Scroll down the page for biographical information and news.

Video and Live blogging

Stewart Wallis talk

Stewart Wallis portraitOur final speaker (oh no!)

We’ve come up against environmental limits, and sailed straight through them. Will we generate our own big bang, or will we survive, or even thrive?

The impossible hamster. It doubles its size each week until puberty. If it doesn’t stop doubling in size, it will become a 9 billion tonne hamster at the end of the first year. Nature has limits, so why do governments think the economy can grow for ever?

Every year, we are using 1.5 planet’s worth of resources, and are on course for 3 planets by 2050. Of course we only have 1 planet, and in 1980 we were still managing to live on that 1 planet.

Arctic sea ice has decreased by 50% in area and 75% in volume. 15 of 25 of the major life-support systems are in decline, e.g. soil and pollination. Humans and other species are going to pay dearly for that. Previous mass extinctions weren’t caused by a single species, and took place over a minimum of 100,000. The current mass extinction is caused by humankind, and is happening over one lifetime.

Stewart doesn’t think we’ll have a big bang. Because he thinks there are no limits to human creativity. Technological changes will be necessary but not nearly sufficient. Population, consumption and inequality are major factors too. It’s not possible to raise consumption to the richest levels. But if we put the brake on our current economic model, we will cause all sorts of unemployment.

So we need a new economic model, where the goal is maximising well-being and justice within fair ecological limits. Well-being is about the quality of relationships, how much one feels valued and one’s work feels valued. Giving is the most important element of well-being, but is not valued by the current economic model. We need banks which are fair, stable and socially useful. We have a massive transformation to do there.

We need a revolution in our values, to the intrinsic values that Tom spoke of, seeing ourselves as stewards not consumers. We need to practise the same values at work and home, often very difficult.

We need to change what we measure, and therefore treasure. What gets get off paxil measured gets done. GDP is like a speedometer, and is useless without oil gauges and other instruments, but even more importantly we need something to tell us whether we are going in the right direction. He proposes the Happy Planet Index, which measures happy life years (not just life expectancy) and ecological footprint, and we need to move to high happiness and low ecological footprint. Like Costa Rica, with higher well-being on quarter the GDP and quarter the resource intensity than the US.

We need to change and manage markets. They are human creations, and humans can control them. Markets make a good servant, a poor master and a disastrous religion. Markets are currently our religions. They don’t tell ecological truths. Purchaser power and consumer power are very unequal, and getting more unequal. So we need to change a lot of things, but we can do it.

Finally, we need to change the engine of the system. We should maximise returns not to £££ investment but to scarce natural resources. We need to have job creation as a goal, to see employees as assets and equity holders instead of as costs.

Here’s what everyone can do – evalute our work, our  lives and communities, what we buy, what we demand. The last is the most crucial. That’s why nef is working very hard with other organisations to create a movement for change, to bust myths, and to train collaborative leaders.

One personal story from Stewart’s years at Oxfam. During the Rwandan genocide, 170,000 refugees were moved to Uganda and Tanzania. Oxfam had exhausted its resources on providing clean water. But 1 million had also crossed into DR Congo, and had 50 miles to the nearest good water supply. Cholera set in, and it became clear that the UN forces weren’t going to manage. So Oxfam decided to risk going £5m into debt, and put out a massive appeal. They raised £25m in a very short time, and saved an estimated 70,000 lives.

Sometimes the impossible is possible if it’s a right cause and all sorts of people can come together.

More Information

The Impossible Hamster

new economics foundation (nef) website, and on Twitter

nef’s Paint a Fish campaign

Stewart Wallis biography

Stewart WallisStewart Wallis joined nef (the new economics foundation) as Executive Director in 2003. His interests include global governance, functioning of markets, links between development and environmental agendas, the future of capitalism and the moral economy.

Stewart graduated in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University. His career began in marketing and sales with Rio Tinto Zinc followed by a Masters Degree in Business and Economics at London Business School. He spent seven years with the World Bank in Washington DC working on industrial and financial development in East Asia. He then worked for Robinson Packaging in Derbyshire for nine years, the last five as Managing Director, leading a successful business turnaround.

Stewart joined Oxfam in 1992 as International Director with responsibility, latterly, for 2500 staff in 70 countries and for all Oxfam’s policy, research, development and emergency work worldwide. He was awarded the OBE for services to Oxfam in 2002.