"If sustainability transitions are to succeed, we need a new Natural Social Contract and a new economy."
The nitrogen crisis, climate crisis, raw materials crisis, and the increasing gulf between rich and poor. According to Patrick Huntjens, Professor Sociale Innovaties in het Groene Domein, these issues do not exist in isolation. "Many of our current crises are interrelated, they are symptoms of an underlying system crisis."
Patrick argues that we as a society have been kidnapped, so to speak, by a system that focuses on economic growth, individualism, materialism, short-term thinking and the free market. He believes that we need to move toward a society that is more humane and fair, that is regenerative instead of destructive for both people and nature. So if sustainability transitions are to succeed, we need a new Natural Social Contract and a new economy.
On this page, you read more about this Natural Social Contract and about Patrick's view on how we can achieve this.
A social contract forms the basis of our society and democracy. It’s an implicit agreement between citizens, between citizens and government and other parties about how society is structured and organised. This relates chiefly to things that can’t be arranged by us as individuals, such as the economy, healthcare, the labour market, the justice system, infrastructure and education.
But, as Patrick argues, that is where the problem lies. Our current social contract is based on individualism, materialism and short-term thinking. Citizens are regarded only as consumers. And in our individualist society, we take less and less responsibility for our social network and for our natural surroundings.
As a result, our system is getting stuck. We are now faced with three crises:
Patrick advocates a society that is more humane and more fair: a society that is above all less destructive for humanity and the natural world. To achieve this we need a new Natural Social Contract through which we can repair the relationship between people and between humanity and nature. This means we need to say goodbye to homo economicus and instead make space for homo ecologicus. This will require an adjustment to our vision of humanity.
This way, we can work together to create values that form the basis for a thriving society and economy in a fair, more sustainable world.
A society that is more humane and fair, and, above all, less destructive for human beings and for nature – that’s the goal set out by Patrick Huntjens in his book ‘Towards a Natural Social Contract’.
If we ensure a transition to a more ecocentric and regenerative model, we can keep our society and our planet healthy. For future generations, too.
Patrick has been awarded the Nautilus Book Award 2022 (Gold Award) for this book: a prestigious international literature prize. Patrick is the first Dutch person ever to win the Gold Award in its 23-year history.
"This is an influential and exceptionally well-executed non-fiction book with research-backed data and real-time application potential. I have no doubt that those who are willing to listen will also be the catalyst for change."
In this article, Patrick and his co-author René Kemp argue that sustainability transitions will not succeed without a different economy and another social contract with rights and duties of care for the environment and the well-being of others, including future generations. They discuss mechanisms towards a Natural Social Contract.
"I use my knowledge and experience to prepare the new generation, that has to complete the sustainability transition," says Patrick. Patrick is professor Sociale Innovaties in het Groene Domein at Inholland, and a professor in transitions at Maastricht University. Among others, he conducts research into social innovations that support the transition to a sustainable, healthy and just society.
Patrick's commitment to countless sustainable initiatives, which are integrated with education, has not gone unnoticed. In 2021 he was elected as Professor of the Year 2021.