this insanity needs to end, and we want to help tell that story.

Categories
Behind the Scenes On the Road

Next Up: Scotland.

This week Nick’s on holiday, next week I’ll be away from my desk for a few days. Once we’re both back, our next trip for the film is coming up. In the middle of November, it’s back to England and Scotland.

It’s always a bit of a haul to get there because, as we’ve described here, we do most of our travelling around Europe with an electric car. So it’s a two-day trip to go one way.

Our first stop will be London, where we have an interview scheduled with a political activist, then we’ll drive on to Northampton, where we’ll do another interview, that one’s with a young academic. Then on up to Glasgow — we’re meeting up with Katherine Trebeck again, to get her latest news, and we’ll also hopefully be able to speak with a couple of people from the Scottish Government, whom we’ve met before already, and with whom we want to catch up quickly before everyone goes to South Korea, for the OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy. Also, Nick’s folks live in Edinburgh, so we’ll see them and get to stay at their place and enjoy their hospitality.

Then it’s back to London, where we’ll meet with someone who will be involved in contributing music and potentially something more to our film … we cannot share details yet, but stay tuned, we’ll hopefully be able to share some specifics later in the month. We’ll also do some video reporting from our trip, of course, that’s what this video blog is for!

Categories
Gross Domestic Product Sustainability Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Criticising the GDP: a Key Concept for Wellbeing Economies.

One of the key ideas driving the fight for wellbeing economies is the realisation that the Gross Domestic Product — the GDP — and its “endless growth” may no longer be the right measures to guide our economic policies. What served us well in the past, particularly after the end of World War 2, seems to be increasingly dangerous for the development of our societies. In our latest short video, we’re explaining why that is:

Update December 3rd 2018: If you’re interested in this, here is another blog post that describes what an alternative to “GDP-thinking” might look like, and what countries are doing to implement it.

Categories
Behind the Scenes On the Road

A Short Thank-You for All Your Support!

Our first video from about a week ago received some amazing feedback — people from all over the world reached out to us, offered their support, ideas and feedback. On Facebook, the video collected almost 6,000 views — not bad for a fairly complex subject. Here’s a short thank-you to everyone who viewed, liked, shared and commented. We hope you’ll stick with us in the coming months!

Here’s the link to our newsletter subscription page.

Categories
Behind the Scenes Sustainability

Video Interviews Without Travelling.

A quick snapshot from last week — one of the people we are speaking with for our film is Alvaro Cedeño Molinari, the current Costa Rican Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation. Alvaro is a fierce fighter for sustainable trade and for a sustainable development of our world, and it’s such a pleasure to talk to him. (Also, he is a much better-looking man than you might think after seeing this slightly distorted snapshot. 😉 )

Here I am speaking with him on Zoom (it’s like Skype, but much better video and sound quality), and we’re actually recording the conversation through the Zoom app.

We met Alvaro first at a “task force meeting” for the Wellbeing Eonomy Governments project in Edinburgh a few months ago, and then again in Costa Rica when we went there in the summer. And then we met his family and did a longer interview in Geneva, where he lives, in early September.

A lot is going on in Costa Rica these days, and some of it has an impact on the story of our film. So we need to stay in touch with Alvaro. And even though it’s the absolute best thing to go and see and meet people, we cannot travel all the time, and speak to someone like Alvaro in person as often as we want. (Not only, but in part also for reasons of sustainability.)

So I’ve started interviewing our protagonists online, from time to time. And we’ll most likely use some of this footage in our film.

Note: We are not getting endorsed by Zoom, or getting paid, we just like the service.

Categories
Introduction Sustainability Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Welcome Video.

A short introductory film to our project.

Categories
Introduction On the Road Sustainability

A film-making journey: sustainable.

Earlier this year, we’ve begun working on this documentary film. From the start, the project has required a lot of travelling. We’re going to Rome frequently, and we’re additionally shooting all around Italy. We’re filming in Scotland quite a bit, and also in a whole bunch of places between the two — different parts of Germany, England, Switzerland. Finally, we’ve been to Costa Rica for a few days and shot material at a sustainable fashion conference, and towards the end of this year we’ll even have the chance to go to South Korea to film at an OECD conference there.

A key concern of the protagonists that we’re filming — and our own, too — is climate change. That is why we are trying to make the shooting of this film as light on the environment as we can.

For our travels this means: The lion’s share of our trips around Europe are done by electric car, which we charge at stations that run on renewable energy. But that’s not always easy as flights are so ridiculously cheap. And driving from Berlin to Rome or from Berlin to Scotland takes two days in both cases — that is quite along haul. So there is always the temptation to fly. And we have flown — in cases when we would only be able to spend a couple of days on location. Going on a trip, driving two days both ways, in order to spend only two days in a place just makes no sense.

But we know that flight prices do not reflect the actual cost of these flights — they are heavily subsidised, so other forms of transport don’t stand a chance in comparison. Yet on an individual level, flying is the most energy-heavy form of travel. Anyone concerned about climate change should seriously think about the flying they do. So climatically speaking, flights should be much more expensive than they are. But they’re not.

So when we do have to fly we always compensate our flights’ CO2 emissions with Atmosfair. Atmosfair is a German non-profit that builds infrastructure around the world to help avoid CO2 emissions, and by paying them for compensation, we can help finance CO2-reducing infrastructur that corresponds with the CO2 that was emitted from our flights.

Finally, during the course of the project, I (Martin) have already become a vegetarian, and Nick has seriously cut down on his meat consumption.

We will also use this blog to report on our experiences with sustainable film making.