As human beings, we are naturally social and creative. The inherent curiosity that drives us to innovate is ultimately a testament to the creative impetus that resides within all of us. And the richness and flexibility of human behavior, including our capacity for cooperation and adaptation, further allow us to envisage and create a world that far outstrips the current economic and political models many regard as immutable and take for granted. Consider the standard economic model of human behavior, which holds that we are naturally self-important, rational consumers, simply striving to achievemaximum individual utility.
Yet, this is problematic; it has limited the capabilities of generations of human beings, especially under the auspices of narrow Western strictures that have allowed economic avarice and social greed to imperil the world around us. Many are thus enter a world complicated by political and economic systems that leave them “born free” into the world, while remaining – as Rousseau so famously observed – “everywhere … in chains.”
We human beings are more creative and intelligent than this, and at the very least, if we capitalize on anything, we must capitalize on our creative potential to achieve a future in which life is capably sustained—a future in which we might thrive rather than slowly, but inevitably, perish.
That the dominant Western economic paradigm assumes people simply use information to decide how to best allocate scarce resources is concerning. Moreover, this notion reduces economic issues to little more than a matter of ensuring market signals, as relative prices, are “correct.” Today, however, correct prices can no longer be expected to guarantee that individual market participants will rationally allocate such precious things as, say, ecosystem services. The global economic collapse of 2008, and subsequent recession, prove as much, and they encourage us to work past this conventional – albeit quickly effervescing – economic logic.
There now exist numerous problems that threaten human existence despite the wonderful progress that human technology, innovation, economic models, politicians and markets have long promised. Given the many political and economic systems whose scale and scope are truly without precedent, we are left to wonder how the creative human capacity can help solve the most pressing issues of the 21st century, especially outside the above mentioned Western strictures that have caused so much harm. But, before answering this question, we could begin by asking yet another: Is there a singular issue that is emblematic of the perils of our time?
Consider that more than 150,000 years of human existence passed before modern humans began cultivating crops. Even after agriculture and cultivation were able to satisfy a sizeable chunk of the human want for food, something more was necessary for food production to complement the growing demands of an ever-increasing human population. The Green Revolution (from the 1930s through the 1960s, roughly), combined research progress with development and technology transfer, catalyzing an upsurge in production and making possible a sustained hike in the global human population.
Population is important to consider in that it allows us to project food shortages that loom large on the human horizon. Some of the causes of food shortages include a limited supply of land, limited water, and the non-availability of the nutrients required for cultivation. Moreover, to ably live within the confines of these limitations, some have suggested curbing and altering population growth in strict, calculated ways. Though the thought of curbing population growth is socially unpopular, thus warranting greater social and ethical debate, some speculate that it would take a half-century for immediate action on limiting global population growth – via well-tailored, ethical, and humane policies, of course – to stabilize the world’s human population and create anything that remotely resembles a helpful effect.
As Pope Francis noted in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, worries about overpopulation may mask an important part of the problem: “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism … is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.”
Around the world, vulnerable communities living in less-developed countries (LDCs) face life-threatening issues stemming from these problems and more, including lack of water and nutrition – a far cry from any progress rendered by the Green Revolution decades ago. Nor is it unusual for such hardships as these to correspond to a lack of economic freedoms, human rights violations, and other injustices that relegate so many to lives of wanton poverty. Hence, for these and other sobering reasons, development practitioners should concern themselves with elegance, practicability, sustainability, implementability, and the economic viability of development projects that aim to remedy the hardships routinely faced by the world’s most vulnerable groups and populations.
Why? One reason is that in practice, though not theory, growth-driven paradigms continue to dominate economic and political systems; meanwhile, the basic needs of billions go unmet. The biosphere withers before our eyes, signaling a future that can only be described as “chaotic,” while at-risk groups continue to be coerced into participating in the money economy—a thoroughly global system whose function is to generate ever-greater demand for more growth and innovation.
This is problematic for any subsidiary economy that rewards for-profit enterprises in accordance with their participation in, and their reinforcement of, unsustainable business practices around the world. Yet, there are alternative approaches we have yet to try, such as sustainable degrowth. Sustainable degrowth is an expanding theory that calls for curbing the near-limitless influence of for-profit enterprises, which fuel growth-dependent, cost-externalizing economics, and which continue to limit even the economic freedoms of workers in rich countries as much as the economic freedoms of the world’s most vulnerable. Sustainable degrowth is not anti-progress, but instead, it acknowledges that “bigger” is not always “better.”
Under sustainable degrowth, a possible site for development practitioners and LDCs populations to collaborate is local farming. In particular, guinea pig farming constitutes a sustainable practice that development practitioners and local participants can explore to incredible, if not unending, lengths. This is partly because the farming and keeping of guinea pigs allows so much room for innovation.
By understanding how innovation already occurs in the keeping and farming of guinea pigs, people might enhance much of the progress that environmentally-focused minds might seek to engender as a facet of their naturally innovative inclinations. Hence, there is a need to study firsthand accounts of guinea pig farming, beginning in places where this farming is most prevalent. Such studies will plausibly allow for development practitioners to observe where and how innovation occurs, as well as how small animal husbandry, or guinea pig farming specifically, thrives as a result of constant innovation.
Guinea pig farming in the Andean region of South America, for example, poses an important site of technological innovation that occurs on several levels. The Peruvian Andes, specifically, are home to a diverse geography of peoples who inhabit majestic environs. This vast, mountainous region is stippled by colorful pockets of centuries-old cultures that have practiced what today qualifies as subsistence agriculture. Indeed, by many standards, those who call this place their home are utterly impoverished. Yet, many of their farming techniques and modes of life have remained throughout several ages. Consequently, it makes a great deal of sense that enduring cultural practices, customs, and norms should be acknowledged, influencing – and in turn being influenced by – various forms of centuries-old agricultural activity, which innovation has helped to ensure.
Though it emblematizes the kind of innovation that occurred with regularity in centuries past, and though we are now painfully aware of the limits of markets and neoliberal economic practices, we have yet to unleash our creative potential to see what sustainable practices under the auspices of degrowth, and innovation at the margins, can do for us and our future.
Mateo Pimentel is a sixth-generation denizen of the Mexican-United States borderland. Mateo writes for political newsletters and alternative news sources; he also publishes in academic journals. Mateo has lived, worked and studied throughout Latin America for the last decade. He currently pursues a Master of Science in Global Technology and Development, and he composes and records music in his free time.