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How can we measure if a country is doing well? Modern economic models measure a country's health by, essentially, basing it on its growth rate, in other words, the variation of its economic wealth from one period to another. This wealth production is measured annually by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which quantifies the added value of all goods and services. Economically speaking, in order for a country to develop properly, it must have a positive growth rate and its GDP should grow every year. Satish Kumar warns us about this blind obsession with unlimited growth. In the end, we're at risk of focusing on trivialities to the detriment of what truly matters.


Even though this indicator still seems hegemonic, it is now being called into question by many economists. First of all, it doesn’t take into account the core activities that are essential when it comes to developing our societies, such as domestic work, time spent on selfcare, taking care of our families and others (volunteering...), or human and social costs such as unemployment, poverty, inequality, discontent or crime. In contrast, it incorporates the added value of oil spill clean-ups, river clean-ups, managing a pandemic or rebuilding a post-war country, thereby relegating catastrophes to the status of an economic boon. As a final point, it completely ignores the depletion of non-renewable resources and just how much impact this has on our whole Earth system. Robert Kennedy said “The GDP measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”


In this regard, Matthieu Ricard warns us of our Earth system's limits. The concept of planetary boundaries allows us to understand how planetary systems rely on each other and to set clear boundaries. Scientists have identified 10 main factors linked to the processes which regulate our Earth system (for example, climate, the water cycle, the carbon cycle...). These processes are closely linked, interdependent and constantly interacting. Therefore, sustaining these processes has a total influence on the stability of the Earth system as we know it today. Half of these thresholds, such as the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere or the extinction rate of species, have already been crossed and others are in dire straits. Topic 3 further expands on this concept and sparks thought about crossing thresholds and tipping points.


Jane Goodall addresses the issue of limited resources from the perspective of ecological footprints. This is an amazing tool for popularisation. We're all aware that all human activity consumes resources and produces waste. Since 2003, the Global Footprint Network has quite accurately been calculating our global ecological footprint and comparing it to the Earth's biocapacity. The ecological footprint represents the area everyone on the planet needs to produce everything they consume and to absorb everything that they discharge, directly or indirectly. This area is distributed across the globe (depending on where our products come from). It includes land, forest (for wood and emitted carbon sequestration), sea and built-up areas. In contrast, biocapacity is the actual capacity of a particular area to create organic matter that can be used by humans or to absorb what they emit. When we compare the ecological footprint (what we need) and biocapacity (what is actually available), it becomes clear that we’re living well beyond our means. In the 2021 edition, we saw that at global level, we were consuming 1.75 times more than what the Earth could actually produce. If everyone lived like a European, we would need 2.5 Earths, and even 4 Earths if we all lived like Belgians. On the other hand, if we all lived like Indians, it would be the opposite case, half of Earth's capacity would be enough to meet our needs! In other words, by 29th July 2021, we had already used up all of the resources that the Earth can regenerate in an entire year. This Overshoot Day is calculated every year and we’re seeing that, as every year goes by, this day is coming increasingly earlier...


With this exceedance of our limits in mind, Jane Goodall draws our attention to our decline in wisdom and our trans-generational duty . She makes reference to some indigenous peoples who would make decisions only after assessing the impact on no fewer than 7 future generations, whereas today, choices are only made in the short term, or at the end of an electoral cycle typically lasting a few years. Led by an ethical principle of justice, she emphasises “the rights of future generations” which aim to protect the human family and other non-human beings.

When will happiness come into it ?

Our current economic models forget to take general well-being into account. In the documentary, Satish Kumar and Olivier de Schutter are among those who are advocating for a different model. Kumar explains that what we’re concerned with now, our frantic materialistic race, is merely “the icing on the cake”, and that we’re forgetting to measure what matters: our happiness, health, well-being and that of the world around us which we totally depend on. De Schutter adds that inequality is extremely toxic because it's speeding up the collapse. They both agree that there’s an urgent need to add new indicators to our social models. The example Satish Kumar gives of the Kingdom of Bhutan is an interesting one. At the age of 16, when ascending to the throne in 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the king of Bhutan, declared that a country's growth should take all aspects of its development into consideration and not just economic factors, which is how GDP is measured.


The concept of GNH, Gross National Happiness, emerged. In Dzongkha, the language spoken in the kingdom, GNH means “global happiness”. Now enshrined in the Bhutanese constitution, GNH analyses living conditions across 9 different areas: psychological wellbeing, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. For each of these variables, there is a threshold to be met, which also allows leaders to objectively focus their efforts on making sure that these conditions for happiness are met.


Matthieu Ricard pushes us to ask ourselves about the notion of “sustainable development” which fits in well with the growth imperative but which doesn’t call into question the very core of the paradox. There is, indeed, a contradiction between the notion of “sustainability” and the inextricable quantitative growth caused by “development”. He suggests a more balanced term: “sustainable harmony”. For the sake of the survival of the human species, he invites us to build on better living standards by respecting our planet and all of its inhabitants humans and other living beings. In order to create and respect this harmony, he urges us to cut down on our rapidly-increasing consumption and to move towards a social justice that fights against inequality. But is this change feasible within our social models without delving further into our common culture? (Topic 7 deals with our ability to change).

• Growth rate
• Gross Domestic Product - GDP
• Planetary boundaries
• Ecological footprint
• Depletion of resources
• Gross National Happiness GNH
• Sustainable harmony



Ecological footprint / Footprint Network

This free online calculator allows you to easily quantify your ecological footprint. It’s an amazing tool for popularising and raising awareness. Use it as often as you want!


Jeu des chaises (Chair game) / Iteco

Want to raise awareness about inequality on our planet?
This popular educational tool deserves a special mention!
Free and fully downloadable, it allows groups (even large
ones) to actively experience global inequality in an impactful way, through distribution of wealth (GDP), population and consumption (ecological footprint). Be warned, you’ll need to spend some time exchanging views after playing this game!


Sois smart avec ton phone / Laurent Geissmann

A comprehensive educational tool (student and teacher booklet and portfolio) which helps investigate and understand the overall life cycle of our devices and their impact across many areas. Available as a free download on


Climat Tic-Tac (Climate Tic-Tac)

Cooperative board game which also allows you to learn
more about the risks, possible solutions and the latest on
climate change.



Hidden Impact / Babette Porcelijn

Over three quarters of our ecological footprint are invisible: the hidden part of the iceberg! Discover the environmental impact that’s hidden behind our patterns of consumption. Everything you need to know to have a lighter footprint on Earth!

The Climate Book / Esther Gonstalla

The book will be of particular interest to teachers looking for reader-friendly data on climate change. With the help of 50 (great) infographics, she makes this complex, multi-faceted phenomenon accessible.

L’atlas du changement climatique / Gallimard
Jeunesse Editions

Everything can be found here: the causes, consequences
and solutions to take action. Summed up in a clear, visual
and current way.


Economix / Michael Goodwin

This comic / new type of document explores three centuries of economic practices. It talks about globalisation, great thinkers, the highs and lows, the impact of war, climate change as well as a shortage of resources.


World Inequality Report / OXFAM NGO

Updated and published annually at the “World Economic Forum” (the Davos Summit which brings together the richest individuals on the planet and decision-makers). In 2022, it pointed to the historic rise in wealth among billionaires but at the same time, a spike in poverty for those who were already struggling before the pandemic.

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provides a wealth of scientific information related to the consequences of changes being exerted on ecosystems for human “well-being” as well as the possibilities of reacting to these changes:



Would you like to be part of the
change and discover other cultures?
Oxfam solidarité

works towards social justice and promotes fair trade. Oxfam is involved in projects all over the world.


Would you like to get involved for a fairer world?

with a view to promoting a fair and sustainable world, the
NGO CNCD works alongside 90 NGOs and gives you loads of opportunities to actively get involved.

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