This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.
I swing, as I’m sure most of us do, between confidence and despair that things are going to change at the level that we need. Principally, my despair comes when I see the mainstream narrative stuck so firmly in the idea that small changes will add up to a big difference – even Rosemary’s Carbon Conversations seems to be stuck in this narrative to some extent, not to mention 10:10 and DOT – Do One Thing – which seem to be the latest high profile efforts in the UK and USA respectively. It is 10 years since Donella Meadows published her essay on ‘Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System’, highlighting the necessity of intervening at deeper points; and almost a year since Tom Crompton and John Thogerson published ‘Simple and painless?’, showing the limitations of foot-in-the-door strategies… and yet still almost everything that achieves conspicuousness is at the level of least effective intervention, at the level of relatively simple steps in personal life (painless or otherwise, looking at Madeline Bunting’s Guardian article).
But I have hope when I see that there are genuine discussions taking place at some of the highest levels of effectiveness on Meadows’ scale, looking at the goals or even at the paradigm of the system. Three such incidences have come to my attention recently.
The first is the establishment in Hungary of an Ombudsman for Future Generations, the first office of its kind. The independent but state-funded department, headed by a Parliamentary Commissioner, is made up of a team of scientists and lawyers responsible for holding to account the decisions and strategies of the Hungarian government, representing the voice of future generations in any decision. This is an extraordinarily creative legal step, and one that in one fell swoop has the potential to shift the mindset of a country, by making an explicit statement that the future matters.
The second, closely associated, is the movement for rights for nature. Almost a year ago to the day, Ecuador became the first country to write rights for nature into the national constitution. This intervention works in a fairly similar way to the Hungarian concept, by allowing representation for an otherwise unrepresentable entity. Any Ecuadorian citizen now has the right to bring a lawsuit on behalf of nature. This is signficant for its practical implications of course; but again, what a statement, what a shift in mindset!
The final example is perhaps the one we can hope most swiftly to bridge the mainstream. A nobel-studded commission headed by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, and featuring names such as Robert Putnam and Cass Sunstein, has finally reported back on alternatives to GDP, confirming the weaknesses Bobby Kennedy called out as long ago as 1968 (“It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”). This is, potentially, an enormous move. The consumption- and thereby status- driven economy, which according to Crompton and Kasser’s work is the fundamental barrier to proportional change, is intricately tied up with GDP as the unique measure of success. GDP is the current paradigm’s Trojan Palladium, the idol that must fall before the city can. This is a visionary piece of work, which unites environmental sustainability with higher quality of life in the present – the answer to Joe Brewer’s prayers for a positive Green Identity.
These, to me, are the kind of ideas and initiatives that identity campaigning is all about. Exciting times.