“You don’t need new ideas, you need a new perspective” (Oliver Burkeman)
New perspectives are hard to come by. For all our superior brains we humans often find ourselves trapped in a nightmare déjà vu world where however hard we struggle to escape our worst problems, whatever inventive ideas we come up with to change our ways, we seem destined to repeat our mistakes. Perhaps Ramus and Rubin’s classic film Groundhog Day struck such a cord because people recognised this feeling of being stuck in a time warp, unable to escape our fate whatever we might try. Our problem is that we view the world through fixed lenses that prevent us from seeing the bigger picture; we see what is happening in the room, but fail to look out of the window, so we remain trapped in that room. We do this in our personal lives, and no less so in our behaviour on the big stage, particularly in behaviours that affect the health of our precious planetary ecosystem.
In the movie, the escape from Groundhog Day could only be found via a reawakening and a radical change of heart. This is something that the human world needs to emulate – by rediscovering and reinventing its entire relationship with the natural world. The way the world can free itself from the cycle of environmental failure is therefore not to keep tinkering with the same old failed approaches, but instead to step back and change how we look at the problems we want to solve. “The real act of discovery,” wrote Marcel Proust, “consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” The satirist comedian George Carlin called this trick “vuja dé”, a weird feeling of unfamiliarity that reveals previously unrecognised solutions and opportunities.
This book offers a new economic lens through which we can find ways to solve our environmental problems, throwing open the windows of modern life to see it anew through what Zen Buddhists call “beginners mind”, that fresh and open mindset stripped of preconceptions that allows you to see the world as it really is. Without such a fresh perspective on our environmental problems we are sure to remain trapped in our Groundhog Day despite our newly avowed determination to escape it, reaching our epiphany only when it is far too late.
Working out what needs to be achieved to rescue the world’s environments from their current precipitous decline is no longer the problem. There is now a pretty clear picture of what should happen next – a must-do list that stretches from carbon reduction, to rainforest protection, to ocean governance, to pollution eradication, to food security. The world has now gathered more than 20 times to discuss these crucial issues and agree action, and almost every time it has declared reams of good intentions. Yet despite all the talk and promises little of substance has been achieved and the environmental slide has gone on unchecked.
The latest meeting in Paris – the much fanfared ‘COP 21’ – succeeded in setting the most ambitious targets yet in the form of voluntary pledges by the 196 nations that gathered there. Judging by the subsequent hyperbole, enthusiasm for the resulting accord was not in short supply – it was hailed variously as ‘monumental’ and ‘a turning point’.
Yet if we have learned anything from the 20 previous such meetings it is that promises are cheap. Even if it is a turning point the Paris Accord is still only the beginning of the story, the first step on a long and difficult journey towards a sustainable relationship with the natural world. With targets now set, the challenge is now no longer what to aim for, but how to get it done. Implementation is the new watchword.
However, the world is a complex place with innumerable competing economic and political interests that frequently clash, undermining even the best and most organised of plans. So how can nations now turn their good intentions into reality? How can they tame the powerful economic forces that have caused our excesses and that have so far thwarted them, and yet still develop and grow their economies?
This is now the greatest challenge facing the world. For if world leaders cannot bring their pledges to fruition then all their talk and planning will again be wasted, and the world will continue on a path to a future that is unworthy of mankind’s extraordinary intelligence and ability.
Carbon-generated climate change is seen as the biggest environmental issue, but it is by no means the only one. Biodiversity, the oceans, pollution, poverty – these too are vital global issues that equally deserve our attention. It is therefore time to use the newfound enthusiasm and momentum gained in Paris to do much more than reduce carbon emissions, and to fundamentally revise our entire interface with the natural world.
Despite much doom-saying that it is already too late, I believe there is still time to achieve this, but only if nations thoroughly revise their thinking and go about it in the right way.
So what is the right way?
Junglenomics describes not only what must be achieved, but also most importantly how to go about turning it into reality. It does so by viewing it through the lens of science – the science of evolution, of ecology, and of anthropology. I call the resulting economic paradigm, “Ecosystemic Economics” – Ecosynomics for short – because it owes everything for its inspiration and guidance to the workings of Nature and the organisation of its ecosystems.
If the mass of scientific evidence is to be believed, it is no exaggeration to say that we are at last chance saloon; that unless the world gets its act together right now it faces an era of despair and decline. But I believe that it is not too late to turn it instead into one of hope and rejuvenation.
Junglenomics shows how we can all play our part in this 21st century Renaissance. By better understanding ourselves and our place in Nature, Junglenomics shows how our generation can yet grasp its fortunes and do something heroic to rescue our declining planet both for ourselves and for our children, far into the future.