Searching for the good life
Searching for the good life
The dreams and visions of a different, better society, have always been a source of inspiration. Visionaries have moved the masses throughout history. From Jesus of Nazareth to Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela: they've inspired people to take action and did this by coming up with an attractive message: all efforts are worthwhile because God's Kingdom, or a classless, nonviolent and just society, is close at hand.
Are we still dreaming these same dreams today? Are there still visionaries around who can inspire us? There is no single unanimous answer to this question. Visionaries appear regularly and present us with their appealing and inspiring ideas. Think of those people who came up with the Cradle2Cradle principle, the dream of a world without waste and framed within a perfect closed cycle. Prior to that, new concepts such as sustainable development, corporate social responsibility and, more recently, the Green Economy, were also sources of inspiration.
On the other hand, one observes that these visions have not actually managed to mobilise crowds, especially not in the West. We have grown increasingly sceptical, cynical even. Credulous individuals have all too often been disappointed by self proclaimed leaders who promised them paradise. We seldom fall for this type of rhetoric. We also stopped believing in a society that can be transformed. The idea of a group of motivated people realising actual changes has been portrayed as either naive or fanciful. That's why we no longer like talking about visions (let alone dreams); we prefer scenarios, which give us the room to produce the best possible results.
There is also something else: concepts like Cradle2Cradle or the Green Economy are Western visions that originated in North America and Europe, and are chiefly Anglo-American capitalist-based ideas. And so, where are the analyses, experiences, and dreams of non-Western thinkers and doers? While more and more Asian, African and Latin American products are reaching our shores; their ideas and visions seldom reach us. Are we not open to them? Are they making too little effort to reach us? In any event, we are depriving ourselves of the visions that originate elsewhere, and with them, potential out-of-the-box ideas from parts of the world we know less about. We need to do something about this situation.
Therefore, prompted by Both ENDS and Cordaid, we, two Dutch journalists, started searching for new, inspiring alternatives from the rest of the world. The following pages include numerous interviews with prominent thinkers, doers and analysts from the South. We would like to make it clear from the start that we do not pretend them to be in any way representative of the entire spectrum of ideas regarding a green economy. We chose from a list of names supplied to us by Both ENDS and Cordaid. This list includes their contacts, their colleagues in the South. They are people who are familiar with both actual practice and participating in international conferences where they regularly meet one another at venues around the world. They have all been active in the lead-up to the Rio+20 conference, as members of one or more working groups. Some of them, such as Chee Yoke Ling from Malaysia, have been part of this process for some twenty years or so. She was one of the most prominent spokespersons of the - then still so-called - 'Third World' during the first Earth Summit. All of the interviewed visionaries have strong criticism for how free market thinking and globalisation affect their own societies and the world as a whole. This criticism is nothing new. But what does their ideal society look like? How would things be different if they were in power? These are some of the questions we asked them.
Dare to Dream
On YouTube there is an interesting film about the Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows, entitled Vision 2050. Participants were asked to envision the year 2050 and - this is even more difficult! - to imagine the planet is all right, everything is going well in 2050! "Now close your eyes. What do you see?" The participants' responses varied: "I see solar panels on every rooftop." "I see people knowing each other's names." "Older people who tell stories that others are listening to again." "I see windmills and mini-power plants in the river so that children can study at night with electric lights. The message of the movie is clear: "You can't make it happen if you can't even imagine it!"
This may be true, but daring to dream is not all that easy. Who is ready to respond to the questions of what the ideal society will look like? Isn't it a bit naïve in this day and age to even bother to dream of a better world? And maybe it's even a bit pretentious to think you have the answers. And yet, another response might be: Isn't it all kind of trivial to be translating these grand designs for a better society into concrete images?
For whatever reason, several candidates we approached were slightly shocked when we asked them to share their dreams with us. Some of them even considered our questions inappropriate. "So sorry, but I'm not a guru," was the response of Janaki Lenin, an important environmentalist, columnist, and moviemaker in India. "The challenge is to build a sustainable lifestyle that is so appealing that everyone wants to adopt it. Then, you have to begin thinking about how to realise this. But that's a dynamic process, and the outcomes are uncertain. So I will not speculate."
She is probably right. However, we were looking for something more. Others also politely declined our invitation. There was also a more strategic reason for declining. When you're continuously struggling with major issues such as uncontrolled globalisation or the unbridled profits of venture capitalism on a daily basis, you often feel you like you are just shedding tears in the middle of a desert. You have identified the problem, you have a potential strategy or solution but idle dreams of a better society during an interview also has its pitfalls because, before you know it, your opponents will simply dismiss you as a naive dreamer.
Fortunately, others were prepared to take up our challenge. Our challenge was inspired by the Rio+20 conference slogan - The Future We Want. Our question was simply: Which future? Who dares to dream of a better and more just world these days? And, to make it perfectly clear, it didn't necessarily need to be a feasible vision of this world or a world you were willing to settle for, but the world you truly desire.
Obviously, this vision would use a sustainable world as its starting point, a world in which the planet was no longer headed for inevitable ecological disaster. The major components of a sustainable world are generally agreed upon: using only renewable natural resources, banning waste streams, addressing hunger and extreme poverty, and working towards true democracy, with equal right for one and all. Nice notions, but not exactly what we were looking for either. We wanted the interviewee to actually envision an ideal society. What would they change for themselves, for their children and/or grandchildren? What is the first thing they think of when they hear the term "ideal society"? Imagine you are in power, you are the mayor, the governor or even the enlightened dictator: what would you do first? These are the kinds of questions we posed to help clarify our request for the interviewees.
Our questions aroused a multitude of images: blue skies over Beijing again - that was Chee Yoke Ling's dream. She has been living in the Chinese capital for several years now and has not been able to adjust to a state of permanent smog. Meanwhile, Egypt's Emad Adly dreams about approaching the Cairo of the future in an airplane and seeing an ocean of green rooftops. He also dreams of tens of thousands of unemployed youth being properly trained to become urban farmers. They will lease flat rooftops and supply the city with vegetables and fruit on a daily basis. Farida Akhter from Bangladesh also dreams of vegetables and grains: she envisions the return of forgotten species to the plates of her fellow countrymen. Moreover, she also hopes that Europeans will discover the wonderful flavours of the various kinds of vegetables, rice and lentils that could become plentiful once again. Kenya's Janet Awimbo envisions new opportunities for an African form of consensus decision making - but she is seeking brave citizens willing to take up this effort. Eduardo Gudynas from Uruguay, meanwhile, dreams of unaffordable digital watches that have become the symbol of the increasing consumer desires of the global middle class, which the planet cannot possibly hope to satisfy. A little further inland, Brazilian Moema Miranda wants to ensure that every peasant family has its own parcel of land. She believes that this will benefit the entire country. While Zenaida Delica Willison from the Philippines envisions a world where all live to be as old as her father (who passed away last year at the age of 103), if only we can be convinced to a live a healthier lifestyle.
And we eventually discovered the remarkable common thread of all of these dreams: the conviction that there was a significant need to return to the human dimension. One after another, they all advocated smaller, more human cities, combined with a revitalisation of the countryside that so many people have left in their pursuit of a better life. Perhaps the only exception to these modest dreams was Adly, who envisioned radical changes for Cairo. The others prefer shifting the emphasis on large-scale agriculture to supporting the millions of small farmers. This would also entail choosing for traditional knowledge, respect for nature, and ecologically sound farming methods and against large-scale farming, monocropping, and the unlimited use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds. "Large-scale agriculture has saddled us with a climate crisis, a water crisis, and a bee crisis," Farida Akhter observed. Furthermore, she points out that this type of production method also has a very negative impact on the position of women.
Are these the dreams of a handful of greenies or resurrected hippies who reject all progress and deny the reality of a world population that will soon surpass 9 billion people? No way, was their unanimous response. Traditional values and new technologies are wonderfully interlinked, Adly, a Muslim, pointed out. Isn't it the Koran that inculcates in Muslims the need to spare limited natural resources such as the soil and water? Is it not the same Koran that stated that every Muslim has a duty to learn as much as possible, including from non-Muslim countries? The traditional indigenous vision of the relationship between man and nature is experiencing a revival in South America. The concept of buen vivir - loosely translated as the simple good life - has now even been integrated into the constitutions of both Ecuador and Bolivia. "Even if we switch over to the concept of 'buen vivir', we'll still actually need good computers and other equipment," notes Eduardo Gudynas with a laugh. There is a need for modern technology, to ensure that consumer products last a lot longer than they presently do and also that these products can be easily repaired.
Janet Awimbo advocates the return of the typical African form of decision making, which is based on consensus, the palaver, but this time as applied to new clothing. Young people and women would be able to join the roundtable negotiations or simply a discussion under a tall, shady baobab tree. "We no longer want a group of old men making all the decisions," she emphasises.
Meanwhile, when Farida Akhter works together with Bangladeshi farmers to re-evaluate traditional farming methods and products, she creates a permanent links between this approach and efforts to alter the rigid social structures, such as male-female relations and the caste system. It is no problem, she insists, as long as it is all done with respect, and "taking into account everyone's feelings, while still managing to change the system."
These dreams span the oceans. Akhter in Bangladesh totally agrees with Gudynas in Uruguay, that people can be happy without having to live a life of luxury. Basically everyone wants to live a good life. "That is also what the peasants keep telling us. To be happy, that is what they want. They do not need a big car or a lot of money in the bank. Safe and good food, health for themselves and their children, nature in balance. That is what ordinary people want."
Over the past two decades, Chee Yoke Ling has seen much of the optimism and hope that characterised the 1992 Earth Summit, go up in smoke. But now, in the period leading up to the Rio+20 conference, she has begun noticing some hopeful developments. "I still dream of social equality, justice, and harmony with nature, and of a lifestyle that fits into this vision. To see that more and more young people are fighting for sustainability and for a different way of life is an enormous source of inspiration to me."
Hans van de Veen & Han van de Wiel
Read more about this subject
Publication / 14 January 2019
Publication / 14 January 2019
News / 11 January 2019
Clive Chibule from Zambia won the Gender Just Climate Solutions Award at the climate conference in Katowice, Poland. His project "Community strategies for climate-resilient livelihoods" aims at training rural women on leadership and climate resilience. A very important project, as Zambia is already feeling the effects of climate change, and rural women are affected most.
News / 14 December 2018
During the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) of the UNFCCC taking place in Katowice, Both ENDS partner Raju Pandit Chettri – director of Prakriti Resources Centre in Nepal - was one of the selected Southern leaders to meet with the Dutch Minister of Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Sigrid Kaag. We asked Raju about his expectations, messages, Kaag's responses and his experiences of the meeting.
External link / 10 December 2018
An Open Letter to States and Development Financiers on the need to ensure that development interventions support the realization of human rights, safeguard human rights defenders and guarantee meaningful public participation
Publication / 10 December 2018
News / 1 December 2018
On Thursday, November 29, seven suspects of the murder of Berta Cáceres (in March 2016) were found guilty. Members of the indigenous human rights organisation COPINH, of which Cáceres was the leader, and close relatives of Cáceres herself see the ruling as the first step towards justice for her murder and the recognition that the company DESA is co-responsible for this. They also point out, however, that the process was permeated with corruption, intimidation and other abuses from the very beginning, and that the masterminds behind the murder are still walking around freely.
News / 23 November 2018
Today, the Right Livelihood Awards 2018 will be presented in Stockholm. One of the four people who will receive the prize this year is Yacouba Sawadogo, 'the man who stopped the desert'. Yacouba, a farmer from Yatenga, Burkina Faso, is one of the founders of so-called 'Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration' with which degenerated and dry areas are becoming green and fertile again. According to Both ENDS, Yacouba's award is very well-deserved!
News / 23 November 2018
The production of palm oil is often accompanied by deforestation, environmental destruction and land grabbing. Local communities and activists who stand up against these problems are often threatened. Now the RSPO has taken significant steps in recent months to tackle these issues.
News / 16 November 2018
Silence can sometimes say more than a thousand words. When colleagues from our partner organisations tell us their stories,* our reaction is often silence; a dejected silence.
News / 15 November 2018
On Wednesday, November 14, Dutch Newspaper De Volkskrant published a joint op-ed by Both ENDS, Hivos, Greenpeace Netherlands and Witness about the deforestation in the Amazon region which is still going on rapidly, having disastrous consequences for the indigenous people who live in the area, for biodiversity and for the climate. The Netherlands is one of the largest buyers of Brazilian agricultural products such as soy and beef, and should ensure that deforestation, land grabbing and human rights violations do not occur in these production chains. Unfortunately, this is not at all the case yet.
News / 8 November 2018
Every 10 years, the mandate and activities of 'Export Development Canada' (EDC), the Canadian export credit agency, are reviewed. Since the last review took place in 2008, another review is currently underway. Both ENDS and a couple of other CSOs working from a number of countries made a joint submission as formal input to the legislative review. We did this especially in light of the Canadian governments' ambition to show leadership on climate change and to prioritise climate change action and clean economic growth.
Publication / 7 November 2018
News / 26 October 2018
The sixth High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was held at the UN Headquarters in New York in July 2018. The HLPF provides an opportunity to review global progress towards achieving the SDGs and for countries to present their own Voluntary National Reviews of the implementation of the SDGs. At this year's HLPF, SDG 15, known as the 'Life on Land'-goal, was under review.
Blog / 16 October 2018
A photoblog by Marjolein van Rijn
In 2016, the state forest around the community of Kasepuhan Karang, in Java, Indonesia, was transformed into customary lands. With these newly acquired land tenure rights, the community has started initiatives to use their land in a sustainable and inclusive way. What this means for the community in terms of livelihoods and food security, became clear during a field visit at the start of the Global Land Forum 2018.
News / 15 October 2018
Last September, approximately 30 women and men from community based organizations of Honduras and El Salvador learned the tool of analog forestry which uses natural forests as guides to create ecologically stable and socio-economically productive landscapes.
News / 7 October 2018
We are very proud that our director Daniëlle Hirsch has been included again in the ‘Sustainable 100’ (an annual ranking list published by Dutch newspaper Trouw), and has gone up more than 40 spots compared to last year! Danielle was included in the list because of the many things she does with her organisation as a whole, but she got the higher ranking for the way she combines her criticism of the destructive role of the Netherlands as a trading nation and large cause of CO2 emissions in the world (often supported by the Dutch government), with a constructive attitude when it comes to finding alternatives and solutions.
Blog / 5 October 2018
By Marjolein van Rijn
From the first moment I arrive in Surabaya, I enter the rollercoaster called ECOTON. I'm visiting them to get to know the work of this long-time Both ENDS partner, and have only three days for this. But ECOTON does a lot, and all of it at the same time. Tirelessly, they work on the protection of the Brantas River.
Blog / 28 September 2018
By Burghard Ilge and Sander Hehanussa
In 2001 Tanzania and the Netherlands signed a treaty only known to a few; a so-called Bilateral Investment Treaty aimed "to extend and intensify the economic relations between them and to stimulate the flow of capital and technology and the economic development of the Contracting Parties". But signing the treaty was in fact mainly a symbolic act which since then has had little if any effect in this respect. In fact, a report by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis found that BITs have no positive effect on investment in low and lower middle income countries located in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, including Tanzania.
News / 28 September 2018
We congratulate Joan Carling, member of the permanent commission on indigenous peoples of the UN, for having received the Lifetime Achievement Award as 'Champion of the Earth' by the UN Environment! This is the UN's highest environmental honor, given to six of the world's most outstanding environmental change makers once a year.