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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Statement

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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David Richards

What are the three most critical challenges facing Planet Earth going forward?

1. The world is set up to make tactical, not strategic, decisions.
Politicians react to problems they can do something about before they stand down or are voted out or deposed. The global media seizes on stories of the latest crises and creates an atmosphere in which “something must be done.” Research and development funding is channelled into areas of study where short-term results are most likely. Intergovernmental processes focus on damping down conflagrations. Markets present consumers and suppliers alike with economic reasons to make short-term decisions. Investors drive business to prioritise short-term profits. In all these processes, success is measured in terms of progress towards near-term partial objectives rather than long-term objectives.

2. Human instinct drives us to accept “levelling up” but not “levelling down.”
No politician ever got elected by promising voters a lower standard of living in the future. No parent would happily settle for his children having less than he had. Economic growth is still the most discussed metric of national success, and attempts to decouple this from natural resource use have been largely unsuccessful. We will settle for others aspiring to what we have but not for everyone to achieve a lower level of benefits, happiness, wealth, and security than we currently enjoy.

3. In general, happy people do not empathise with unhappy people.
Inequality persists and even grows despite the ever more detailed description of its scale and range. Those with the power to influence or implement corrective measures do not use their power. At an individual level we can never know how it feels to be living a different life, and this dulls us to the offence we might feel about other people’s deprivation and poverty. The dominance of market economics and the urge to commoditise everything promotes wealth as a proxy for happiness, and we are ready to accept a differentiation in wealth as part of economic reality.