Living Sufficiently and Sustainably: NIFEA (New International Financial and Economic Architecture) E-Conference on De-growth.
- World Council of Churches
- World Communion of Reformed Churches
- The Lutheran World Federation
- World Methodist Council
- Council for World Mission
From Lutheran World website: “How do we address the contradictions between modern society’s obsession with limitless economic growth and the ecological limits of our unique planetary home? Are there models of good life that meet the needs of all people, sharing wealth and power, whilst nurturing the environment? What resources do we have and what strategies can we employ as faith communities to empower a just and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a transition from a growth-oriented, extractivist economic paradigm to a life-affirming economy where all of God’s creation can flourish?”
The NIFEA E-conference takes the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a vital backdrop for reflection and discussions. It seeks to develop a short ecumenical message directed to the G20 Leaders’ Summit taking place in Rome from 30-31 October 2021 on the theme of “People, Planet and Prosperity”.
Restoring our ecological biodiversity, Reversing climate change, and Redistributing global wealth are the three biggest issues challenging ecological and economic justice. Intemerate Accounting is a post-growth initiative that could provide the systemic sea-change necessary to address this crisis in global governance.
I believe it is apparent that we are on the brink of global catastrophe and that the structures and choices expressed in our present economic system valorizes rather than punishes ecocide, wealth and health disparities and perpetuates the kind of exclusionary practices that invokes this doomsday outlook.
It is also apparent that the crises that we are faced with is an existential conundrum. Peace achieved through War is a moral hypocrisy. How can we take pledges of good climate policies seriously if our leaders continue to provoke military incursions with the most reckless abandon? Demilitarization, de-occupation and decolonization—We cannot address post-growth if we continue to reproduce these very conditions that enable hegemony.
So having gotten that out of the way, I will demonstrate in the outline that Intemerate Accounting is an achievable post-growth campaign addressing the issues of environmental sustainability, well-being, and global governance. If our objective is to reduce fragility factors, we must focus on growing factors that promote economic and ecological justice, like restoration, revitalization, and redistribution.
Therefore, we must begin with another kind of accounting methodology that redefines and re-quantifies growth using indicators that developing countries and impacted peoples require.
Intemerate Earth is our campaign to transition our national/regional/and global accounting system. This was initially developed in collaboration with the Pacific Conference of Churches which last year, culminated in the publication of a book called Ecological Economic Accounts: Towards Intemerate Values.
While I initially conceived of this as something that could be promoted through the ACP countries, it really was geared towards a program for Pacific Regionalism to address factors that kept the Pacific tethered to the colonial/post-colonial/neoliberal system. Then in 2020, when the Covid pandemic happened it didn’t take long to realize that this was so much more than a Pacific or an ACP construct. The world demanded change. Our little accounting paradigm really is that explosive, radical seed for global ecological and economic transformation.
While there are many alternative indicators being discussed right now, and new ways for accounting for GDP, what makes the intemerate accounting equation unique is that it does not simply adjust national accounts by adding new environmental indicators. If all we are doing is adding new green or blue indicators, we will not be addressing the issue of redistributing wealth, or moving away from the privatization or neoliberal framework. In fact I would argue that new indicators could simply impose another top-down consent for an eco-neoliberal economy, where the same power structures will be providing security, technology, monitoring, auditing, etc, thereby perpetuating the current system of exploitation and exclusion that we should be moving away from.
Intemerate Accounting is completely different, Firstly, we’ve created a more just way of measuring baselines; secondly we include a factor that allows for a relatively seamless transition away from the dominant GDP-based national accounting system towards one where Wellbeing indicators can modify our national accounts; and thirdly, we are inclusive of real-world market strategies that can make this financially viable for developing countries and underserved communities.
Typically, economic baselines are the starting point—or the base—from which to measure growth. From an economic perspective, baselines are set as a measurement of gains and losses. Baselines could be an absolute figure or a relative figure, but regardless all indicators that measure growth are determined by the baselines we set. They are the starting point.
The unique thing that the intemerate baseline does is that it inverts the starting point to be the goal and captures the incremental data towards restoring the baselines.
In the Pixar movie “Soul” that came out last year—coincidentally, the same month that the Intemerate Accounts book was published– the main character, after he “transitions,” he has to wait in that long line to get into heaven, and then realizes that to get there, he has to reunite with his soul to repair his merit. We are in that kind of time. We need to reunite with our baselines and engage in an economy of reparations.
This inversion is a foundation for the kind of systemic reparations we need to break out of this cyclical terror of history. This reversal is a much better reflection for measuring environmental and social indicators, as it gives value to people’s interactions with ecological and wellbeing indicators rather than treating everything as a commodity.
This inversion is represented in our equation, with “n” representing the factor that is being restored. You can apply this to almost any environmental condition and record this with quantifiable data to meet the real world conditions for auditors and regulators. And while I know this sounds like a very bold assertion, I would put it to the test in real world terms. To make a claim that there is a tangible equation that can be used to restore our ecological biodiversity, reverse climate change, and redistribute global wealth sounds like hyperbole, or snake oil, or some magic fountain of youth, but it is not. This is simply a mathematical formula that can be tested through an input-output table, one that would indubitably find that over time our interactions will determine the rate by which restoration and rehabilitation can occur in quantifiable and relatively predictable terms.
Rather than a top-down commodity driven approach where environmental values are leveraged against carbon offsets for example, the intemerate baseline is a bottom-up approach where environmental values are determined by the interactions of local communities. What could be better than local, indigenous, or customary processes developing and benefiting from their own services and technologies to meet their targets and goals on their timeline.
Imagine that by inverting the baseline, there could be a verifiable way to quantify our ecological interactions, and essentially own our data, protecting the inherent wealth of environmental, health and wellbeing factors.
We have mapped a curriculum that outlines the micro and macro coordination needed to implement and grow this framework, but what we lack is the kind of on-the-ground institutional support that our interfaith councils offer, and the ability to communicate this story to their communities. Organizationally, we have developed some tools like the intemerate characters, the manifesto and the curriculum, but we simply need more engagement with institutional governance.
When we consider the accounting standards checklist for ESG or Environmental and Social Governance, we’re talking about a reporting format focusing on corporate governance around nonfinancial measurements for environmental sustainability and social impacts. ESG, has not yet been standardized or quantified, which I would say is one of the objective goals in the current international climate and SDG meetings. The question remains, how do we quantify what is inherently unquantifiable? These methods and standards need to be worked out, and the only solution that seems to be on the table is the worst one of all—the privatization, and valuation of our resources based on commodity scarcity.
Very briefly, I just want to say that Wall Street has recently created a commodity investment sector on water trades based on California water prices. It’s these kinds of utilities that appear to check off the environmental sustainability box in ESG reporting, but it does so at the expense of people and their rights to access. So I cannot help but wonder if much of the military base building near aquifers, or the licenses given to industries that contaminate our ground water, inflates the commodity scarcity pricing of water, and if it does, what that does to peoples access to water in developing countries and our own communities.
As a bulwark against degradation and depletion, we could treat the Intemerate Equation as a financial index—like a stock index. But rather than it being managed by Wall Street, an intemerate index can be managed by the very same communities that are doing the work. This is particularly relevant as the IUCN recognizes the central and essential role of indigenous communities in stewardship and conservation of biodiversity. There is a high potential for creating new financial markets based on the measurement of our interactions rather than on the valuation of commodities, shifting the demand for extraction towards one that values service. This data belongs to indigneous and customary rightsholders and stakeholders, not Wall Street fund managers.
Intemerate Data could provide the triple benefits of sustainable livelihoods, decentralized local ownership and democratic participation through financial access. Intemerate Accounting aims to enable this kind of access and infrastructure.
We all have the opportunity to measure, to count, to examine, to protect, to nurture, to analyze, to collect, to describe, to compile, to publish, to monitor and manage our environments. This is a service that is certainly much older than capitalist and privatization regimes, and our local economies should benefit from these interactions. What the intemerate baseline does is serve as a kind of verifiable guideline for regulators and auditors to mark the rate of restoration, to see whether communities are indeed attaining the goals they have set for themselves.
In light of the promise of optimism I mentioned in my introduction, I would like to respond to the Ask and Call-to-Action that is inscribed in the timeline, and end with a request: If Intemerate Accounting complements and catalyses other initiatives to produce the post growth and post-colonial future that we want and deserve, then can we raise this math over the spectre of our current global governance?
Session 1, 10:00 – 12:00
- Dr Rogate Mshana, moderator (Tanzania, Oikotree)
- Lemaima Jennifer Vai’i (Fiji, Pacific Conference of Churches)
- Dr George Zachariah (India and New Zealand, Trinity College)
- Dr Martin Kopp (France, Federation of Protestant Churches in France)
- Prof. Lalrindiki Ralte (India, Aizawl Theological College)
- Rosario Guzman (Philippines, Ibon Foundation)
Summary of the discussion:
- Rev. Dr Peter Cruchley (CWM), Rev Dr Sivin Kit (LWF), Rev Philip Peacock (WCRC), Athena Peralta (WCC), and Bishop Rosemarie Wenner (WMC)
Session 2, 14:00 – 16:00
- Rev. Dr Gordon Cowans, moderator (Jamaica, Ecumenical Panel on a NIFEA)
- Rev. Chebon Kernell (USA, Native American Comprehensive Plan, United Methodist Church
- Dr Arnie Saiki (USA-Hawaii, Imipono Projects)
- Dr Fundiswa Kobo (South Africa, University of South Africa)
- Dr Priya Lukka (UK, Goldsmith University)
- Rev. Rozemarijn van’t Einde (Netherlands, De Klimaatwakers)
Summary of the discussion:
- Rev Dr Peter Cruchley (CWM), Rev Dr Sivin Kit (LWF), Rev Philip Peacock (WCRC), Athena Peralta (WCC), and Bishop Rosemarie Wenner (WMC)
Interpretation into Spanish will be available for this session.