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Remembering Hazel Henderson and her legacy as environmental activist, futurist

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Hazel Henderson was known for her contributions to the field of evolutionary economics including championing alternative measures of economic prosperity. Courtesy Ethical Markets Media

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The pioneering environmental activist, economic thinker and futurist Hazel Henderson has died. She was 89. An author of nine books and founder of the media group Ethical Markets, she understood early that standard measures of economic growth don’t necessarily measure the well-being of people or the Earth.

To reflect on her legacy, “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio spoke with Ralph Nader, activist, consumer advocate and presidential candidate. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Ralph Nader: Hazel Henderson came to her economic views from experience. She went to New York and lived in the city and she was raising a family — and she protested to City Hall, created a citizens’ pollution control group, got pollution indexes incorporated in weather reports. And then there was no stopping her. All over the world, she made things happen. Why? Because she brought economics down to where people work, live and raise their families. Instead of the theoretical gross national product measurements, she said the economy should be measured by the level of child poverty, the level of pollution.

David Brancaccio: For the podcast that you do, Mr. Nader, you spoke to Hazel Henderson in the weeks before she died. And there was the economic iconoclasm right there.

Hazel Henderson: Nature is still in charge. And sooner or later, finance, which is still completely blind, will wake up to this. I call the financial model “magical thinking.”

Brancaccio: And she referred to a piece in The Economist magazine on central banking and the rest of it, and they’re saying, “Climate change, we can incorporate that in our economic model, it’s not so bad.” “So this is where we are now,” she told you. “We’ve got a wake up from this market story” — and she means conventional wisdom on how we think about the economy, right?

Nader: Very much so. And in her groundbreaking book in 1981, “The Politics of the Solar Age,” she basically drew the lesson that people on Earth are ignoring that the sun brings solar renewable energy. And because she was right too soon, too early, she was not very often reflected in the mainstream media. So, created her own media: syndicated columns translated into 27 languages, documentaries, books. And the one thing she kept emphasizing is how the problems of the world can be unifying forces in terms of practical solutions. That’s what she built on. She had practical solutions that unified people — because, as she said again and again, conservative families and liberal families want the same thing, don’t they?

Brancaccio: Now, did you detect in what might have been her last interview, or one of her last interviews, that she drew some optimism in this idea that there is bipartisan support for reining in Big Tech, including these social media companies?

Nader: Yes, of course. She said basically this: The vast majority of daily relationships between people around the world, they reflect cooperation, neighborliness, kindness. Conflict, violence are the exceptions, but that’s all that gets the news. And so she tries to emphasize cooperation being the essential on-the-ground daily practice of human beings. So why are they being polarized by the rich and powerful? That was her message, and it really resonated with people. She never divided people in her audiences between the left, right, conservative, liberal. She unified them, because they all want the same thing for their families, children and grandchildren.

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