Sixty-two people own as much wealth as three billion people in our world today.
This is a figure so difficult to comprehend, it’s like the fact that 1 300 000 earths can fit in the sun or that 1000 of our suns can fit in the star Betelgeuse. The vastness is as difficult to wrap your head around as statistics indicating that poor nutrition causes approximately 3 million child deaths each year. Or, that between 250,000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within a year of losing their sight.
Unlike the universe’s big numbers, our own world’s big numbers have direct impact on us, and we should be paying them the most attention.
We are currently experiencing two intersecting crises: an economic crisis and an ecological crisis. Their nexus suggests that even if we are to eventually get out of this bust moment and back into the boom part of the cycle, our growth model will only inevitably bring declining returns, precisely because of its unsustainability. We know this already from irreversible impacts of this model on our ozone, climate and environment.
We can wait for the petrodollars to rise again, and to resort to decades-old, energy-czar logic of downstream industries, and import dependence, but we will nonetheless be burdening our children with ecological costs which we do not currently measure or properly value. And, we will likely to be worse off in relation to drinkable public water, agriculture and affordable food, marine ecologies and waste management the next time around.
Look at Venezuela where the public service has shut down, and where they have had the country shift its clocks forward in a surreal move to create more daytime hours because of, among other reasons, the havoc wrecked by drought on their hydroelectric power. Venezuela’s economy, its government, malls and schools are waiting on rain.
Part of our problem is our measurements and our model. And, if there was ever a time for us to set a new course, these two current crises suggest it is now. First, we have to establish a different, less obsolete conception of what ‘development’ means, and go on to use and develop different measures that instead focus on well-being, equality and happiness across areas ranging from jobs to health, housing, civic engagement and the environment.
If you think this is idealistic or irrelevant, put yourself in the position of the thousands of workers that will lose their jobs this year and ask yourself whether marking our economic recovery by investment, debt and GDP alone will account for the unfair distribution of that recovery and its rewards when they finally trickle down across the country. Indeed, post-GDP economic analyses, which are premised on the idea of a more human economy, are part of a global conversation long happening, with which we in Trinidad and Tobago should be more engaged. But, which state economist or planner is having that conversation here?
Like any citizen looking at the state’s corruption and wastage of money as documented in the latest Auditor General’s report or any mother who finds it hard to be able to take her child anywhere that is garbage-free, ecologically protected and safe from crime, or any worker with a job watching others around me lose theirs, it’s not hard to observe a toxic global economy that is exacerbating suffering, inequalities and biodiversity destruction. And, such suffering counts, if we count it.
Our problem is not just the price of oil. It’s not this one ‘guava season’ in which the poorest are going to bear the biggest burden while we avoid the dignity of even looking them in the eye.
It’s that waste, corruption, tax avoidance, ineffective regulation, and exploitative human and natural resource use are secure in the model on which we rely. It’s that people will rob and riot to express their bewilderment, anger and desperation when informal, low waged, nonunionised, insecure, irregular and illegal work is no longer enough to survive.
The challenge seems astronomical, but sixty-two as wealthy as three billion is not right. These current crises make an alternative world a necessity for which we must fight, or pay with our lives.