With global warming creeping up on us, it is clearly time to take stock of the way we do things. Few people would dispute that our pattern of unbridled economic growth is contributing to climate change as never before. Factories spew toxic emissions into the murky skies, lorry and car exhaust pipes belch fumes into the air while bulldozers mow down pristine rain-forests.

And yet there is a reluctance to point fingers at the corporate culprits and our unsustainable model of economic growth. We cannot aspire to higher and higher levels of consumption without harming the ecological balance and depriving others of a decent standard of living.

Let’s take a look at the choices that Thailand is coming to grips with. It has put its negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the United States on hold. Certainly, we could learn a thing or two about what a “sufficiency economy” is all about from our northern neighbour.

This is an article I wrote for Inter Press Service last September:

The king, who has travelled extensively in remote areas of the country to see firsthand the impact of policies on the poor, is hugely revered in Thailand. His vision of self-sufficiency based on the eradication of greed is rooted in Buddhism and Thai culture. The sight of the king sitting down on the ground, chatting with villagers about their livelihood is familiar among many Thais, winning him many admirers. Guided by a philosophy of economic self-reliance, and emphasising agrarian reform, the king has a famous line: ‘‘pho gin pho yu’’ (literally ‘‘enough to eat, enough to live on’’).

‘‘It is not important to be an economic tiger,” said the king a year after the Thai economy crashed in 1997. “What matters is that we have enough to eat and to live. A self-sufficient economy will provide us just that. It helps us to stand on our own and produce enough for our consumption.” He constantly reminds Thais that while pursuing material security, they should not forget to strive for inner peace of mind through spiritual purification.

Not surprisingly, this ideal of self-sufficiency backed by the royalty and grounded in Buddhist ethics is heady stuff in Thailand. ‘‘It has been a powerful counterweight, at least ideologically, to the big growth, big exports, big corporation and big corruption, CEO-style of Thaksin,’’ observed the social anthropologist. Full article

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