Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood's Executive Director, presented the 2022 Laureates during a press conference on September 29, 2022, in Stockholm, Sweden.

The 2022 Right Livelihood Laureates are turning the tables on our systems crisis

Essays 24.11.2022

By Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood’s Executive Director

An internationally backed oil pipeline project, displacing a community of 7,000 people from their land. Receiving no compensation or relocation, as is their right. Displaced and abandoned by their government in the name of profit. But this community has remained steadfast. Forming into community-based organisations, representing, elders, youth and women, to reclaim their rights and fight their case in court. Step-by-step, during a decade-long process, they have demonstrated resilience in the face of an overwhelming power imbalance.

This is but one of the many stories that my colleagues and I investigated this year. One of the many stories among 175 nominations from 77 countries that we considered for the 2022 Right Livelihood Award. Nominations had been submitted from around the world for our prize highlighting courageous people tackling global crises.

Like every year, we saw in the nominations a kaleidoscope of human suffering: the horror of war; the cruelty with which humans treat each other and other sentient beings; the onslaught against the planet’s life-supporting systems and those who protect them; the abundance of avoidable misery and poverty. But most importantly, we saw the incredible courage and resolve of people around the world who fight for peace, justice and sustainability.

The picture that emerges is not that of genuinely evil or ignorant human beings, but of deep flaws in the way we organize our societies and economies: a systems crisis rather than a hopeless condition of human nature. Because a system whose norms, incentives and information streams encourage greed and selfishness will condition people to behave in those ways. Whereas a system that encourages cooperation, solidarity and care will allow people to act upon these inherent values. This insight opens up the possibility that our societies can be very different if enough people start acting according to a different paradigm and – in the process – knit a new social fabric.

But back to the symptoms of crisis. Usually, when receiving the nominations, we feel a strange disconnect between the acute sense of crisis worldwide and the complacency and denial surrounding us in Europe. But this year, as we returned from our investigations on different continents to the safety of our offices in Stockholm and Geneva, we noticed that something was different. The horror of Putin’s war on Ukraine and the shock of a scorching summer bound to be the coolest of the rest of our lives brought the suffering and pain of our global crises very close even for many Europeans.

And so it seems that the tables are starting to turn. The global crisis that Europe and other materially rich regions have ignited with their assault on nature and their addiction to extractable resources can no longer be relied upon to only kill poor people in other parts of the world. Even the perpetrators are starting to feel its consequences.

So as our international jury convened in August – with backgrounds from Malaysia, Chile, Nigeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, India, the US, Sweden and Germany – they looked at a world increasingly united in suffering the symptoms of a failing system. They chose the 2022 Laureates with the conviction that as the whole world stands at the precipice, the time has come for a fundamental change of perspective. For it is not the Musks and Zuckerbergs and Bezos’ that will solve our global problems. The time has come to listen to those whose models are not built on privilege, entitlement and self-interest – but on justice, care and defiance of adversity.

The Laureates that our jury chose for 2022 all provide crisis-proof solutions to major societal challenges: robust alternatives to military aggression, climate change, bad governance and economic injustice. In light of the Laureates’ successes, the beliefs underpinning our current global paradigm – like the praise of selfishness as human nature, the objectification and exploitation of nature, the myth of eternal material growth – seem foolish at best. And the prospect of a new social contract based on respect for the living, inter-subjectivity and cooperation appears realistic at last.

We have no doubt that such a change is possible on a global scale. But it will originate from people who already live these realities and practice these values: like the large majority of the global population whose income decreased during the pandemic (while, according to Oxfam, the ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes in the same period). Or from the poorer 50 per cent of the global population who together only emit 10 per cent of greenhouse gases and are disproportionately affected by climate insecurity (while the richest 10 per cent emit 50 per cent and can afford to protect themselves).

Albert Einstein famously observed that we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. In order to solve our global systems crisis, we need to break free from a failed system that benefits a few, while harming planet and society. The 2022 Right Livelihood Award is meant to help turn the tables of power and influence – away from those who profit from crises to those who demonstrate how to get us out of them.

Let their examples inspire you, too! After all, hope is what we create when we take action together.

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