Changing the Drumbeats of our Economic System

Conceptual Foundations
Transformative Pathways

The fact that we live in downward-spriraling scenarios of climate crises and biodiversity loss is not only the result of widespread ignorance towards scientifically-based predictions. It is an ignorance towards the true history of humankind. Femxle systems thinkers and feminist cultural historians need to connect so that we remember that what was once possible will be part of our future.

If we did a global survey asking people, if they would enjoy living in a downward spiraling scenario with dangerous ecological and social trajectories, we would surely get a 100%: No!!

However, this is the situation we are facing at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. At the surface, It is the result of widespread ignorance towards scientifically-based predictions, such as the report to the Club of Rome “Limits to Growth”, published in 1972, in which, among three other men as co-authors, Donella Meadows encouraged the readers that changing downward-spiraling trajectories was possible. She herself was fascinated by the potential that she saw in scientific modelling. However, never did she suggest that it will be graphs and models that would engage people’s hearts and minds in a way that they change behaviour. In 2021, Gaia Herrington, Director Sustainability Services at KPMG took the 50-year-old report and compared the predictions with recent developments. The result is not at all encouraging: she shows, with minor aberrations, that we are beginning to hit the negative targets that Donella Meadows hoped to convince humankind to avoid. Yet, Donella’s work was not without impact: the famous and heavily criticized report to the Club of Rome “Limits to Growth” has appalled many, but has inspired many more.

Limits to Growth inspired many

Even though global actions and political decision-making has not drawn the consequences suggested in the report, the underlying message was heard by many. It created resonance across the globe, inspired teachers to change their curriculum, students to focus on environmental studies, companies to shift their business model and activists to create political parties. The report unearthed a deep knowing – with a pause in action and a dose of contemplation we know that we are the result of evolutionary pathways that require ecological life-support systems. If we mess up what has more recently and scientifically defined as planetary boundaries, we undermine the conditions for our existence.

Yet, despite these widespread mindset-shifts, the decisive turnarounds in how humankind approaches its future, has not changed at the scale needed. The world has grown more complex, technology has achieved some of the advancement the report had hoped for, societies have advanced social progress, but the underlying drum-beat remained the same: economic growth has been idolized and measured as if it was the only trusted promise of human progress. The report not only had brilliant predictions but an even more brilliant vision of a ‘dynamic equilibrium state’ of societies or the world to be achieved, in which, among other aspects, population would remain as stable as industrial capital flows, ecosystems would be cherished and taken care of, wealth would be fairly distributed.

What if until now we overlooked what keeps the wrong drumbeats going and what determines the trajectories of societies in dangerous directions?

In her later work, Donella Meadows published articles which not only focused on the scientifically measurable data. In her writing about leverage points for transformations, she pointed out that there is a sequence, if not hierarchy of actions and deliberate pathways to create that have more or less impact. The strongest impact, in her view, are changes in mindsets that underpin paradigms.

Even today, her article is a good reminder that many measures we take to green economies, save the climate and halt negative trajectories, all require a more fundamental shift to finally achieve the expected results.

Donella’s article has had strong resonance among scientists and practitioners who, since the nineties of the last century adopted a truly systemic view of the world and human economic and political action. Yet, rarely has her work been connected with that of so many other women who looked at the history of humankind with a feminist lens, such as the cultural historians Riane Eisler, or Heide-Göttner Abendroth, among many others. While not at the level of today’s technological development, there is ample evidence that human societies lived in piece while taking vitality as a core guidance for their egalitarian societal structures. Taking this feminist lens opens a window into the widely ignored, but existing knowledge about trajectories of human development that once where different.

The core elements of today’s world, which perpetuate self-destructive and collectively destructive features of societies, are - in relation to the history of humankind - a short period of a few thousand years, in which humankind seemed to have achieved a lot, yet with even higher costs for present and future generations. The features are well-known:

  • An outdated mindset of extraction, leading to climate crises, biodiversity loss and melting glaciers.
  • Societal and global structures that create social disparity and domination of some over other, be it economically or politically.
  • Territorial and political conflicts that turn into wars, taking tolls among populations and almost always combine conquering with rape of women.
  • A widespread alienation from nature, as if the rest of species can be utilized and should be at our service.
  • A lack of truly egalitarian and partnership approaches between the genders.
  • No adequate participation of female expertise in powerful positions.These features that haunt us today, are the result of a cultural history that has created, emphasized, and maintained a paradigm of extraction and domination.  

From a feminist perspective, the element of care for planet and people has been advocated for by femxle espertise such as Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Susan Griffin or more recently Marjorie Kelly, Kate Raworth, Katherine Trebeck, Hunter Lovins, Mariana Mazzucato, or Mariana Bozesan (see Literature below).

It is time womxn become architects of our future economies and societies.

Green economies, saving the climate and halting negative trajectories, all require a more fundamental shift to achieve the expected results.

There is ample evidence that human societies once lived in piece while taking vitality as a core guidance for their egalitarian societal structures
31 Jan

The topic of building a reference system for life economies is integral to our 36x36 initiatives

For deep dives into a feminist lens to economies, this could be a starting point:

Bozesan, M. (2020). Integral Investing: From Profit to Prosperity. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature.

Griffin, S. (2016). Women and Nature. The roaring inside her. Counterpoint Press.

Kelly, Marjorie (2012). Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Kuenkel, P. (2019). Stewarding Sustainability Transformations – An Emerging Theory and Practice. Report to the Club of Rome. New York: Springer Nature.

Lovins H. L., Wallis S., Wijkman A. & Fullerton J. (2018). A Finer Future. Creating an economy in service to life. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, British Colombia, Canada.

Macy, J. (1991). World as lover, world as self, Berkeley, California: Parallax Press.

Mazzucato M. (2021). Mission Economy. A moonshot guide to changing capitalism. Allen Lane.

Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene into a system. VT, USA: Sustainability Institute.

Mies,M. & Shiva, V. (1993) Ecofeminism. ZedBooks

Shiva, V. (2015). Earth Democracy. Justice, Sustainability, Peace. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Trebeck K. and Williams J. (2019) The Economics of Arrival. Ideas for a Grown Up Economy. Policy Press, Bristol, UK.

As the 36x36 Association we take a stance

  • We acknowledge existing expertise of womxn from all continents for life-enhancing and future-proof new economies 
  • We invigorate womxns’ interest, knowledge, capacities and practices around transformations to economies in service to life 
  • We amplify femxle expertise, make womxns’ voices in future economic approaches heard and grant womxn authority
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