Saving the Planet by Ending Our Fixation with Economic Growth

Normal is Over 1.1: Solutions to Reverse Global Ecological Decline

Directed by Renee Scheltema (2019)

Film Review

What intrigued me most about this documentary, is that it validates claims the economic downturn preceded the WHO declaration of the COVID 19 pandemic in March 2020. I also like the way Scheltema expands on the present ecological crisis to include mass species extinction, the global economic crisis and increasing inequality, as well as catastrophic climate change.

The film uses the 1973 Club of Rome report Limits to Growth as her point of departure. The latter employed MIT mathematical modeling to predict that resource depletion would force global economic growth to end some time between 2000 and 2010. Just as they predicated it ended (everywhere but China) with the 2008 global financial crash. the latter unleashed an epidemic of unemployment, homelessness and poverty (especially among young people and minorities) from which the developed world never fully recovered.

Scheltema follows this introduction with a very elegant explanation by economist Charles Eisenstein linking the present growth imperative to our debt-based monetary system. At present nearly all our money is created by private banks as loans. Because we currently have no other way for money to come into existence, businesses and individuals must continually seek new products and services (including their own labor) to sell to repay ever increasing public and private debt levels. This frenzied drive to produce, in turn, drives ever heavier resource extraction.

The solution? Scheltema uses the bulk of the film to highlight the efforts of high profile sustainability champions:

  • Vandana Shiva – fighting to restore lower cost, less polluting natural organic farming through the Navdanya Institute she founded in India)
  • Beth Terry – founder of My Plastic Free Life)
  • Reverend Billy – founder of the Church of Stop Shopping
  • The “Lord of the Flies” – one of numerous scientists pioneering the use of fly larvae for organic waste treatment
  • African activists fighting to reverse desertification in the sub-Sahara through tree planting
  • Michael Baumgart, co-founder of the Cradle to Cradle upcycling movement
  • Kate Raeworth -British economist campaigning for a new distributive and regenerative economy *
  • Lester Brown – US environmental analyst who calls for 80% reduction in CO2 by 2030
  • Bernard Lietaer – Complementary (local) currency champion

*Raeworth refers to her new economic model as the Donut Economy. See Kate Raworth: A New Economic Model Based on Planetary Boundaries Rather than Continual Growth

Public library members can view the film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.


Health Benefits of Time Banks

give and take

Give and Take: How Timebanking is Transforming Health Care

by David Boyle and Sarah Bird (Timebanking UK 2014)

Book Review

Give and Take summarizes a remarkable 2012-13 study by Timebanking UK, in which time banks were incorporated into GP practices to address unmet needs of patients over 65-year olds.

The project was the brain child of Timebanking UK coordinator Susan Ross-Turner and incorporated the work of John McKnight, founder of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute in Chicago. Ross-Turner saw it as an innovative solution to an overburdened health and social service sector struggling to serve a burgeoning elderly population.

High unemployment and lower wages – combined with high prices for food and energy – are really bad news for local economies. Residents want and need products and services local merchants have to offer but no money to pay for them.

A complementary currency is an alternative form of money used alongside an official or national currency. New Plymouth has had a complementary currency called the “talent” since the mid nineties. It was created by a group of retired and disabled residents to swap home grown veggies, soap, preserves, hand knit sweaters and second hand clothes books, books and household items.

A time bank is used to trade services rather than products. Through the Taranaki Time Bank, I can earn an hour credit for weeding someone’s garden. I can then use that credit to get my law mowed or the washers replaced in my sink.

Besides affording the cash-poor a new avenue to meet basic needs, forming a time bank is also very effective way of rebuilding communities that have been fragmented by globalization and corporatization.

Cooperation and mutual interdependence are fundamental to any healthy society. Time banks help move us in that direction. They encourage us to rely on one another for basic needs, rather than experts and technology.

The Timebanking UK Experiment

A total of 92 GP practices joined Ross-Turner’s timebanking project. They enrolled 1660 patients over 65 in time banking activities. They would participate in over 29,000 exchanges.

In one area, GPs wrote prescriptions for home visits by fellow patients instead of medication. Unsurprisingly both patients derived health benefits from the exchange. Other research confirms that the ability to a make meaningful social contribution is the single most important factor in elderly mortality rates. In one study, people over seventy who volunteered 1,000 or more hours a year were one-third less likely to die and two-thirds less likely to report bad health.

In another district, the time bank operated a health self-help telephone service. Time bank volunteers staffed the service using an assessment designed by clinicians.

One rural health scheme automatically enrolled every hospitalized patient over 65 in a time bank at the time of discharge.

Other health-related time bank services offer included prostate cancer group meetings, pilates classes, tai chi classes, aquafit classes, sewing groups and a “keep history alive” group.

Study findings:

  • Time bank involvement led to a significant decrease in depression, social isolation, hospitalizations and ER visits.
  • Time bank involvement enabled participants to remain in their own homes longer and postpone the need for nursing home care.
  • Time banks were an excellent way to attract people who don’t normally volunteer.


Joining a Time Bank

I have just joined the Taranaki Time Bank here in New Plymouth.

People can find a time bank in their own area through the following links:

Time Banking UK

TimeBanks USA

Time Bank Australia

Time Bank Aotearoa New Zealand

A Film About Economic Relocalization

economics of happiness

The Economics of Happiness

Helena Norberg-Hodge (2012)

Film Review

The term “economic relocalization” describes a global movement of loosely knit grassroots networks working to strengthen local and regional economies and systems of food and energy production. Most of the last eight years of my life have been focused on grassroots relocalization activities.

What I like best about Economics of Happiness is learning I am part of a global movement. I hate the title, which suggests the film concerns some kind of airy-fairy New Age spirituality. It doesn’t.

The 2011 film, narrated by Helena Norberg Hodge, is based on her 1991 book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh and her 1993 film by the same name. The book and both films draw their inspiration from the nearly forty years Norberg-Hodge spent living and working in Ladakh, a small Himalayan region in the India-controlled (and disputed) state of Jammu and Kashmir. Economics of Happiness includes local footage from the 1993 film, as well as substantial documentary footage relating to the world’s current economic crisis and impending ecological crisis (stemming from catastrophic climate change and mass extinctions).

The Psychological Devastation of Globalization

The film opens with the same narrative Norberg-Hodge recounts in her earlier Ancient Futures film. We are shown the “before” image of Ladakh, a rich thriving culture in which residents live in large spacious homes, enjoy generous leisure time and have no concept of unemployment. Then we have the “after” image where, thanks to globalization, cheap (government subsidized) food, fuel and consumer goods have flooded the region and destroyed residents’ traditional livelihoods. Previously pristine communities face rising levels of air and water pollution, while Ladakhi teenagers face continual bombardment with pro-consumption messages.

It’s heartbreaking to see the psychological effect of all this. Most young Ladakhi have come to regard themselves as backwards and poor, while the communities they live in face rising racial tensions, juvenile delinquency and epidemic levels of major depression.

The Destructive Nature of Urbanization

The film goes on to sketch the mechanics of globalization, stressing the deregulation that forces small self-contained regions like Ladakh to open their markets to foreign goods, which quickly supplant local products. Norberg-Hodge paints an even uglier picture of urbanization, an inevitable result of forcing millions of small formers off their land. She stresses that city living is vastly more resource intensive than rural lifestyles. All city residents rely on food, energy and water transported from some distant source. They burn up additional fossil fuels transferring their waste as far away as possible. She stresses that most city residents go along with the massive ecological and social devastation they produce because it occurs on the other side of the world. Thus they don’t see it.

Rebuilding Local Communities and Economies

The solutions Norberg-Hodge offers for all these problems are similar to those proposed by an increasing number of dissident (non Wall Street) economists. First and foremost we must acknowledge that humankind has exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity – that the corporate drive for continual economic growth must end. Secondly people of conscience need to opt out of the corporate economy to facilitate the creation of more efficient and environmentally accountable regional and local economies.

Norberg-Hodge also sees the process of rebuilding local communities as a remedy for what she describes as the “crisis of the human spirit.” She blames this pervasive spiritual crisis on the demise of community engagement that has accompanied globalization and urbanization.  Although the process is most striking in remote regions like Ladakh, where it occurred suddenly, nowhere in the developed or developing world has escaped it.

The film ends on an extremely optimistic note, with numerous examples of international and community organizations supporting people in reclaiming their lives from multinational corporations.

Economics of Happiness can be rented (and watched online) from the filmmakers for $5