New Hillary Laureate Tim Jackson challenges consumerism
"This is a story about us, about people…being persuaded to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about." -Tim Jackson
We live in rapidly changing, exciting and perilous times. The global economy is in transition, free-market economics (some contend), are in their swan-song and the more strident voices on both sides of the Atlantic demonstrate the tensions inherent in such times are cause for consternation. But never doubt the need to bring 'Mom and Pop' along for the ride. This is a story about people.
The reality television politics of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson peddle in the age-old 'dog-whistle' playpens of fear and loathing – no surprise therefore many of the former's greatest fans coalesce around an interesting axis, from Moscow to Pyongyang to (Al) Raqqa.
This week's 'Brexit' vote and November's federal election will demonstrate just how deep these insecurities are. The horrific ISIS attacks in Paris and Brussels and the assault-weapon savagery on last week's LGBT, Pulse nightclub in Orlando must not be downplayed. However London has elected a Muslim Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the fact that November will see the most racially and ethnically diverse US constituency ever (not Trump's heartland), gives plenty of cause for sanity prevailing.
Following last year's historic, global Paris accord, we're seeing rapidly accelerating deployment of new-economy investment vital to ensuring we have a shot at mitigating the worst excesses of climate change – and not just in Elon Musk's family sedan Tesla Model 3 orders breaking the Internet.
The divestment movement is on a doubling curve as sovereign, Ivy League and institutional funds re-align their portfolios away from fossil stocks and into carbon benign goods and services. Coupled with political will, prosperity 'within planetary boundaries' could be the next profound shift, on a scale way beyond the industrial revolution.
The Hillary Institute's global work since 2009 has seen six annual Hillary Laureates celebrated for mid-career, exceptional leadership on climate change – from the UK to the US, China, Kiribati and the Amazon. 2016-19 will focus on "Capital for Change". New Economy definitions are evolving, from 're-establishing the commons' to transition economics. Announced today, the 2016 Hillary Laureate, Tim Jackson's takeaway is "achieving prosperity in a world of environmental and social limits."
Not many people headline as "Ecological Economist and Playwright", but Jackson's resume is remarkable by any standard, beginning in London in his twenties as a playwright. Although he had degrees in maths, philosophy and the foundations of physics, he was, and still is," intrigued by the transformative power of drama" and had already sold a couple of radio plays to the BBC. The 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl however radicalised how he felt he should lead his professional life, recognising he had skills highly relevant to the challenge of transforming technology.
Increasingly aware of the wider social and macro-economic forces driving environmental problems, this journey led him to the Stockholm Environment Institute, a long-standing collaboration with the New Economics Foundation (UK), and a twenty year research programme at the University of Surrey "to explore not just the economic and institutional factors but also the social and psychological drivers of the consumer society."
Throughout Jackson continued to write plays 'with purpose' and his latest book Prosperity without Growth was the culmination of a five year work programme on 'Redefining Prosperity' as Economics Commissioner on the Sustainable Development Commission, chaired by pre-eminent environmentalist Jonathon Porritt and reporting directly to the UK Prime Minister.
Prosperity without Growth counterpoints the conventional wisdom of prosperity equating to expansion of GDP with the challenge of decoupling economic activity from environmental impact, outlining a vision for lasting prosperity on a finite planet.
Jackson contends that vision informs his ongoing research and change advocacy. On May 23rd, alongside Rowan Williams and Satish Kumar he launched the first in a series of public debates hosted by his Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), engaging young and old alike across business, policy and civil society in that most seminal of questions: what does prosperity mean in a world of environmental and social limits?
"We have to reconceive investment so that it's not about the relentless and mindless pursuit of consumption growth. Rather we must invest in the idea of a meaningful prosperity, providing capabilities for people to flourish. Of course it's nonsense to speak of prosperity if people don't have food, clothing and shelter – but prosperity goes beyond material concerns – it has social and psychological aims – family, friendship, commitment, society. Ultimately investment in the new economy has to protect the ecological assets on which our future depends."
CUSP is a five year £6 million cross-disciplinary collaboration involving seven universities, plus business groups and NGOs. Here in NZ Assoc. Professor Bronwyn Hayward heads the University of Canterbury NZ research group: Sustainable Citizenship and Civic Imagination, co-leading with Jackson a longitudinal study of young people growing up in cities.
Jackson's research, like his writing is driven by a fascination with human stories. His latest play Variations is a love story, based around a particular movement in a Beethoven sonata, dedicated to the woman many believe was his 'eternal beloved'. "Variations also explores the tension between our passions and the sometimes accidental events that define our lives". It won the 2008 Grand Prix Marulič, a prestigious European Radio Prize.
Tim Jackson's is a story about people.
Mark Prain is the Executive Director of the Hillary Institute.