What does Natural Prosperity look like?
In this lecture we envision a new, more equitable future where wellbeing and nature-based solutions take the place of growth at any cost. Growth has almost vanished in industrialised countries since the global financial crisis of 2008.
By breaking free from growth, a new economy based on natural prosperity can contribute to our survival and success in future.
A lecture by Jacqueline McGlade
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:
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- So, this is going to be my last Gresham Lecture as the Frank Jackson Professor of the Environment. So for those of you who stayed the course, it's been a four-year course for 23 lectures. This is the last one. But what I've been able to do is use the lectures, I think, to build a story and over the last year, I think, bring it together into something that I'm calling natural prosperity. So it's been a huge privilege to be able to do that, to have this moment again and again and again to revisit ideas and see how they all come together. I don't know whether it can be considered a philosophy or a series yet, we'll have to see. Time will tell. But what I have tried to do is to finalize ideas and crystallize them into some kind of succinct thesis that for me feels right. And the more people I speak to and talk to about it, I think it resonates with a lot of people. So what I'm seeing it more as is a sort of motivation. Let me think of it like that. A motivation of how we can survive, maybe thrive on the future of this very, very changeable planet. And that's what I'm going to try and do tonight is sort of do a quick rapid tour of some of the highlights, I hope, and see how we can piece it together. So I'm going to look at it through the lens of humans and nature, try and bring them together sometimes. I'm going to spend a bit of time on words and ontology, ideas about how they come together and how they resonate with young people particularly as well as older people, in the idea that we want to try and create what social action practitioners think about, which is you have to act to change. You have to feel the change. You can't just think the change. So by the way, there's a deliberate mistake. And anyone who gets that deliberate mistake is going to get a copy of the book. That's my big incentive to finish the book, and I give you a free copy, I promise you that. So when you write in to say, I spotted the mistake, then I'll be very happy to do that. And if more than one person spots the mistake, then I'll have to give out more copies, I can see. So let's just step back a little bit and think about where I began, which was talking about visions of prosperity. And in a sense, what I was trying to do was to find the language that would motivate people, get them to really think about how they could act in the best interests of both humanity and the planet's ecosystems. And in a way, that became the reason for natural prosperity. Because in a sense, if you go back to Galileo and you think about the tenets that he had, the reasoning, sort of explanations about nature and then put that together with a conceptual model of prosperity, that's what I really felt was needed. It's very easy to get carried away in the sort of economic terms. And it's very easy to get swept up in the ideas of, you know, GDP being good for us and so on. But at the same time, nobody is speaking on behalf of planet Earth. No one is speaking on behalf of communities who aren't even playing in the same field. I mean, they're just not doing GDP. So what I have done over the years is work with lots of communities and ask them, "Well, what does prosperity mean to you? And the two pictures on the left are images put together by communities from Kenya, two tribal communities. Completely different words in their own language, but the elements of prosperity were the same. So community, leadership, the environment, education and so forth. So all the same kind of ideas, but in their mind put together in a different way. A calabash where milk is the sort of driver of that economy and that way of living, and the warrior status, the shield and the way in which warriors think from the Maasai. And then just looking at people in the city and so on, ideas of prosperity like, I need this. I need all this money. I need to have it. In contrast with people who are very much at the other end where they still consider they have prosperity, but they're talking about getting the groceries. They're actually literally talking about the day-to-day, and they feel, in a sense, prosperous when they make the end of the day with the children in bed and everybody fed. I mean, it's a completely different sort of set apart. And then people who think about prosperity more as a social good, the way that we can create communities sort of coming together. Cooperative cafes, opening up spaces. That, for a group of people, means prosperity. And then in the minds of many governments, but even the ones thinking in a green way, this sort of landscape of interventions of renewable energy and people doing things in the environment and so on. A sort of rather happy, happy land picture. So it's imperative, in fact, that we capture those words because if you think about people like Elinor Ostrom who, she won the Nobel Prize, talking about how we look after natural resources and you combine that with a lot of the things that people in the political side of things are looking at, realism. They really have a sense in the political world of, and you you'll hear this, the neoliberals, the neocons and so on that life is as you see it, and meaning is exactly what is in front of you. But of course, what Ostrom and others were thinking about was this community mentality where yes, resources were in front of you, but you didn't over-exploit them, but you didn't do it because of the community around you. And I think in a sense, that's what I want to explore with natural prosperity. It's not about rationalism or liberal or neoliberals, people using sort of game theoretic approaches, winners and utility models. In fact, my experience of working all over the world with different peoples is that, in fact, it's mostly about exchange. It's about barters. It's about how you make a deal with others in your local community. And how do you capture that? Well, you capture it often in the life lived. So you'll have people who feel passionately about biodiversity, thinking about the intrinsic value of biodiversity beautifully captured in the UN Convention. And these words resonate with many about the diversity, the aesthetics. We read sometimes about people being crushed when they see an iconic animal like a seal with plastic around its neck because in a sense that's jarring. It's a personal impact. It's not just an animal out in the wild. So there are groups of people who are completely and utterly immersed in the meaning of biodiversity as part of their sense of prosperity. There are others who have come to the conclusion that there is no separate economic logic when it comes to nature. It should be a continuum. That if nature is functioning, actually we don't need to sort of carve off economy and make some elaborate set of equations because it should all essentially be a continuum, and I firmly believe in that particular concept, but there's also a sense of prosperity being cut off for future generations. And so, you know, you look at people who are influencing the future. David Attenborough is an obvious one, but people who've written books for years have come with stories that have genuinely affected a particular generation's attitude towards animals, towards the planet, and really changed that thinking. So what we're talking about is not monetary. It's an emotional connection to planet Earth, and that's not easy to capture in equations. It's not easy to capture in a scientific paper, although several have tried. There's a whole group of people who've tried to bring natural prosperity, so to speak, into the asset ledgers of countries. So we have an enormous effort at the moment talking about accounting structures. And I spoke a lot about that in one or two lectures, which was to say, if you can measure it, it matters. There's a lot of people that say that, but the more I sort of deal with the real world and the natural world, there are lots of things that you cannot measure. The fact that a river flows and is ephemeral in sometimes of the year and not in others, is far more powerful than actually looking at how many gallons or how many liters of water is actually flowing in that river. Its presence in the landscape is far more important sometimes than simply the quantity of water flowing down it, although that is also important. So thinking about nature and natural philosophy, generally speaking, has always led us down to, you've got to count things. And what I'm saying is, there's a lot more to the planet Earth than the things that we see as humans. There's a lot more going on. We also know that a lot of the market failures that have tried to combine resources with people have simply been a failure. And so really in a way to understand what matters is to understand both human frailties and how markets have essentially sometimes driven us towards those failures. Prince Charles said, "Prosperity is about tackling the impact of consumerism, which currently depends upon the unfettered exploitation of the extraordinary bounty of nature and the limits that we have failed to respect." And he's right in so many ways, but in this particular one, he's right because recognizing the extraordinary bounty of nature doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to constrain and restrain ourselves. And so obviously if you are on the edge, if you're right out on the limits of where, you know, people are actually just surviving, they're certainly not thriving, then you don't have that sense of extraordinary bounty of nature in terms of humans. But I've spoken to many people who are living in extreme conditions, whether in the Northern part of Kenya, up in Greenland where I've just been, just really trying to make out enough in terms of being able to feed yourself and so on. But again, they don't see themselves as being poor. They don't see themselves as having a frugal life. They can appreciate the bounty of nature and they can carve out a life on that basis. But when we come into sort of the mainstream of society, what I feel that sometimes we've lost is that sense of honor and personal dignity which connects to others, which allows the sort of natural prosperity to grow. And if you go to a lot of indigenous groups, you see that alive and well. Here's some wonderful Maori women, and they speak passionately about the congruity of nature and of prosperity and of wellbeing, but it's all tied up with the idea of honor and personal dignity. If you were to take them onto the textbooks of the World Bank, they would absolutely fall into the category of poor, as far as the World Bank's definition is. They would certainly be in the income inequality category. But in fact, if you think about even today, many of the studies that are coming out on national economic productivity, employment, household income, it's very clear that even today with the state of inflation, everything else in the UK and everywhere else, that if you stop for a moment and ask people what state of mind are they in, many people will still say that they have happiness and life satisfaction. So they may be struggling, but at their core, people still have that sense of life satisfaction. And it's because they've been able to hold onto a lot of these other issues around honor and dignity and an understanding of the natural world around them. So valuing and valuing nature and valuing the planet comes from a purpose. It comes from striving, striving to achieve something, maybe striving to live in a frugal way. Not having a big, for example, carbon footprint or maybe just simply doing something simple like eating local food, not traveling so far by car and so on. So valuing and that purpose are at the core, I think, of natural prosperity. And the other things that are there have words like, as I mentioned, dignity, where everyone has enough to live in comfort, safety, and happiness. Nature, nature's restored. It's safe. It's a safe world for us to live. Connection, this is another very strong word that comes out when we interview people about prosperity. So a sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good, don't simply serve the elites. Fairness, which is justice in all its dimensions, right at the heart of the economic system, so to speak, so that the gap between the rich and the poor is reduced. And then participation, probably one of the most fundamental things that I believe needs to be there which is, so it's people, citizens actively engaged in their communities, in locally-rooted economies. And self-determination, in other words, not just accepting the rules that someone else brings in, but actually making decisions around how they want to live. It's really fascinating. I was in a community in Iceland called Cittaslow. Djupivogur is a little community on the east coast, a fishing village now going from 100 people to 400 people because they decided to adopt something called Cittaslow, which as some of you may know, is the Italian movement, the slow food movement. What started out as slow food has become slow living. And it's quite interesting how it's sort of transforming the way that people see themselves. And as a result of it, unlike all the other parts of Iceland, young people and families are moving there. They're moving there because they see that this is a genuine alternative. It's not just something that's going to pass by. So I spent some time understanding where they thought this was all going. And they said that they had read about natural prosperity. And I was talking genuinely, and the older generation, some of the rather curmudgeonly ladies, I have to say, (laughs) were absolutely amazingly locked in to this idea that they had had so many skills and so many ideas that were congruent with what I'm talking about. And so did all these young people. The problem seemed to be in the sort of generation in the middle who, if you know anything about Icelandic history, had lived through the collapse of the economy and clawed their way out and now saw that having the car and many, many other things was the sign of great success. But the young generation, the older generation were going in the other direction completely. And so we talked about, what was the difference? Why is this community growing? And so they went through a whole list. And I'll just tell you what they said. They talked about valuing the community institutions. So the local mayor, the school teacher who was also the music teacher, the sense that people had facilitated discussions on where the future of this community was going. Training, so basically education training about nature and about all the things that they could do together. Being able to ask very powerful questions of their political leaders, allowing people to express themselves through images and stories, not always in a very intellectual way or by singing and so on. Thinking about the long term as well as the short term, encouraging a lot of reflection, self-reflection. Always asking why and follow-up questions and coming back always to the core values of the community. Is it successful? Yes, it is. But not as successful as the community down the road who took a stand against a fish factory, opening up a polystyrene box factory to send the fish that they catch to Reykjavik because the airline said they had to have it. And so they're looking over the fence and they're saying, "What is it?" And it was because the village up the road is valuing the environment and they don't want to have polystyrene flowing all over the place and getting into the marine environment. And so there's been this interplay then between the two communities and it's leading to a very, very rich discussion asking questions. Why, why, why? And I think as a result of it, the factory will now produce polystyrene made out of algae so that'll be a very good step forward. So asking questions and really sort of challenging is very important. So if we think about living a sort of locally abundant life, we also need to measure that against a globally frugal society because otherwise we are just going to carry on in the same way that we have. And that's exactly why we are where we are with climate change, with waste, with consumption and so forth. There is no doubt that we're on a hiding to nowhere with this one. And living in this way, living locally abundant is a state of mind. Essentially, humans need a certain number of calories delivered in a certain way. You need to feel safe and all those other things that the communities nicely identified as prosperity. And it literally is a case of social norms becoming the practice. So if people do it, if your neighbor does it, we see again and again and again that actually you can move. You can move communities in this direction. So the problem of course, is that if you talk about a globally frugal society, it doesn't sound very appealing so we have to think of nicer words than that. But as we kind of go forward into the world in the future, there is a fundamental problem. And it's about how we make decisions in a very uncertain world. And if there was ever a time to think about uncertainty, it's absolutely now with COVID and various other things. But I want to just focus on a very early lecture that I gave which was about malnutrition. And four years down the line, I've been watching and keeping track of some of the things that I was talking about at that time. So what we know is to make people move in a certain direction, they're making basically deliberative processes happen in their head and in their body and so forth. But what we know is that when environments and the world gets uncertain, it's quite difficult to get people to take the time out to make those kinds of deliberative ideas come to the fore. But what many of you may not know is it's all in your head. It's in this place called the basal ganglia. That's where it's all happening, right? And we need to protect that. And if you read about bees, particularly worker bees, buried in our ancient mid-brain this set of neurons, the basal ganglia is what releases dopamine, which basically influences our behavior. And this is where you also learn about temporal difference learning and gratification. So the idea, of course, is that everything is going along nicely and the temporal difference learning explores, discovers, you make decisions. Ooh, that was good. Ooh, I'll do that again. Ooh, I like that. And then you create your internal values. It's deep, deep, deep inside you. It's very difficult. And it's why consumerism is so addictive. That feel-good factor as you take the shirt off the shelf, even though it might have been a spontaneous decision. 98% of your choices in the shop are spontaneous whether you'd like to admit it or not. Forget the shopping list. It's a bit of discipline that may not work. So as you take the shirt off, oh, this is great. The dopamine starts flowing and off you go. Addiction number 10, you know. It's just, it's there. There's also people who talk about when they make a gut feeling otherwise known as a guess. Okay, you turn on your own dopamine. When you say, "Oh, I've got a gut feeling about that," this is you turning on your own kind of self entrainment, all right. So that's all well and good, though it's not really because of addictions, but there's another bit of the brain, which they think there's a feedback to. And that's the hippocampus. And that's the one I want to just show you in these pictures. Those of you who may have come to that lecture, I talked a lot about malnutrition. And in many parts of the world, but in Africa where I am, you see two types. You see kwashiorkor, which is at the top. And well, essentially these two, I won't go into the details of them, but effectively children look on the top as if they're quite healthy. They've got slightly swollen bellies, but effectively inside their organs are melting down. But the little boy here who reminds me so much of a little boy in my village. He's just a spitting image of him. He's not so skinny. He is absolutely as thin as anything, but give him food and his whole metabolism just takes off again and very quickly reestablishes. The challenge is that the children at the top and the children at the bottom, if they're starved in the first 1,000 days, their hippocampus doesn't start to develop properly. And what happens with the hippocampus later in life is it's where your executive powers are sited. So why do we care about executive powers? Well, these are the ones that talk about social pain, about virtue, about your reaction to things that happen, shocks to the system. So imagine now you're in a crowd, and in that crowd are a lot of people who are or who were malnourished in that first 1,000 days. And suddenly someone fires a gun. Maybe it's the election crowd. Something is happening. There are people there. It's quite agitated and someone fires a gun. The young people whose brains did not develop well in terms of executive powers and decision making because of this period in their lives will react violently because they don't have the self-restraint, not their fault, but they just simply don't have the mechanism of self-restraint. And so that's why treating malnutrition is a deadly serious thing because it's not about just the time that you help children to survive. It's about the long-term effect. Now we have a lot of immigration, a lot of mass movement, people moving around the world, and this is not to be prejudiced, but it's just to say, we should be extremely understanding of young people who have come from very, very poor and potentially malnourished households because they may not be able to have the same decision-making capabilities as others who've been well fed in those first 1,000 days. Another thing, of course, is that it constrains growth and many other things. And in fact, in my own village, I can tell the people who lived in that early period of their life through a massive period of malnutrition, starvation, and famine. They just didn't grow as large. So you literally can create the timing of these big events. So without food, people change, and sometimes they change for the rest of their lives. So that's really important. And that also is important when it comes to our kind of memories and how we respond because as we are then confronted again and again by different things, whether it is COVID, whether it is warfare, of course, but many other things, what we know is that when unknowns combine exponentially, our attention and working memory, which normally can enable us to focus on one problem at a time just fail. We cannot manage to think about too many issues and problems that are serious at one time. And you'll hear this. You'll hear this, not just from the long COVID cases, but you'll hear it recently many people saying, "You know, I wake up at night. I listen to the radio, I'm listening to what's happening in Ukraine. And then I'm listening to the failures of the food. And then I'm listening to this and I literally can't cope. I cannot manage all of that at one time." And that's because our executive systems, our executive decision making systems and all the other things that go around it just simply can't manage. And that's where education is absolutely vital because what education systems do is they help us to increase our memory capacity, but they also help us to put things into a range of situations, sort of understanding where uncertainty sits in that set of situations. And the reason this is important is because as you imagine all these different things that are happening, we're trying to create an opportunity for people to imagine a future. And this might be a future where we've got climate change under control, and that's going to take something between complacency and urgency. You have to sort of bring two things together to look for that system change, the system change in behaviors. So whether it's climate change or antimicrobial resistance or what we're going to do with droughts, what we're going to do with nano materials, everything is coming at us. And every one of them could instigate a period of complacency or urgency. And if you sit back and you look at the social media, you look at how people are communicating, genuinely, people don't join the dots, particularly in the press and elsewhere because if you joined all the dots together, I mean, it's a very, very, very bad read, quite honestly. So one of the things that one has to do is to flip that on its head, still create the connections between it, but show how by fixing one piece, you can create benefits in all the others. So instead of it being a cascade down, it's a cascade up. And that's where we sort of need to be. And this is about the growing planetary awareness because you read about the plastics and so many things that are affecting our bodies. In the end, we cannot transcend our biology. I mean, that's it. We are humans. We have a physical body. And with that in mind, you need to pay attention to certain points. So I spent quite a lot of time at the beginning of the series about chemicals and hazardous chemicals and waste and how we're sort of building up inside our bodies a whole burden of that. And even though we're very clever, unfortunately our bodies are what they are. We are furless, slightly fat bipedal primates. We crave salt, sugar, fat, starch even though we're actually adapted to eating many things, fibrous fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds and meat and so on. And ironically, although many of you may not think it, we actually have bodies of endurance. If you were put to it, I guarantee all of you could walk many miles, many kilometers in a day. You can climb and you can dig and you can carry. So you have many of the attributes of elite athletes. The only problem is that we tend to live indoors. And when we do, we get all these diseases of affluence put upon us, right? Because we've got novelty, we've got disuse of things, we get a kind of pernicious feedback in our bodies, and that's a pernicious feedback between culture and biology. So it's a sort of intricate dance between cultural signals, the biology of our body and all those cravings and its addictions. Remember the dopamine deep in our brain saying, "More, more, more, more, more." So you're having to literally fight hard if you want to break that feedback loop. In the past, we were molded by nature, no doubt about it. And in fact, given the extreme uncertainties in many parts of the world, it's just as well we were because we actually were able to endure huge changes, including climate and that. So the challenge that we have is that we think that cultural innovation will take us a long way, but actually danger surrounds all of us. Hazardous chemicals, tobacco, sugar, many, many other things. The challenge, of course, is that we value and we habitually value costs and benefits more highly in the near term than in the long term. So I'll just have one more chocolate bar. I'll just have that, you know, ooh, I'll just have a drink now and then I'll stop next week, you know? So it's all a case of just the short term, I'll just have that little kick. It's great, you know? But if you start to put it all together and you think about it as a sort of an assemblage of these norms and reactions to, let's say, tackle climate change, then taking public transport, sharing cars, purchasing E-vehicles and all of that we're seeing is beginning to shift the dial. So it's not just one thing. It's connecting the things so that all the small pieces, all the small changes that break the link between our addictions are really what we're looking for. We're looking for that connectivity. So I gave a lot of time, about three or four lectures, about the connections, connections between humans, between nature and our societies and culture around how we use resources. And it's about our relationship, to be quite honest with that. There is a sense undermining us though, unfortunately, because anything that's easy and comfortable is good for us. Shoes, for example. You know, we all wear shoes. Well, not everybody wears shoes. And when you stop wearing shoes for a lot of the time, your whole body actually improves. You have good posture, you walk in a different way and so on. Easy access to the wrong kinds of foods, medicines to stop a headache or cold, the heating and the cooling of our houses, the clothes that fit, taking the lift. I mean, it's endless all the things that we can build into our lives to make them easier. But the problem is that comfort overrides our better judgment so it leads to a lot of wastage and mismatches. We end up having to wear glasses, or because we sit so long, a lot of people have to have spinal surgery or they might have to wear orthotics and so on. So that ease in the short term fails to take account of what the long term will look like. Those of us who are towards the end of our lives realize that we should have done things differently at the beginning, but anyway. But there's a whole raft of things that we should consider, but none more important, I think, than food. So let's just spend a bit of time. I talked quite a lot about food in the lectures because in a way it's so fundamental, it's absolutely fundamental. So in the archeological literature and in research, a lot of time has been put to early farmers and how probably it really was good for everybody. And I'm sure that it definitely initially benefited because you gave new access to food for the early humans and so on. But if you look at humans, and I'm looking here to, I'm looking here to my leader to say whether he believes this or not, but essentially humans shrank because over millennia as agriculture intensified, people produce more food, energy available to each child was, sorry, they produced food, but unfortunately everyone started to live longer so then the amount of food diminished. So there was this sort of tension between producing enough food but then there were more people to feed. And so they were really then faced with fighting infections because now they're more together. There was starvation when crops failed and they didn't have alternatives, working long hours in the fields, sort of endless description of why farming as it was undertaken by millions of the time was not so good in the long run. But it also led, and this is what I was interested in, to the spread of certain genes and certain diseases and so forth. So where are we today? Well, we've come to rely on just a very few staple crops, staple foods. They don't have necessarily the right nutritional diversity or quality. We end up with people having a shortage of vitamin B. They get pellagra. There's many, many diseases associated with food. We have aflatoxin, which is spreading because of climate change. This is a very, very sort of toxic organism that has got into some of the supply chains because of the way we collect because of climate change and so on. We also have plants that are reacting to climate and producing poisons of their own. So there's a toxicity associated with the stress mechanism in certain plants. So our plant world, our food world is changing. So what can we do? Well, we have 80 plant species that are absolutely essential to us. And I'm including barley and maize and millet and sorghum and soybean and sudangrass and wheat. They all have this mechanism which they turn on to protect themselves from overheating. Most people don't know this. And so especially in poor countries, people particularly now are reaching out for other crops to replace the wheat that is too expensive. And so there is a danger that as we turn to crops that are just not crops yet but they're growing, but these plants have been out in the wild for quite some time and they're adapting and they're actually climate tolerant. They're climate tolerant, but they're actually toxic to humans and to cattle and livestock. So we've kind of brought ourselves culturally to a very important crossroad where if you live in a lot of societies and you are dependent on the kind of farming on the right-hand side, which is to deliver cheap food as quickly as possible to as many parts of the world. And you need to seriously think about maybe the left-hand side, which is more regenerative farming where you think about the plants themselves being stressed and trying to remove that stress and growing things in a different way, then you get a huge number of benefits. You get pollination, you get different kinds of livestock benefits. They're much healthier. They don't fart as much. Not as much methane and so on. So huge benefits for this kind of shift. So essentially when you change wholesale your understanding of nature and our place in it, you get a lot of benefits. And I think in a way, that's what the sort of natural philosophy and natural prosperity is all about is understanding well enough the connectivity within the planet and our role and our place in that, that will enable us to actually live a locally abundant but globally frugal world because we will not be shipping so many of these commodities around. It's beginning to happen already. And we have a conversion factor towards regenerative farming at about six or 7% per year. That is a phenomenal movement. So it's, I think in a sense, farmers were taken to the edge. Places like Australia, most of it is being declared almost unlivable now. And many farmers are literally at the edge and deciding whether they're going to be in business next year. But if they get a green loan and they can convert their land towards regenerative farming, which means no till and so on, it will cost them money, but it means their families will stay in business and they will still be able to produce food for many decades to come. But their demand for water, their demand for land will be completely different. So the benefits of rethinking our relationship, even with food, is really important. So if you buy oat milk, for example, a lot of people have gone to plant-based proteins. That's fantastic, but be careful where you get your oats from because you want to be sure that the way that the oats are grown, the way that these plant-based proteins are coming up are not distorting, in a sense, the natural ecosystems or the regenerative processes. Anyway, I feel very optimistic about the way we can deliver food to the whole population on planet Earth, but it's probably not going to be in the volumes that you've had before. So how can we kind of move the dial towards the direction where the connectedness, the linkage, the being together and the health that you can get from the benefits of being close to nature become the norm as opposed to some unusual activity. And I think COVID was the really the turning point for many, many people. So here is a population in Greenland that I've worked with for a long time who during COVID, quite frankly, had a great time because they were connected to the rest of the world in the same way the rest of the world was having to connect. And there was just like normal life, which was in an extreme environment, a highly intensive community. And with still, hopefully for some time to be, access to local resources, local food. That didn't go away in COVID. And so essentially I'm not saying it was no difference, but what was the difference was that they felt connected to more people, but for them, they became in many conversations a kind of example of human resilience. Previously, and this is them reporting back, they were always thought of people who were slightly the victims living out on the edge, disconnected from everyone. But what they demonstrated is that by being in a kind of massive green space, that their health and their health outcomes were much, much higher in terms of better health than most of the rest of the population of the world because they didn't manage to keep COVID out. They had COVID. It came in. But they sort of managed it in such a way that nobody died at all. They did have one or two really quite ill people, but the community as a whole essentially dealt with it and were there in full attention. They obviously had medical attention as well. But afterwards talking to some of the individuals, they reported back that it was like, "Well, we couldn't afford to die because we are part of the community and our time will come. And when it is that time, we will." But this is a community, when people get very old, they still decide whether they'll be a burden to the community. And if they do decide that, there is a long slippery slope of rock that goes down to the Arctic Ocean, and one night they will walk out and they'll walk down the rock and give themselves up to the environment. So it's a very selfless way of living, but they do it because it's a way to keep the community together and not to essentially drag down the community. So if you ever want to see what it's like to live on the edge, it's very, very worthwhile going up to Greenland. But it shows you how resilient humans can be. So a lot of the analysis I've done to look at natural prosperity has been around the kinds of physical activity, the sort of way in which people live and what bit of the basal ganglia is being turned on when individuals who live in this spectacular environment go out, and that's why they don't do very well when they come into places like Copenhagen, into cities. And every indigenous group that you talk to and even people who live in rural environments, they actually don't do very well in urban environments. They can't connect. You know, where's the grass? Where are the animals? And so on. And that sounds very banal, but if you've been connected to nature all of your life, then it's like you've cut off an arm. You've cut off your dopamine. You literally have taken that away. So can we effectively turn the dial for people who do live in urban environments? So in Essex, we're trying through the Climate Commission to ensure that every single person who's living in Essex is no more than 500 meters away, 500 meters away from a green space where you can essentially relax and enjoy nature. 100% of the people surveyed across the county said, "Yes, please. Close the road, do whatever, use money. We need that kind of contact inside the urban environment." So there's a sort of longing that's coming from people to be connected and to talk about the meaning of life, this balance of work and play and so on, a continuum. Remember the community up in Iceland? Four days work, three days play. It seems completely natural there. It may not be always the same four days. It might be mixed around. Even the fishermen themselves. So it's a conscious decision that we need more time with our children, with our community to be together, to be out in the wild and so on. And we'll accommodate the restructuring of the economy locally and we'll accommodate with less money and so forth. So the short-term and the long-term benefits of recognizing what nature brings us means that it fundamentally alters not only your brain and the way you think about the world, but it fundamentally can alter your physiology and how you are. So thinking about redesigning the world, so to speak, comes back to the very end of what I want to leave you with. So for me, natural prosperity is about a shift in the way we think from policies to daily action, from the way we conceive of society, but more importantly, the way that we bring nature into our daily thinking so that the collective wellbeing and the planetary health are just literally one, and it's not airy-fairy thinking. I have to say that in the last few years, there's been a phenomenal shift in serious thinking. And I talked a little bit about impact investors wanting to invest in ecosystem services, payment for ecosystem services, the carbon markets and so on. So I actually do think without being cynical at all that the shift is happening. Now, whether you want to call it natural prosperity or not doesn't matter. The point is that the movement is on its way. And so it means bringing all the actors in. I mean, whether they're politicians, whoever. And there's a series of goals in trying to redesign our world There's no doubt you can't just simply stand up one day and say, "We're going to have natural prosperity." So I try to be very, very practical. And so you have to sort of redesign the human world to be able to design the bigger picture. And so you have to think about participatory and holistic principles, being goal-orientated where the economy is not a means to an end in itself. It's actually a way of promoting human prosperity. Participation, and co-creation. People need to really be serious about it and politicians and others need to be serious about it, but then citizens need to meaningfully engage. They can't just simply wait for someone else to do it. It has to be context appropriate. There isn't one size fits all. If you're in Greenland, one thing will be the case. If you're here in London, there'll be another story. And it depends what age you are whether it's relevant to what you're doing. But one thing is sure, it has to be iterative. It's only by doing things again and again and again that you'll break the habits of the past if they're the things you want to get rid of. So whether it's social or environmental or spiritual, whatever, it's essentially going to have to require social action doing again and again. And on that basis, we need good evidence. I talked a lot about the space programs and different surveying techniques and going around the world and exploring and bringing data in. This is absolutely vital, absolutely essential because people do need the motivation of evidence, but that evidence doesn't always have to be in numbers. It doesn't have to be in accounts. It can be stories. It can be people out on the street, basically take back Fridays, anything like that done again and again and again is really important. And in the end, we need positive framing. We live in a very, very complex world, and to redesign our human world, which means we've got a chance at survival as opposed to clinging onto the edge, we really need to think that there are both negative and positive things. And it's the relationship between them that we need to consider at every step of the process of redesigning our world. And I said a long time ago, and I think I've said it several times, that in Africa, they say, "If you want to go somewhere fast, go on your own. But if you want to really get somewhere, you need to go together to make a difference." So run the race on your own, you'll get there quickly. But if you go with lots of people, you'll be able to make a change in the world. And so I hope that somehow when I finish my book on natural prosperity, you'll read a bit and recognize pieces of it, but I just want to thank everyone whose come and listened all these evenings. And it's been a huge pleasure to be the Frank Jackson Professor of the Environment for the Gresham College. So thank you everybody and yes, the end, dot, dot. (audience applauding) - Thank you very much, Professor McGlade. You, as always, have stimulated a huge number of questions online. I'm sure there are questions in the room as well. I'm going to start off with a killer question from the online audience, which I'm sure we all want to know the answer to. The person says, "This is great. As a busy person like us all, how do I start to live this way? For example, how do I create the time to focus on the right foods and trust the resource I seek it from? Is there a Bible to live by?" - Well, I'm publishing it, (laughs) would be the answer. - That's a very good answer. Okay, well we have to wait till your book to- - Soon, soon, soon. - For the Bible, great. - [Audience Member] Thank you. Thank you very much. Going back to the community you were discussing in Iceland and this whole slow food, slow living, I'm just curious, did that start after the financial crash that happened years ago? So is that somehow connected to why they started this whole movement? - Yes. - [Audience Member] And do we all need, well, we've had a few actually, but (laughs) some disaster to happen so that we can fully engage? - There is nothing like a crisis to bring around a transformation, and Iceland really, really went to the edge. So definitely that's how it started, but they were helped by the Italian community where it came from, who were actually a very poor community who moved towards this feeling of, we need to connect what we do, which is slow food and slow thinking and slow living. And they made a connection to the school, and it was through the education of children that the community picked itself up and budged. I mean, there is not a single sign or advertisement in the town. You cannot read Coca-Cola anywhere. There's no branding. It's like, it's a very odd feeling when you walk into the town to not see any adverts, and that's how it started, yeah. - [Audience Member] Thank you. - I'll take another one from the online audience, and then we'll come back to the room. This is a question I'd like to know the answer to as well. How has living in Kenya with the Maasai changed the way you view natural prosperity? - I have to be honest, completely. If I hadn't lived there, I wouldn't have even thought that natural prosperity was a way of living that is suitable for today. So I thank very much the entire Maasai community for this because they opened my eyes to a way of living that has been there for thousands of years, thousands and thousands, and is doing very well, thank you. So yes, absolutely. - [Host] Thank you. - Thank you very much, indeed, for a lecture. I'm sorry that this is the last one because it's been so stimulating. - Thank you. - As well as very nicely presented. - Thank you. - That doesn't mean to say I agree with everything. - Oh, yes. (audience laughing) - One of the things that is implicit behind a lot of what you're saying, and this is just one of the things. This is not a criticism. You can't cover everything in 50 minutes. Is the power relations. I mean, think of something as simple as the Duke of Northumberland. He wants to clear a lot of people off the allotments so he can construct something which will bring in rent to help him pay off the debts of lots of other property that he owns. And this is a question. As a background as an economist, a statistician, economists'll be very reluctant to consider power relations. The only one I can think of off hand is James Kenneth Galbraith- - So I spent a lot of time worrying about power relations and social capital. And genuinely in the first instance people say, "What can I do?" Or, "It's illegal," or, "I can't do this." And then you see how through elders and communities and young people raising their voices, creating a space that actually change happens, but you have to be very single-minded as a community or as a group of people to fight back. And then it doesn't always work out. So it's an ongoing thing, but just articulating the power relations in the first instance is sometimes enough to raise awareness, and that's what I would always say. Where do you sit in the decision making? Where is your role? And where would you like to be in terms of self-determination looking at your future? And there's always a pathway to get there, I guarantee you. We can find our way through this. It's not very popular being- - [Host] Yes, the gentleman here right in the front. - [Audience Member] Please, can you tell me, or to the audience please, how population reduction could play a part in redesigning the human world. Thank you. - Well, a very personal answer. When I first arrived in the Maasai Mara, the average number of children in each family was nine, 10, 11 or so. And with a guarantee of clean water and safe houses and food, it was actually very possible to speak candidly with parents and with families to say, "From now on, two children only." And one of the motivations was they all wanted their children to get through school, and school is not free. And so we added it all up and here we are four years later, birth control and so on. Would I say that the population is happier? Actually, yes. It's very interesting. It's had this intensification process where all of the adults recognize their responsibilities now. So yes, I do believe that with the right kinds of conversations, you can really turn the tide and we will end up with far fewer people in certain parts of the world so let's see what happens. But take away the danger and people are much more likely to make different kinds of decisions about the size of families. That's one of the crucial things I've learned. - Well, happily for those of us in the room, we can ask Professor McGlade questions after the end of the lecture. For those of you online, I'm afraid you have to beam in, but as we've heard, this is your last lecture as our second Professor of the Environment funded by the Frank Jackson Foundation. As I think many of you know, in addition to her work for Gresham College, Jackie's also Professor of Resilience and Sustainable Development at the University College London, and also professor at Strathmore University Business School in Kenya. For four decades, Professor McGlade has worked on the interface of sustainable development, science, society, and policy. Her research on biodiversity, climate change, ecosystems, oceans, and social dynamics is known the world over. She's undertaken field work and led explorations in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, North America, Europe, the Caucasus, and the Arctic. She's given over 1,000 public lectures around the world, showing her audiences how we can live sustainably on Earth whilst adapting to the changing nature of the environment. She's produced award-winning films, television series, and radio programs, and is scientific advisor on various environmental film series projects. It's an exhausting list of achievements. Your tenure as Professor of the Environment here began in 2018, and you have provided us with a series of fascinating lectures on important environmental issues.Your first series was called, "Frontiers:
Emerging Environmental Issues with Global Implications." This covered topics such as antimicrobial resistance, nanotechnology, childhood malnutrition, food security, and inequality, pollution, and human health. You followed that with a series on the sustainable planet, which looked at the UN Sustainable Development Goals and addressed factors such as health, gender equality, renewable energy, and ocean pollution. In the 2020 to '21 academic year, you focused on interconnections throughout our world in approaching ideas of how to build a just and prosperous planet. And that was followed by your current series culminating this evening on natural capital and the wellbeing economy in which you've looked at the underpinning values and principles and encounters between ecological theory and economics. And I should say that your series have covered such an astonishing range of issues and subjects, all of which have been fascinating, and I should say, quite challenging, I think, for us all to go away and think about. So on behalf of us in the room, on behalf of us online, on behalf of us who've been listening to you over the last few years, thank you very much for everything you've done for the college, and we look forward to inviting you back in the future. - Thank you so much- (audience applauding)