by Natasha Parker, Head of Post-Consumerism
4 min read
Global Action Plan Supports Petition for a Wellbeing Economy
Here at Global Action Plan, we spend our days working towards a world where everyone is consuming within the earth’s limits and enjoying happier and healthier lives. Wouldn’t it be great if that was the goal of our economic system too? Unfortunately, it isn’t. The current goal for our economic system is simply to grow.
But eternal economic growth on a finite planet is, as Greta Thunberg so succinctly puts it, “a fairytale”. In her model of “doughnut economics” Kate Raworth reminds us that nothing in nature grows endlessly. Trees, plants, animals, and humans grow until we reach maturity, then we stop. When our cells grow endlessly; we call this cancer.
The goal of endless growth is the root cause of environmental destruction.
Growth relies on us consuming more and more, but the products and food humanity - predominantly the rich world - consume already take 60% more resources from the Earth than it can replenish each year. This “overshoot” is a major cause of climate change, pollution, and the mass extinction of animals. And having newer, faster, better stuff hasn’t made us happier either.
At the heart of the engine of growth is the advertising industry which is needed to persuade us to keep buying more than we need.
Advertising influences us from a young age with the story that buying more is the route to a successful life, where we’ll be happy, loved and fulfilled. But the initial excitement of a new purchase quickly wears off and does nothing to meet our real needs.
In the words of mental health campaigner and author Matt Haig “Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?”. The pressure to live up to the unattainable standards set by the ad industry, felt particularly keenly by the young, has contributed to a mental health epidemic. In today’s world, online advertising targets children in increasingly invasive and manipulative ways. Their personal data is tracked with every online interaction so they can be served ads to tempt them with just the thing they might want.
Global Action Plan is campaigning for an end to the nefarious practice of online surveillance advertising as we see it as one of the key drivers of 21st century hyper-consumerism. If our economic system put the wellbeing of children over and above the need for growth, this might be a much easier ask.
A shift of the goal of our economy towards the wellbeing of people and planet will change the way we make decisions and can also help us to imagine a better world where we do things differently.
A core aspect of our work at Global Action Plan is to create alternative narratives that inspire hope in the future. We challenge the stories from the advertising industry that having more is a route to the good life, and we also seek to counter the tales of dystopia and lifestyle “loss” that dominate narratives for sustainable living.
We are working with young creatives on our Flickers of the Future Instagram to bring these new visions of a more sustainable future to life. A transition to a wellbeing-oriented economy gives us an opportunity to ask: “How can we live better lives?” and enables us to create new stories of what it means to live well.
Instead of letting the advertising industry create these narratives with false promises of happiness and success from the latest product, we can look to the evidence of what really improves our lives.
Research shows us that the things that bring us the most happiness and fulfilment, are not things. Spending time with our loved ones, learning new skills, and contributing positively to our communities give us more fulfilment than can ever be offered by simply owning more possessions. The activities that bring us the most joy tend to also be the ones that have the least impact on the planet too. Sustainable lifestyles can be far more enjoyable and fulfilling than how we currently spend our time and money.
A wellbeing focused economy would help free us from the “work more, spend more” cycle that a growth obsessed economy keeps us trapped in.
The transition to a wellbeing economy cannot wait.
If we are to have any chance of preventing runaway climate change and ecological collapse we cannot continue with an inherently destructive economic system.
That’s why we support this petition for a wellbeing economy and urge everyone to sign it.
If we can reach 100,000 signatures by 26 September this petition will be considered for parliamentary debate and force politicians in Westminster to address the elephant in the room that we cannot solve 21st century crises of environmental destruction, climate change and poor mental health with the same economic system that creates them.
Please sign and share as widely as you can! Sign up here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/580646