Prof. Dr. André Reichel (ISM) & Dr. Jana Stöver (THE NEW INSTITUTE, CAU-Kiel) presented “regenerative cultures” as a possible new paradigm. Instead of growth, this paradigm focuses on the restoration (regeneration) of ecological resources as well as human and social vitality. In this way, the growth debate about sustainable growth, degrowth and post-growth could be overcome. Instead, a radical rethinking of the economy is necessary. The struggle for terms and indicators is indispensable, because: “The limits of our language are also the limits of our world”. The economic logic of cost-benefit analysis could not work in the context of planetary boundaries. One example is the difficulty of the economic valuation of ecosystem services.
In the subsequent panel discussion, Prof. Dr. Peter Messerli (University of Bern) emphasised that the concept of “regenerative cultures” makes it clear that positive feedback loops are needed to accelerate the transformation. At the same time, he also pointed to the question of global justice and the right to economic development. Furthermore, it must be possible to translate welfare indicators into local realities. He criticized the fact that SDG rankings are often used in politics. This ignores the interconnectedness of the individual goals.
Prof. Dr. Julia Steinberger (UNIL) advocated for moving beyond measuring wellbeing and to put current consumption and production habits at the centre of the discussion. She argued that one of the drivers of unsustainable growth is the entrenched idea in society that wellbeing depends on consumption, when research clearly shows that material wealth beyond a certain minimum level does not guarantee wellbeing. In her view, scientists should more openly question the role of powerful sectors and actors of the economy and empower citizens to act in the favor of future generations.
Prof. Dr. Tom Krebs (Mannheim University) was open to possible alternatives to GDP. It was conceivable, he said, that one could develop a combination of 3 indicators, namely material prosperity, ecological sustainability and social justice. He also advocated the establishment of a uniform decision-making calculus and explained consequentialism as the related philosophical basis.
Janine von Wolfersdorff (THE NEW INSTITUTE) pointed out the existing misaligned incentives in the tax system. On the one hand, environmental risks are not yet reflected in accounting, which is a fundamental problem for the ecological transformation of the economy. On the other hand, companies are increasingly expressing the wish to adapt the tax system to the ecological problems. This was also shown in a recent study commissioned by The New Institute.
The conclusion that could be drawn from this session is that further indicators beyond GDP are needed, but that these do not absolve us of our responsibility to act and, if we question growth, we must also question those who benefit from the economic system.