Transition and Happiness in Brazil

On Friday 23rd July I gave the inaugural presentation of the Transition Network movement in Belo Horizonte, the capital city of the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. It is the third largest metropolitan area in the country, with the city having 2.4 million inhabitants, and the wider metropolitan area having over 5 million.


Attending the meeting were a small number of people from the local community who all had expressed an interest in hearing about British-based initiatives in sustainability and transition. Guests included two members from the local government with an interest in science and education, four business consultants, with two from Symnetics, a leading Brazilian strategy consultancy, who have led the way in the implementation of Balanced Scorecard Methodology in many Brazilian blue chip organizations, and two from a local management consultancy with links to local government, the communications director from Conservation International, one of the world’s largest non-profit organizations promoting sustainability and the protection of the world’s eco-systems, a psychologist and life-coach, as well as a number of partners who also had come along to hear the presentation due to their personal interest in this area.

Helping me with the presentation was my girlfriend Maria Auxiliadora, an economist and business strategy consultant with Symnetics. Due to me having just started learning Portuguese, the presentation was translated into Portuguese as I spoke, with the powerpoint presentation that I had also created also being translated. These slides are available for download here:

Transition and Happiness (English)

Transição e Felicidade (Portuguese)

Due to the need for translations, the approach was not to go into too much detail at this initial meeting. It was to bring to people’s attention two very inspirational and complementary approaches to sustainability in the UK. At the outset I explicitly stated that I was not going to present solutions for Brazil, since the solutions that are necessary to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint are not all directly applicable in Brazil. Brazil still has a large percentage of the population in poverty, personal safety is a major issue, there is widespread and open corruption in Government, and culturally the people here still look to the Government for large-scale initiatives.

However, the people of Brazil for many decades, including many years under a US-supported military dictatorship, always told each other that Brazil was a country of the future. With its vast and varied stock of natural resources, energy, equilibrium in the Economy and with a young population, the feeling is that tomorrow is finally here, with a great deal of optimism and openness to new ideas. So it was to a very receptive audience that I gave this presentation to, with much interest, discussion and debate all the way through.

I spent some time explaining who I was and why I was giving the presentation. I am currently finishing my Masters Degree in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, Devon. The college is best known for its range of short courses in ecology, sustainability, economics and spirituality, which attract many leading teachers, practitioners, thinkers and students from around the world. The college is situated just outside of Totnes, the town which became the world’s first Transition Town, and where the Transition Movement was conceived and launched by Rob Hopkins and a small number of other concerned individuals. Many staff and students from the college participated in the development of the concept, and today participation in the Transition movement constitutes a formal part of the teaching and coursework for the Holistic Science degree.

The degree, while focussing on ecology and science, such as Gaia theory, complexity, chaos and emergence, also has a module in Economics, this year entitled “The Economics of Happiness” and teaching on this course were Andrew Simms and Nic Marks from the New Economics Foundation, a leading UK thinktank which created the Happy Planet initiative.

Hence I decided to present both the Transition Network movement, based on community participation in the move to a more sustainable future, and that of the NEF, which complements the Transition Movement by presenting the same concept but at the level of national governments and global organizations. The Transition Movement is well known to the NEF, and representatives from both organizations regularly work together on various initiatives and white papers.

Although I will not explain here the presentation slide by slide, I did not have to spend much time explaining the three core driving factors of peak oil, ecological destruction and financial meltdown. I did however create a slide which showed the concept of how many planets worth of resources a Western lifestyle requires to fund. When the British government addresses climate change, the feeling is that they still do not understand the fact that we our lifestyles are consuming far more resources than the planet can provide, a situation in itself which is simply not sustainable. Coupled with this insane notion and dogmatic fixation with infinite economic growth, is the lack of knowledge about the various planetary systems that are being destroyed, such as biodiversity. With these eco-systems being coupled together in such a complex manner, it could well be that we see a very dramatic change in our ecosystem over a very short space of time, as opposed to the very slow incremental changes over many decades that our governments imagine can be managed with taxes and other untested and exploitable financial systems such as “carbon trading”.

There is in Brazil already a small number of Transition Movement organizations, and a small but interesting Transition Towns website in Portuguese, for any Brazilian’s wishing to find out more. However, at the current moment there is not widespread awareness of this movement, and the feeling was that the presentation was very well received by all who were present. I focussed not on what the solutions were for Brazil, but on how the Transition Movement in the UK began, how much effort went in to awareness raising, what the core concepts and assumptions and principles were, and why it had achieved so much success in getting local people involved in their communities again.

The second half of the presentation looked at alternative concepts to Gross National Product, and how the time had come to re-evaluate how we measure happiness and wellbeing, rather than simply financial success which excludes any concept of wellbeing, happiness, health, community values, and destruction of our habitat and environments. Again, I did not have much time to go into detail, but it was particularly interesting for myself as a British person present to a Brazilian audience, for it seemed that Brazil was doing far better as a nation in terms of many key happiness indicators. Of course, a single indicator can hide a much more complex picture, and I therefore emphasized how it was up to Brazil as a country to move to far less poverty while understanding that an increase in materialism does not seem to lead to greatly enhances happiness and well being once a certain threshold had been met in terms of being able to provide for food, shelter, clothing and other essential needs.

The Happy Planet Index compares the wellbeing of countries in terms of Happy Life Years, a combination of wellbeing and longevity, with the ecofootprint of each country required to support such a lifestyle. In the study of 143 countries, Brazil came 9th, and of the G20 countries, Brazil was the only one to be in the top 20. This initiative is not the only one to examine wellbeing of people and nations, for example the initiatives to develop the GNH (Felicidade Interna Bruta – FIB) in Brazil, coordinated by Dr. Susan Andrews, from Instituto Visão Futuro. However, the Happy Planet Index has proved an excellent measure to provoke awareness of the issues and debate around new solutions to our chronic predicament due to our fixation with such destructive materialistic lifestyles, and many countries can learn from this approach to measuring national success in a global context.

Overall the presentation was a great success. I have already been asked to undertake further presentations to more groups, but unfortunately I now have to leave Brazil for 2 months to finish my degree back in the UK. Neither the Transition Movement nor the Happy Planet Index were known to the audience, and a huge amount of interest was sparked just from this brief introduction, giving me the feeling that they can both be a source of inspiration to people from many different backgrounds in Brazil. I will be returning to Brazil in October, where I hope to continue this work in Transition, perhaps as part of a business consultancy, and perhaps in the state of Minas Gerais, where although there is a huge concentration of wealth, there are also vast areas of poverty, with local populations needing much support to help themselves develop into happy vibrant and sustainable communities.

My only regret from the evening was that after taking one photography, my camera battery ran out, so I can not show you all the other attendees who were there.

Further Information

Transition Towns Brazil

The Happy Planet Index

The New Economic Foundation

Felicidade Interna Bruta, Brazil

Schumacher College

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