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7 April  The Social Value of the New Global Era - Mary Hendriks

Mary discussed the contemporary issues facing us with the new global era.

We are living in the new global era.  Today, an event happening in one place is highly likely to impact people living in some distant place, often within seconds.  These events could be positive - a new cure for a disease, overthrow of a dictator, or a peace treaty between two long-feuding nations. The event could be a terrorist attack in Nigeria, a mortgage default in the USA, a firestorm in Victoria, or an earthquake in Italy.  And events in any place can affect us individually, or as a group, in terms of employment, finances, our quality of life, and our environment. 

In this new global era, we are now very connected, and this is increasing our common systems and our common understanding.  And our social values underpin this.

What is meant by values?

Values are the assumptions of what is desirable and are generally considered to be either "personal", from your own feelings and experience, or "cultural", where the values are based on those of a group of people.  In his book "The Upside of Down", Thomas Homer-Dixon defines three groups of values being

•·          "utilitarian values...whether one likes chocolate ice cream more than vanilla",

•·           "moral values concerning fairness and justice, especially regarding things like the distribution of wealth, power and opportunity", and

•·          "existential values.. that give our lives meaning and significance". 

Today, I will be primarily considering our cultural moral values, and in particular, the values of the new global era.

Societies are held together by common cultural values.  We learn these as small children, from our parents, our extended families, and from the educational system of the country we are born in.  When we relocate or visit a different society, we soon learn that we must understand and negotiate a whole new set of values, in order to integrate into that new society. 

Cultural moral values of a society change and are aligned with belief systems.  During the Second World War, the values of loyalty to one's country, thrift, and communal activities were highly valued.  Once the war was over, new values related to re-building and supporting young families dominated.  Economies grew and we now have values based on our belief in this growth economy, in personal well-being, and in our individual right to access goods and services. 

Over the past fifty years, cultural values in most industrialised societies became based on one main premise, that: a successful and desirable society is a materially wealthy, consuming society.  We have come to value the success of many individuals, not so much by their work or achievements, but often just by their affluent lifestyles. 

With emerging middle classes in Asia, Africa, and many other countries watching the already industrialised nations, we are setting the bar - the values of the lifestyles of industrialised societies are driving the demand for larger homes, brand name clothes, appliances, cars, meat based diets, travel and entertainment.  

Just as we are questioning whether these values lead to a happier society, the many billions in the emerging societies are beginning to look for the common understanding and some are adopting our values as ones that they aspire to.  And in a philosophical sense, as we begin to question our values, we realise that we have to understand what it is that we believe, and to understand our new global society that is now in conflict with those beliefs.

Thomas L Friedman has written about this society. Today there are 6.7 billion people sharing one small planet Earth and we are set to increase in numbers to about 9 billion by 2050.  This is the "Crowded" element of his recent book "Hot, Flat and Crowded".

"Crowded" means that we no longer have the luxury of living in our affluent societies with values that were relevant when the global population was 1/4 the size of what is now, just 100 years ago. 

To find an equitable way to share this small planet, we will need to overhaul our energy systems, rebuild our cities, and replace our growth only economic models.  We will also need to look closely at values, which drive us onto the consumer treadmill, and which are producing the "Hot" world of the future.  Friedman compares this heating of the planet to a fever - our body temperature is normal at 36.4 degrees Celsius, but when it goes up 2 degrees, we know something is wrong.

At the same time, Friedman adds that the world has become "Flat", meaning more globally connected and accessible, mainly due to the revolution in technology and the Internet.  This enables more people to work, play and collaborate on a "seamless unobstructed global marketplace".  This is the new global era. We now have a world where we now can compare our personal lifestyle with those at all other points of the planet.

And that creates demand, so that more people now have access to a shrinking and finite pool of resources.   In this "Hot, Flat and Crowded" space, do we continue to live our lives based on the values of the industrialised nation's growth economy?

Friedman talks about whether our current lifestyles are sustainable for everyone, for the 9 billion people in 2050, and how these values combined with the projected population, are leading us into physical conflict with the planet.  He quotes Eco-Tech's Rob Watson, who talks about Mother Nature by saying that "when a species doesn't learn to fit in with Mother Nature, it gets kicked out".  

We need to make some hard choices, and make changes to every part of our societies.  But this change will not happen unless we find new values, values for good living in industrialised societies, and values to set as an example for emerging societies. Now this is not a discussion about rules or legislation, these are set following a change in values.  When people changed their thinking and subsequently their values in relation to others smoking in their area, rules and legislation followed.  The first change is the thinking, and then this becomes the values of the socially aware in our community, and further down the track, the change is complete when the values become those of the majority.

If we look forward at our collective global future, we are looking at new cultural values and a whole new way of thinking about how we live.  We now have the opportunity to re-value our industrialised and consumer lifestyles, and to consider new values in all areas.  I will consider three of these areas, the areas of Energy, of Ownership, and of Nature (EON).

Energy is the new economy, and whoever can produce clean energy will be the managers of the new global era. Our values about this are the most urgent ones, because, as one global family, we will continue to fight with each other unless we can find equitable ways to access low cost and clean energy sources.

Thomas Friedman is convinced that energy is becoming "the defining measure of a country's economic standing, environmental health, energy security, and national security".

As energy becomes more highly valued, our perception of waste of energy will change our values.   Even today, owning a fast sports car or large powerboat is a symbol of success, and this "success lifestyle" is displayed in magazines and in the media.  But this is changing.  Many high profile personalities now dissociate from displaying excess energy use, especially energy based on fossil fuels.  There is a move to associate with events run by solar, wind or green power, and to own or hire hybrid or electric cars.  

The mainstream of our industrialised society likes entertaining and dining out, but now it's much more complicated. We are beginning to question where our food comes from, and how much energy was used to bring together all the items for a dinner party. And where does the waste go?  Is the waste food composted, and are the wine bottles recycled?  It's not enough to offer a meal to friends and colleagues- it has to be seen as consistent with the new values.

Certainly some of this is Green-Wash, and image related, but there is a definite shift in values, particularly among younger professionals. You may find that you are not cool, and definitely "out" if your lifestyle shows no concern for the planet.  Driving a large SUV in the city may attract scorn on you, and graffiti on your vehicle.

And finding creative ways to use our existing waste energy is "in" but may challenge our current values.  A town called Halmstat in Sweden has proposed a new source of heat for one business and for the surrounding houses.  The local crematorium could provide an endless and reliable source of heat from, as you can guess, its primary activity of cremating bodies.  Is this something we could do in Sydney?

Thomas Friedman loves energy, especially the Clean Energy Systems of solar, wind and other renewable sources.  In his words "energy can not only make a hotter world more tolerable and a flatter world more equitable; it can also make a crowded world more comfortable".  He links energy to poverty, and much of his work explores new energy options and energy efficiency and his concept of an "ethic of conservation".  He comments "we don't know how many barrels of oil or kilowatts of energy we could save just by thinking about how we live rather than shrinking more of how we live".

So let's think about how we live, and let's look at the visible signs of what's in and what's out and our changing values.

Energy -What's out-

Incandescent lighting, long showers, indoor spa's, driving an SUV in the city, steak only restaurants, un-sorted garbage, having two fridges, using the supermarket plastic bags, air-conditioning set too cold in summer, outdoor gas heaters, jet skiing and power boat racing, and leaving the lights on at work.

Energy - what's in

Using GreenPower, solar panels or solar hot water heating, owning or hiring a hybrid or electric car, riding a bicycle to the local shops, eating local food -for Aussies that means kangaroo and macadamia nuts, trendy shopping bags, ceiling fans, staying at an eco-resort, camel riding, kayaking, turning off lights during Earth Hour, and using Skype or iChat instead of driving to see someone.

The next to consider are the new cultural values related to Ownership.

By Ownership I do not suggest that we become a socialist economy, but that we question certain aspects of ownership.

The new Ownership is about stuff that we all, as one planet, should own - like intellectual stuff, pictures, words, formulae for medicines, and the air, the sea, resources, the land. Certainly, there will be licences to manage and provide services, but Ownership? We need to ask these questions.

The value of ownership is being redefined, in part by the Internet and the concept of Creative Commons and Open Source.  If we want information, using a computer and the Internet, we can now freely access it, on sites such as Wikipedia.   If you need to use a photo or video for your work or for a project, then use Flickr or YouTube, which allows you to put up your own images for others, and for them to use yours.  Now many major museums, such as the Power House Museum in Sydney are adding their photos and images for public use.

That's all very interesting, so let's extend this further.  Who owns the land, the water, the air, and the sea?   Are these owned by us -individually or collectively, as a nation or as a planet? 

Does the water in the Artesian Basin under Australia belong to any company or small landowner who can access it? Does it belong to Australia?  Or is it part of our Common Wealth of the planet, to be managed in the best interest for our 9 billion inhabitants in 2050?  How much land should one person, or company be permitted to own?

Do we have the right to put pollutants in the air and the sea where we may damage our communal environment as a consequence?   We have strict models of ownership of land in each country - are we set to extrapolate that to the sea and the air?  How will we develop our new values about air and sea ownership?   

We change our values in each era.  It was once acceptable to own other people and to exploit their labour. Many good people lived off this wealth and saw no other way. It was their value, the way things worked. 

It is now acceptable to own land and any resources attached to that land and, in many cases, to personally or as a company have the right to take what is on, below, or flows through this land, and then to pollute the air above that land.  We now are those good people, living well but damaging the planet.

We now question owners, including owners of our corporate structures and some progress in reviewing values has been made by innovative groups and business owners. Our new value of transparency pushes businesses, organisations and governments to become more open, and even invite questions about their activities and their policies. 

Thomas Friedman comments that: "in a flat world, everyone can see what everyone else is doing, and the harm it is causing".  He adds, "The days of a ‘sub-prime planet' are over - a planet we could own for no money down, where there were no interest payments until sometime in the future and all the true costs were hidden, or chopped up into such little pieces and scattered in so many directions that no-one knew who owned what".

What's out about Ownership!

McMansions in the suburbs, twelve seater formal dining tables, garage walls full with power tools, appliance cupboards in kitchens, garbage disposals units, private beach frontages, weekenders, church halls used only once a week, clutter, useless Christmas gifts that collect in the cupboard, buying now and paying later, having to pay for online updates.

What's in about Ownership-

A compact home near transport, multi-purpose furniture, car clubs, share arrangements for luxury boats, exchanging homes for holidays, buying or recycling through eBay, open source software, wireless hot spots, free online information, public libraries, sharing lemons off your tree, having a swap event for fashion items, giving a gift of a shared experience.

And thirdly, our new values will embrace Nature or else. This is not so much a choice but a sword hanging over our collective heads. Nature has its own power, its own agenda, and will very easily restore its own balance with or without us. Nature does not need us, so we need to include Nature as part of our core values.

The abundance of Nature is why we can live on this planet, and why Mars would not be a good alternative.  But as industrialised people, we have become detached from nature.  Food appears in supermarkets, clothes come from shops, and goods are ordered online and delivered to us by trucks.  A child growing up in an urban society has very little understanding that this wealth of produce, goods and services has its origins in nature; and that this wealth that we depend on, has upper limits.

Nature sets these limits - when there are too many birds competing for one area, then there is a natural balance, some move, some die.  We have discovered how to change this balance with our technology, and with our "take and make" mindset, and we have set very few limits.

What do you think when you see a family with ten or twelve children?  In the many previous generations, having ten children may have been seen as fortunate, even nation building.  But what are our attitudes to this today? 

We almost pride ourselves in industrialised societies about our freedom, freedom to live where we like, to marry who we choose, and to have as many children that we can raise, depending on our own situation.  Our society values freedom, and does not limit us, and does not limit our earning capacity or the way we use excess income. 

However, some of those freedoms are no longer viable - because across the planet, we are now aware that the natural world as we know it is changing as a result of excessive use.

Do we value the natural space of others?  What happens when a species no longer can live in an area because of climate or sea level change? Should we attempt to relocate animals when this happens, and, similarly, should we offer some of our land to our human neighbours when they are no longer able to inhabit their homeland or islands? 

We are beginning to understand that our lifestyles impact others - that there are just too many of us, owning too much stuff, which uses too much of nature -and this dynamic is changing our values. 

Thomas Friedman comments that: "in our whole existence as a species, we have had the luxury of assuming that the earth's plant and animal bounty was inexhaustible". His book includes a whole chapter called "A Million Noahs, a Million Arks" where he discusses how local people can take on the challenges to protect and preserve their local eco-systems.  And he adds; "without an ethic of conservation we will lose that which is priceless but has no price tag".

How do we develop our new cultural values to embrace nature, to become less wasteful and should we question limits - both of our societies and of societies of other countries? 

By considering nature, let's consider what's changing and what's out -

Killing endangered species, eating shark fin soup, throwing away something that could be reused, pubic spaces with no recycling bins, leaving rubbish near waterways and beaches, hosing the driveway, planting traditional gardens that use significant resources to maintain, home incinerators, harmful pesticides, home deodorisers, junk mail and plastic indoor plants.

What's in -

Two kids or less for future families, houses that merge with the outdoors, cane or wicker furniture, bamboo flooring, organic shampoo, installing rainwater tanks, having veggies growing in pots or small gardens (even Michelle Obama now has a veggie patch), growing fruit trees, having a worm farm to compost food waste, buying from farmers markets, joining a local land-care group, using your local parks, encouraging kids to enjoy and protect nature, bush walks, boycotting businesses who abuse the natural world.

We need to rethink our societies and therefore we need to rethink our values. These are questions being asked by many others.  In his 2008 essay "Now or Never, A Sustainable Future for Australia", Australian environmental advocate, Tim Flannery asks: "What kind of society is likely to value the lives of those yet to be born to such as extent that it will sacrifice a little present wealth in order to assist them? ".  And he adds, "Clearly, there is a relationship between how we value ourselves and our fellow members of the society, and how we value generations to come".

This economic downturn has given us a space to stop and consider big stuff, not just the economy but also the values that underpin the way we live. And in particular, to re-value the way we consider energy, ownership, and nature and set a new course to rebuild and protect our common future in the new global era.

To summarise - major changes in societies happen, but they happen when we change our values, in particular, our cultural moral values, and this changes the dynamics of our relationships with each other.  While there will no doubt be some conflict of values, discussion and debate about our new common understanding will help set directions for us and for everyone in this  "Hot, Flat and Crowded" world.

 
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