In an age of uncertainty, society globally needs a new compass to set it on a path of real progress. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) provides that compass by measuring what truly matters to us – our well-being in terms of long, happy and meaningful lives – and what matters to the planet – our rate of resource consumption.
The HPI brings them together in a unique form which captures the ecological efficiency with which we are achieving good lives. This report presents results from the second global HPI. It shows that we are still far from achieving sustainable well-being, and puts forward a vision of what we need to do to get there…
…”Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth.”
… from The Happy Planet Index 2.0 2009 published by the New Economics Foundation
“Economics as if people and the planet mattered”
The New Economics Foundation recently published the latest edition of their Happy Planet Index with Costa Rica grabbing the number one spot and the U.K. rated at a pathetic number seventy-four.
Barbados wasn’t listed, but if I had to make a guess I would think that true to our “Little Britain” moniker, Bim would fall closer to the U.K. than the land of “Pura Vida” (“Pura Vida” – Pure Life – is Costa Rica’s national cultural saying).
Why (IMHO) would Barbados be low on the Happy Planet list?
Look at what we, our families and our communities became as we raced for the dollar above all. Look at what our beautiful island became: garbage everywhere, destroyed coastlines and decayed water, health and public security infrastructures. Look at how “we culture” has so readily adopted bad parts of North American popular culture and consumerism.
Sure, you may have a new car or a bigger home than your parents did – but how many happy times do you spend with your family, your children? Can you walk to a nearby clean park or beach? Is your street clean and safe? Does clean water come from your tap without fail?
Remember when you were little – the excitement of waking up, the “can’t wait” to see what life would bring that day? How much do you enjoy waking up now? Do you enjoy your life, your country, your community at this moment?
How much of your dissatisfaction relates to the decaying natural and cultural environments of Barbados that you find yourself living in?
If progress means that five years from now I’ll have to spend an additional hour on the road driving the same distance to work, you can have your “progress”. If progress means that our green spaces will be filled with housing, and the beaches will be disappeared or inaccessible without buying a condo… you can have your “progress”.
How much more of this “progress” can our island take?
What is “Progress” for a Country and an Individual?
Since 1994, Barbados has had some truly good years economically. Considering how small we are, those years of economic success were probably not so much to do with how we ran our country as with the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats”. Barbados did well when the rest of the world was doing well, and not so well when the world’s economy shuddered.
During those good years though, where did we invest our profits? What were our priorities?
I’d suggest that during the good years the Barbados BLP government “invested” money in many places that didn’t matter: in failed mega-projects like Cricket World Cup, Hotels and Resorts Inc., that were supposed to “improve the economy”. Then there were the countless wasted smaller projects that were merely give-aways for political expediency and favours. (Hey… how many of those government giveaway weedeaters ever saw an honest day’s work and income generated for their original recipients?)
Instead of improving public transit, the BLP government built more roads and allowed more cars. The BLP government had money for roads, but not for repairing a water distribution system that is leaking up to 60% of the clean water we can produce. Money for “economic progress” instead of hospital maintenance and staffing.
Millions for new and fancy diplomatic missions in New York and Miami – but no money or government desire to fix a rusted sluice gate and save the last mangrove forest on the island.
Did the BLP Arthur/Mottley government make these choices because the citizens demanded such “progress”, or because this was the BLP’s vision of “progress”? Or a little of both?
How Do We Bring About Positive Changes To Barbados?
The current DLP-Thompson Government of Barbados has been conducting an “environmental sustainability” publicity campaign for the last six or so months. I use the words “publicity campaign” rather than just the word “campaign” because I wouldn’t want anyone to misunderstand what the Thompson government’s new-found environmental talk is really all about. The government’s environmental publicity campaign is about words, promises and more words. Image, not reality. Advertising, not positive change.
The Thompson government is certainly slicker at publicity and spin than the Arthur/Mottley government ever was – but the priorities and economics-based definition of “progress” have remained the same.
And like the Arthur/Mottley government, the David Thompson government deals primarily with words – not actions.
Some may argue that talk, discussion and education are necessary precursors to cultural change and real action – and that is true. Some say that words are the catalyst for the personal changes that lead to changes in individual actions.
All that is true as far as it goes, but without real actions on the part of government the status quo will remain. Talk does not produce change. Action does.
And then there is that one huge factor we love to ignore in Barbados when we speak of change, that one part of the equation that successive governments have failed miserably at: the leading role that laws and the rule of law play in changing culture and individual actions.
Want To Change Our Society? Establish Good Laws and Enforce Them Justly For Everyone.
When the USA and Canada wanted to stop public smoking and smoking in general for well-found reasons of public health and cost, not a whole lot happened until various levels of government started to change their laws to prohibit smoking in public places and in the workplace. Some jurisdictions enacted laws that even prohibited smoking in one’s own car if children were present.
And people stopped smoking.
Changes in laws led the way for societal change. The same was true for the cultural and attitude shifts that took place about wearing seatbelts, drinking and driving and wearing helmets on motorcycles and bicycles.
These changes saved lives and millions of dollars in health costs – but it took changes in the laws before the people embraced the underlying cultural changes.
The USA and Canada use laws to make cultural changes because their governments know that laws are generally respected by citizens and fairly enforced by authorities. In short, laws can change culture in the USA and Canada because the rule of law is respected.
There is a huge difference between the rule of law in the USA and Canada – and in Barbados where laws are seldom enforced and the rule of law is secondary to the social and economic position of privileged law-breakers. When powerful people can buy their way out of rape or assault charges, when ex-Prime Minister Owen Arthur doesn’t have to answer for depositing “campaign donations” into his personal bank account – or when Prime Minister Thompson can misuse his position to give public funds to his friend’s company (CLICO) – and at the same time shield it from public scrutiny – the citizens soon learn that the law is not to be respected or obeyed.
And that is the problem that is faced by any Barbados government at this time in our history: the law has been so disrespected by our leadership for so many years that it is no longer effective as a tool for leading positive change.
Robert with Cliverton