“There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” — Herman E. Daly
According to the latest 2015 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report the top 1% of wealth holders now own half of all global household wealth, much of this wealth has been concentrated in the United States and Europe.
A 2014 report by Oxfam warned that the richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population. (1a)
While most of us are aware of the inequality in modern western society it is much less known what impacts such wealth creation have throughout society and the environment.
While there are many wealthy individuals whom contribute to various causes, charities and philanthropic pursuits there is no denying the growth and continued exploitation of the planet in an effort to increase wealth is having devastating consequences.
Today much of this wealth is now concentrated at the very elite and top percentage profile.
Don’t Understand the Concept of Uneconomic Growth
We are now experiencing what many call, uneconomic growth. Uneconomic growth is where there is a decline in the quality of life on Earth. With ever expanding focus on ever increasing profits, companies, executives, shareholders and owners continue to exploit resources and people in an attempt to maximize profits.
This profit driven motive dominating the mainstream and the economic model is creating inequality not just in society, but throughout the natural world. For continued profits, which keep shareholders and owners happy there must be a corresponding increase in profits.
These profits can only come about due to the use of more resources. It doesn’t matter which way you spin it, the concept and very premise economic growth is founded on turning natural resources into goods and services.
Increased Wealth Doesn’t Equal Greater Levels of Happiness
We have all heard the saying, “Money can’t buy happiness.” Recent psychological research has not only shown the truth of this maxim, but has begun to demonstrate that when people organize their lives around the pursuit of wealth, their happiness can actually decrease.
Research on how happiness relates to material wealth by psychologists Edward Diener, Ph.D., and David Myers, Ph.D., clearly documents that people are happier if they live in wealthy, rather than poor nations.
However, once individuals have enough money to pay for their basic needs of food, shelter, etc., money does relatively little to improve happiness. Further, increases in neither national economic growth nor personal income have much effect on changes in the personal happiness of citizens.
Psychological research goes further than this, however, by showing that people who “buy into” the messages of consumer culture report lower personal well-being.
According to research by psychologist Tim Kasser, Ph.D., individuals who say that goals for money, image, and popularity are relatively important to them also report less satisfaction in life, fewer experiences of pleasant emotions, and more depression and anxiety.
Similar results have been demonstrated for a variety of age groups and people around the world.
In addition to these problems with personal happiness, research suggests that strivings for affluence also hurt social relationships and promote ecologically-destructive behaviour. (1)
Generally Wealthy People Are Less Altruistic Than Most
To the uninformed, one might assume that poorer people are more likely to lie, cheat, steal and act unfairly toward others. The opposite is true.
Studies by Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner conducted several studies to determine which socio-economic groups act in their self-interest and disregard the impact they have upon others.
They found that the more wealth one has, the greater the propensity to participate in and behave in a uncompassionate manner.
They found that as people climb the social ladder their feelings towards others decline. Piff and his colleagues suspect the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others.
The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused. Another reason has to do with our attitudes towards greed.
Like Gordon Gekko, upper-class people may be more likely to endorse the idea that “greed is good.” Piff and his colleagues found that wealthier people are more likely to agree with statements that greed is justified, beneficial, and morally defensible.
These attitudes ended up predicting participants’ likelihood of engaging in unethical behaviour. (2)
Wilfully Ignorance in Being Able to See the Greater Connection
The ecological principle formulated back in the 1860’s by Justus Von Liebig, ‘Liebig’s Law’, (also known as the Law of the minimum) originally applied to plant and crop growth illustrates this point.
The law states that, ‘growth is controlled not by the total resources available, but by the scarcest resources, the limiting factor’. An example can be seen in the growth of plants.
If one of the variables that goes into growing a plant, for example, sun, water, nutrients, soil Ph is out of balance or missing (the scarcest resource), then the plant will subsequently die.
In essence, we only have to get one thing significantly wrong for us to face almost certain environmental and societal collapse.
It seems many (not just wealthy) individuals, corporations and governments are hell bent on pursuing the status quo in spite of coming to the realisation that everything is connected.
This failure to see the connection by continually exploiting resources and undermining the systems which support us is rooted in ignorance, arrogance and the inability to understand how everything is connected…