Reply To: 26.5.2014 Ancient Futures

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Sabbath Sunday # Posted on May 27, 2014 at 07:51

Seminar 10, 26th May: Globalisation, Environment and Livelihood
Reflection by Sabbath Sunday

Question: How can we define happiness? Is happiness a crucial foundation of a sustainable world? Discuss this based on ‘Ancient Futures’ by Helena Norberg-Hodge.

According to the Brundtland Report which is also known as ‘Our Common Future’, Sustainability is based on the principle that ‘everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations’. It emphasizes among many things, the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs. Also that humans should ‘see the world as a system—a system that connects space; and a system that connects time’. And when you think of the world as a system over time, you start to realize that the decisions our grandparents made about how to farm the land continue to affect agricultural practice today; and the economic policies we endorse today will have an impact on urban poverty when our children are adults.

My reflection on the above question and also according to Norberg-Hodge’s book: Its title ‘Ancient Futures’ is relevant to the principles of sustainability. It calls the reader to consider traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) as a relevant issue in designing and maintaining a ‘sustainable world’. Ancient knowledge is quite important to our modern time and our future in contrast with science and technology whose impacts have been detrimental to global ecology. We are confronted with environmental dilemmas because of our economic policies aimed at rising standards for the few and the rest remaining in dire poverty. As the poor turn to the environment for subsistence, the rich will increase their competition for resources, both of which have severe and negative effects on nature.

According to Norberg-Hodge’s argument about the ‘economics of happiness’, humans should live harmoniously with nature while maintaining social interconnectedness as in the case of Ladakh people. This happiness can only be achieved through the idea of localization as contrasted with globalization. Through economic subsidies, burning of fossil fuels, the proliferation of multinational commercial companies, competitive local businesses and the threat to cultural identity are slowly and steadily taking away happiness of Ladakh people as environmental pollution is taking its toll.
So what did ‘this economic happiness’ look like among the Ladakh people and how can it be relevant to localization for a sustainable world? First, social interconnectedness through extended families and belief in themselves through respect especially the young and the old; bring us back to the argument of linking the ancient to the future which is the foundation for sustainability through localization. Every member of the society is employed through division of labour as they share the benefits of their local economy. There is less or no pollution and diseases are also non prevalent while their foods are grown organically. Norberg-Hodge continues to argue that she has seen that community and a close relationship to the land can enrich human life in terms of happiness, beyond all comparison with material wealth or technological sophistication.

Finally the ‘emerging global economy and the growing domination of science and technology are not only worsening our connection to nature and to one another but also breaking down natural and cultural diversity’.