Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Global Climate and Economic Crises Really a Crisis in Values, Author Says at Guelph Resilience Festival

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by Joanne Shuttleworth, Guelph Mercury: http://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/5531041-global-climate-and-economic-crises-really-a-crisis-in-values-author-says-at-guelph-resilience-festi/

Andrew Welch doesn't deny there's a crisis. He just has another way of looking at the crisis. And in doing so, he hopes to find a different set of answers. 

Welch is a mathematician by training so it's not unusual that he would use numbers to analyze the state of the world.

But he thinks it's not greed, nor indifference, nor even blinders that are keeping society from making meaningful change in the face of peak oil, climate change and economic instability. 

"It's about values," Welch said to an audience at the Guelph Resilience Festival on Saturday, and ours is a number-based world.

Welch used graphs and charts to explain three different ways of assigning value to something: a marginal value, absolute value or quantitative value.

He used the example of a snow shovel to explain marginal value. If you don't have a shovel and it's snowing outside, one shovel has great value, he said. But every other shovel you own has less value to the point where so many shovels could get in the way of the door that they have no value at all. In graph form there's a line with a sharp upward line that then flattens.

Absolute value is another way to measure value and Welch offered the example of water. "We need water to live, so it is valuable," he said. "But we have lots of it so its value does not continue to rise." In graph form this looks like a hill with a gradual rise and gradual decline.

The problematic way of looking at value is when we use a number-based or quantitative value system and that, unfortunately, is the formula used by government, by businesses and by economists.

Graphically, it's a line with a steady upward incline. It's linear, consistent and limitless, Welch said. It's the cost-benefit analysis; the build a business case scenario; the growth is good idea. And it's unsustainable.

"More is always worth more in this system," Welch said. "There's no concept of sufficient. And there's nothing natural about it."

So it's not corporate greed or conservative policies that are keeping society from responding to the oil crisis or environmental disasters in meaningful ways, but our unhealthy dependence on numbers and growth, Welch said.

That dependence has led to internal conflict as we all struggle with balancing our values as consumers, as investors and as citizens. The consumer in us wants a deal, the investor in us wants growth and the citizen inside wants to do what's right for now and the future.

He said corporations represent number-based values and the push for growth; the marketplace seeks out cheap prices and until recently government and religious institutions acted as our moral compass and represented citizen values.

"We all have these three conflicting values and the proportionate value is different with every person," Welch said. "The problem is there is no entity that represents citizen values at the societal level. As nasty as corporations may seem, they are only doing what we program them to do If we want to change things, we have to reduce their influence and change our expectations."

This prompted discussion from attendees, who agreed that municipal government has more power than higher levels of government to impact people's daily lives. But many in the room felt that government was more concerned with re-election than making changes for long-term benefit.

Is a global catastrophe necessary to force positive change, someone asked?

"Not necessarily," Welch replied. "The major take-away today is to be able to recognize the number-based values and human-based values. No value crisis can be solved from the same value system that created it."


Transition town is a grassroots community project that seeks to build resilience in response to peak oil,{+[}{+1}{+]} climate destruction, and economic instability by creating a local group that uphold the values of the transition network.


jshuttleworth@guelphmercury.com

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