The idea of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world countries is something of a relic in our society. The US and its allies were described as 1st world during the cold war, with the Soviet Union and its allies described as 2nd world, and the rest of the world (specifically the “developing” nations) decreed to be 3rd world. It’s somewhat derogatory, but it persists in our vernacular to this day, even if most educated people refer now to nations as either developed or developing, rather than 1st or 3rd world. Regardless, it brings up an interesting question — what happens next?
Sandra Kwak, founder of 10Power, gave a workshop at the Envision Festival in Costa Rica, discussing paths forward for global sustainable economic development, talking about creating a “4th world” standard for developing nations. Kwak is a Presidio MBA grad who, through TenPower, helps develop renewable, clean energy and self-reliance for those who need it most — developing nations. TenPower helps develop solar projects and then provides financing, and hires local contractors to do the installations (thus building on-the-ground support and capacity for self-reliance).
Kwak dovetailed on Jon Perkins’ talk about building a love economy and added statistics about developing nations. Many of us are aware of them at this point: if everyone on the earth lived and consumed as Americans do, we’d need 5 planets worth of resources to accommodate their lifestyles. This statistic, and others like it, has always been depressing to me, because how do we fight human nature? People in India or Zaire or Nicaragua want what they see on TV, and who are we to deny them, especially since we are the ones who’ve set the bar for conspicuous consumption?
Kwak made a point that we can be inspired by this fact, not depressed by it, as it creates an opportunity to help people in developing nations to completely leapfrog the stage of development we have in the US, and get to a much more fulfilling future without having to go through the growing pains like we did. Think about it — leapfrog technology will allow people in developing nations to get WiFi without needing to invest billions to develop fiberoptic network cables. It will allow people to get online education and training in global economy jobs without having to spend all of their money to physically go to a large university. It will allow people to skip going through clearcutting and burning their land to run cattle for 2-3 years and then inevitably becoming dependent on chemical fertilizers as the soils die off (and instead develop economically empowering permaculture operations). She said there are opportunities for developing clean energy, clean water, ecosystem renovation and permaculture jobs that completely shift local economies and create economic self-reliance.
The world in 2050
As one of the speakers at the 2017 Envision Festival, Kwak led the group through a workshop-style session, asking people what they believed the world would look like in 2050.
Some people mentioned alternative forms of government or metric programs like Gross National Happiness (as Bhutan has pioneered) to replace archaic systems like Gross Domestic Product. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, GDP is the main form of metric we use in the US (many other nations do the same) to measure how we’re doing. GDP is the sum of all goods and services sold. On the surface, it’s a measure of how much money is flowing through the system, and, on the surface, it’s a good pulse to take about economic confidence. But dig just a hair deeper, and you’ll see the immediate problem: a 72 car pileup with multiple people requiring medical evacuations and long term intensive care to treat injuries is exceptionally good for the GDP. Gross National Happiness is detailed here, and see this article for info on the Gross Progress Indicator (GPI), another much more balanced metric of economic health.
One of the participants mentioned that while many countries seemed heading in the wrong direction on protecting life-sustaining ecosystems, his homeland (Costa Rica) continues to push the envelope forward and lead the way. Costa Rica has biodiversity protection written into its constitution, has very progressive waste management systems, and has achieved near 100% renewable energy for its total power consumption. He mentioned that in 1948, the citizens of Costa Rica, tired of civil wars and conflicts with neighboring countries in Central America, got rid of its army in favor of putting more money into education and health care. Today, Costa Rica has a higher literacy rate than the U.S., lower infant mortality, a strong middle class, universal health care, and consistently ranks #1 or #2 in world happiness indices.
Education, especially public education, is at the root of so much of our future. Nikki Pava, a California transplant who now lives in an ecovillage in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica, suggested that getting kids active in their own education, with hands-on activities, was huge in keeping them engaged and building their future. Kwak replied that she knew a couple where the husband was from a small town in Costa Rica with a 70% dropout rate. The couple returned to the town and helped build an engaged curriculum for the school, allowing the kids to do whatever they wanted with part of their schooling, in order to balance out the math, science, and language. The results were an art mural, building a permaculture garden, and doing a reforestation project.
People mentioned all number of things (urban planning, self-driving taxis, permaculture, etc.), and for each topic, Kwak had insights from different parts of the world that already looked like peoples’ visions of 2050.
“We have all the tools…cultural and technological. All we need is the effort,” she said.