4 – Toward an Ecological Well-being Index

By Hanna Gill Scott

When ecological data is made accessible and modeled in ways that are accurate and easy to interpret, people are better able to take collective action in caring for and sustaining the ecological systems that keep our planet habitable. 

We currently have public access to a vast array of of ecological datasets and models including the C-MIP (climate futures), ECCO (ocean currents), GRACE-FO (aquifer compaction), HABMAP (deadly algal blooms), MDMAP (ocean debris), the NSIDC (arctic ice melt), and so many more. We even have the technology to allow every tree on the planet to be tracked from space! Why aren’t we using these data and tools technology to make collective decisions? 

What if all we got better at unflinchingly looking at ecological information, and made it a daily practice to keep track of these measurements? Kids easily learn hundreds of Pokémon — once things are organized into a logical model, it gets easier to track and understand the data. Could ecological data become the backing of game systems that are fun and get people motivated to direct attention towards ecological care and direct labor away from ecocide? 

What if we had an ecological well-being index (EWI)? What if scientists were on the radio each day (instead of economists), interpreting and making predictions using ecological data? Why don’t we talk about shifts in the ecology as readily as we talk about sports matches? Why don’t we have more types of festivals and rituals that center ecological care? How could planetary well-being become the center of culture? 

We need strategies that systemically center ecological care, not “fix it later” engineering stunts. There will never be some “magic” technology that makes up for a lack of ongoing ecological care. 

We need to re-design our entire system of value. This needs to happen in every sector, at every level. We need everyone’s help, from all professions and walks of life. We need makers, philosophers, educators, policy tinkerers, media crafters, hackers, and performers. We need to shift the center of our society, we need to re-root ourselves. This can only happen with a diversity of approaches, with all hands working towards a common goal: keeping our plant alive, lush, and habitable. 

Can we dismantle the toxic system of dumping our attention into finance capital and instead direct that attention into the urgent care our planet’s ecological needs? 

How can we draw our collective attention back down to Earth? How can we, as a culture, become more engaged in the ecological systems that sustain and nurture us? How can we rebuild our social relationships with ecological systems, and shift towards engaged, collective management of every aspect our of planet’s ecology? 

It is possible to change trajectory, but just like every other form of steering, it is going to be a matter of how we direct our attention. Is it possible to direct our collective attention towards caring for the planet before it is too late?