When you spend a lot of time working towards sustainability and social justice, it can seem strange that progress is so slow. Why is it so hard to get agreement on climate change, so long after the science has been accepted? How do we put up with chronic global poverty when there are so many things we could do about it?
In the recent Tearfund report, The Restorative Economy, Alex Evans and Richard Gower look at several reasons for slow progress. There’s no one big reason, they argue, but a “convergence” of factors in three key areas:
1. Out of date governance systems – all our governance mechanisms were built around national interest, making them ill-equipped for the sorts of international issues we face today. They’re also prone to split issues up into categories – financial issues over here, environmental ones over there, when we really need a much more joined up approach.
2. Vested interests – “there are many today who would lose out from the shift to a more sustainable and just economy” say Evans and Gower. Fossil fuel companies are the most obvious, and our financial institutions. They are able to use their size to influence government policy, and to make their arguments to the public too. Every big social change has had opponents who are served by things as they are, so there’s no great surprise there.
3. Public attitudes – awareness of social and environmental issues has risen in recent years, but behaviour hasn’t necessarily followed. People are still reluctant to make lifestyle changes. Another problem is that we depend on pressure from the public to press the government to address global issues, but most people don’t trust politicians and have little interest in political processes. This is one of several reasons why our current low levels of political engagement matter.
These problems are not insurmountable, but they do need to be understood. The Restorative Economy goes on to argue that a grassroots movement with an alternative story is best placed to overcome the inertia.