From Limits to a Thriving Future

From Limits to a Thriving Future

Gaya Herrington

15 years: Sustainable Economics

In the previous videos of her pathway on the Limits to Growth, Gaya Herrington has introduced the myriad of problems created by society’s obsession with economic growth. In this video, she explores the possibility for solving these problems by taking away their root cause. She argues that humanity needs a mindset shift away from the relentless pursuit of growth to an economic system that revolves around human well-being within ecological limits. She also explores the fears associated with making such a change, as well as the potential benefits it could bring.

In the previous videos of her pathway on the Limits to Growth, Gaya Herrington has introduced the myriad of problems created by society’s obsession with economic growth. In this video, she explores the possibility for solving these problems by taking away their root cause. She argues that humanity needs a mindset shift away from the relentless pursuit of growth to an economic system that revolves around human well-being within ecological limits. She also explores the fears associated with making such a change, as well as the potential benefits it could bring.

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From Limits to a Thriving Future

14 mins 24 secs

Overview

The transition to a sustainable world begins by acknowledging that the global "polycrisis" emanates from interacting environmental, social, and governance issues. To solve this polycrisis, we have to address their root cause, which means making fundamental changes in our economic system. There are deep fears that need to be addressed around this systemic change, primarily: the fear of social unrest and the fear of exclusion. But embracing a new economic framework also offers the prospect of real societal progress, though improved well-being worldwide and environmentally sustainable prosperity.

Key learning objectives:

  • Understand why we need a mindset shift in order to transition to sustainable world

  • Outline the fears associated with shifting away from the pursuit of endless growth

  • Understand the potential well-being benefits of re-indigenisation and growth within ecological limits

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Summary
What is a polycrisis?

A "polycrisis" refers to the convergence of multiple interconnected crises, including climate change, biodiversity loss, rising social tensions, income and wealth inequality, declining trust in institutions, and other related challenges. These crises are interdependent and collectively pose a significant threat to both human and ecological thriving, to the point of potential collapse.

Why is there a fear associated with moving away from the pursuit of economic growth?

The fear stems from the belief that economic growth is synonymous with progress and the only way to improve well-being. People often associate economic growth with job creation, poverty alleviation, and overall prosperity. That is why the idea of letting go of the growth pursuit can invoke the fear that society may experience economic recession and a decline in living standards as a result. This fear of losing the perceived benefits of growth makes it challenging for individuals and institutions to embrace a different economic model. To address the fear of social unrest, we need to reframe our common narrative of what our society values most. Instead of abruptly advocating for the abandonment of growth, the focus should be on redefining the economic purpose. This approach ensures that people do not feel deprived but rather reinvigorated by a shared purpose to explore new ways of attaining happiness and satisfaction beyond material accumulation.

What is the potential alternative to an obsession with economic growth?

The alternative is to change the goal of the economic system from perpetual growth to meeting human needs within ecological limits. This alternative approach can lead to a more stable and sustainable form of prosperity. Economic studies, such as those around the Easterlin paradox, demonstrate that beyond a certain point, increased income and material possessions have diminishing returns when it comes to well-being. These findings suggest that once basic needs are met, shifting focus to meet social and spiritual needs can actually improve overall well-being much more effectively. This shift towards non-material needs can have a positive impact on not just society but also the environment, because social and spiritual needs can be satisfied in various ways, depending on culture and social norms, some of which require little to no resources. 

How can focusing on human needs within ecological limits contribute to a more sustainable and thriving future?

By focusing on human needs within Earthly limits, societies can reduce their ecological footprint while achieving higher levels of well-being even in richer countries, through improved social cohesion and sense of purpose. It allows for a more sustainable relationship with the environment and each other, thus contributing to a thriving future in which people, ecosystems, and economies coexist harmoniously. Elements of such a society we already see in countries like Bhutan, which governs based on a Gross National Happiness Index, as well as Ecuador, New Zealand, India, Bolivia, and Costa Rica, which have granted rights to nature in their legal frameworks. Indigenous populations are the best examples however; most have always organized around these goals. 

How can we address the fear of being left out when advocating for systemic change?

Working on systemic change can be uncomfortable. Everyone can do their part, by utilizing their unique qualities and position in the system. Even small actions can make a difference. This makes systems change a deeply personal endeavour. However, it can not stay at the individual level. Systemic change happens when people start connecting, spreading the new narrative throughout the system, until it eventually reaches a critical mass where broader societal change becomes self-reinforcing. Individual contributions matter because that change begins with just a small group of these engaged people spreading the new narrative.

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Gaya Herrington

Gaya Herrington

Gaya Herrington is a renowned environmental, social, behavioral, and economic researcher who focuses on the interplay between these trends and the necessary changes for global sustainability. She is a published author on the importance of recognising limits to growth and the potential for increasing global human and ecological well-being by shifting from perpetual growth to meeting human needs within planetary boundaries. She is currently Vice President Sustainability Research at Schneider Electric, the world's most sustainable corporation, and has held various positions, including sustainability consulting at KPMG and policy advisor to the Dutch government. She has given keynote speeches and guest lectures at various international conferences and is an advisor to the Club of Rome.

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