Humanity needs a wide set of solutions as it transits the transformative path to a
regenerative society. In the enactment of this transition, motivation and
heart-felt commitment are central to civil action. As economist Andrew Simms
reminds us: “when there is commitment, extraordinary things can be
achieved.” These extraordinary things are the kind of spirit and urgency
we need to spread as we chart this transition forward. The need to envision a
desired endpoint for a new economy is central to this new paradigm.
Time to end mass consumption. Flickr/Natalie Maynor. Some rights reserved.
economy based on aggregate growth has become uneconomic and is highly energy
reliant and dependent on the endless consumption of Earth’s resources; it is
also based on unlimited aggregate quantification that leads to an unmanageable
and oversized economy. “Growth economies”, writes
Herman Daly, “become an absurdity when their scales grow beyond the biophysical
limits of their subsets.”
Unlimited growth is impossible
economists say that a robust economy is one that continues to grow and grow.
What they are also saying is that the economic structure needs to keep bursting
at its seams, growing imperviously to create new markets. This is impossible in
a closed system like Earth. Unlimited economic growth is not only impossible
but it is also reckless and not based on biophysical reality. However for two
centuries, growth economies have set the course, pegged to standard
measurements representing GNP or GDP and other utilities. These economic
indicators promote a society whose primary objective is economic expansion,
which leads to wasteful hyper consumption.
facilitate this expansion, our foremost economic architects have persuaded us to
diligently and incessantly consume under the illusion that markets demand rules.
This belief encourages the idea of limitless energy resources to sustain
economic growth ad infinitum. We have
come to accept this and unquestioningly go along with this business as usual, maximising
consumption and aggregating quantities of industrial products to our national
and individual capital debt.
soon as a society accepts this doctrine and believes that more energy carefully
managed will always yield more goods for more people, that society becomes
locked in the wheel of consumption. Economic Growth values objects and products
over human beings. Most of the resultant products of our growth-addicted economy
are useless, obsolete and unnecessary junk that do not contribute to our human purpose;
on the contrary they impoverish, deplete and contaminate our eco-livelihood.
the rest of the world lived by US consumption standards we would need 4.1 Earth footprints worth of land and energy resources to run
the operation. Past a threshold of economic growth, ever diminishing marginal
utilities lead a society to the underdevelopment of its people; increasing
environmental and social costs. As an example we need not look far to the underdeveloped
neighbourhoods creeping out of our inner cities and towns as poverty increases
proportionally to the growth of the rich corporations and plutocracies running the
leads to higher demands on non-renewable energy. In this process we have
degraded our environment and eroded our social fabric; eternal economic growth
is a failed system with biophysical limitations and no understanding of
thermodynamic flux. In this sense Andre Simms reminds us of
the “tensions between the physics of growth and the economics of unlimited
growth.” In theory limitless growth is modelled on an open system, but Earth is
enclosed in finite limitations, fluctuating marginally as a planetary
ecosystem. The eco-footprint of our over-consumption habits are compromising
the balance of this steady state structure.
Time to talk about consumption
our consumption habits and behaviours must be paramount as we go forward with a
new economic vision. Embracing the notion that we will gain in humanity while
consuming less, focusing on the maintenance and servicing, on the restoration
and preservation of what we already have.
Becoming engineers and designers,
planters and healers, we have to de-materialise production and promote the maintenance
and longevity of products, rethinking consumption and incorporating growth to
other sectors that have minimum energy impact and maximum social significance.
We have to consider and
re-organise industrial production, protect food autonomy, energy
self-reliance, and the opportunity for business reorganisation in
self-management ventures and quality investment.
also really need a major “ethos” transformation from the great economic architects
of our times; they must help correct the belief that growth economies will
solve our precarious economic state. As Ivan Ilich has written, “the
belief that economic growth at all costs will eradicate poverty and improve our
lives endlessly implies a contradiction in the joint pursuit of equity and
economic growth. Energy and social equity grow concurrently only to a point.”
The new economy would instead increment subjective wellness standards as we
shift the emphasis from money and economic growth to an emphasis on team
spirit, stewardship and social equity. In 2009, the German president went some
way to summarising this view, implying that
“we should stop our fixation on economic growth and learn to live with less.”
aggregate growth economy reached a certain point and brought improvement to the
human experience, beyond which it has now become un-economic. At this place
increasing energy consumption lessens substantially the equity of life for all
of us. Signs of this destruction are everywhere on Earth. The perversity
of GDP is killing our
planet, making humanity less equitable, futureless and on the whole more
this transition to the new economy the oil based power sector will begin to run
primarily on renewable energies. In this capacity we have to reformulate energy
reliance and integrate more and more renewables into the old system as it
readjusts. Big benefits and
qualitative growth for society will come when we improve renewable energy
transmission lines, eliminating spillage, increasing storage capabilities and
smart grid technologies.
growth is not the same as economic development. Economic development has more
to do with increasing social equity and human wellness. This social development
functions much like knowledge shares in open source economies. These economic
activities are low entropy, low energy dependent and work horizontally to
develop well-being, general knowledge, self-reliance and problem solving
new economy to develop qualitatively, its baseline must strive for elevating
social minimum and lowering drastically maximums for privilege. It must measure
what really matters. Our goal as a healthy society is to have an economy that
maximises well-being. Social equity comes in many forms, beginning with
the securitisation of education and knowledge, health care, shelter, food
autonomy and other liberties. But
how do you measure qualitative development, wellbeing, or happiness? How do we
adjust regional, national and global economies to measure personal, social and
economists are using new ways to measure equity in their societies. Happiness
indexes are now being used in many countries. For example instead of GDP or GNP
standards, the small Himalayan country of Bhutan is measuring personal, social
and environmental well-being with an indicator known as “Gross National
Happiness”. In the new rationale for economic development we will re-enact
the classical views, which saw human kind as adapting gracefully to finitude interdependent
with a steady state planet.
The perversity of GDP
need to get off the GDP or GNP system and begin to adopt this new economy where
growth only functions in the realm of qualitative development, and this might
take the form of downshifting and de-materialising production. This involves us
making efforts to “grow,
gather, preserve and cook; to repair, reuse, recycle and mend. Going back to
making (and making do) this heralds a return to higher levels of purpose and
thus wellbeing” – unlike in the growth economy where we buy stuff so we can
impress people we don’t care about. In the new qualitative economy we will
rediscover the nurturing and caring of our neighbours and communities, and we
will harvest and make stuff to give away, for the better whole of our extended
new rationale of downshifting the economy includes the structures of business
and government whom will shrink their jurisdictions and breakup into smaller
self-regulating constituents. The neighbourhood scale of the new economy will
need a political system involved in reshaping and empowering local forces of
production. From this seed we can include regional, national and global sectors
and components of a larger society: “the new system
begins with self government of small communities, village by village, town by
town, region by region.” On this scale, communities will re-discover the
participatory democratic subsets that keep personal interest in check.
fundamental points and others need to be summoned as we engage in the
transition to a new economy; notable economists of our times – names like Meadows, Daly, D’Escoto, and
Bello have given us lists
and axioms from which to start. Although incomplete and in need of further
discussion, I will attempt to summarise 10 points worth discussing.
Develop a new economic “ethos” that
stands for the common good of Humanity and Earth.
the economy back to its due place in the complexity of society, with internal
markets that return the epicentre of business to community.
Develop technology that is sustainable and retrofitting. Ecological
tax-reform with the implicit notion that resources extracted from nature
deplete our bio-system and should internalise external costs. To ensure social
equity we must put limits on resource mining.
Shift and reorganise production to re-use, maintain, restore, re-cycle,
and design robust products with high product lifetimes, revitalising production
of goods at the community scale.
Drop our consumption habits and moving away from an oil, coal,
nuclear-based economy, improving energy strategies that help transition to a
renewable based power grid. We can achieve high penetration of renewables by improving energy storage, transmission infrastructure, new
resources, variability and grid flexibility; eliminating spillage by increasing
our storage capacity.
Move to 100% reserve requirements, eliminate the fractional reserve banking and
downgrade central banks, putting capital in the hands of community and
lending cooperatives and away from private banks
and clearing houses. Enclose the remaining commons of rival natural capital in
public trusts and management.
Democratise all orders and social subsets, generating participatory democracies
inside each circle. Self-determination will flourish in a civil society who
controls and supervises the private sector and state.
8) Limit use of
resources to rates that ultimately result in
levels of waste that can be absorbed by the ecosystem. (Daly 2005) Create
biotechnology that harvests waste, regenerates biomass, biodiversity and
atmosphere, creating top soils and healthy water systems.
Prevent war economics and predatory derivations. This includes redistribution
of privilege capital and an honest revision of private property.
a spiritual vision of the world that gives back a sense
of transcendence and wonder. Engage in our formidable creative labour
during this rather brief and minute transit aboard diminutive planet
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carlos Cuellar Brown is a New York City time-based artist and essayist who has written on media art, social theory and metaphysics. He is currently a columnist for Second Sight Magazine out of the Netherlands and blogs here.
Neither the environmental movement nor the progressive movement possesses enough political strength to overcome the most powerful economic interests in the world. These potent interests include the oil and coal industries, banks, agribusiness, mining and chemical companies, Wall Street, etc. Congress will not act on big economic changes because too many members depend on election money from these very same economic interests.
Faith-based communities could play an important role because they can reach across the conservative-liberal spectrum, have member congregations that convene on a weekly basis, and can speak with a moral voice that moves people to action. Such an approach may work well with the growing number focused on serious environmental problems because the root cause of many of such problems is the system of cheater economics that dominates today’s economy.
During the 1970s and 1980s, some of us worked with churches on various environmental concerns. These efforts have been expanding and today, the environment is a common topic among the faithful. For example, consider the mission statement of Interfaith Power & Light, established over a decade ago by Reverend Sally Bingham:
Interfaith Power & Light has engaged hundreds of congregations, has affiliates in 38 states, educated thousands of people of faith about the moral mandate to address global warming, and helped pass California’s landmark climate and clean energy laws. Christian environmentalists such as Matthew and Nancy Sleeth have formed an educational group, Blessed Earth, to equip faith-based communities to become better stewards of the earth and have written books about the duty of caring for creation, including Almost Amish; The Gospel According to the Earth; and Go Green, Save Green. To illustrate this point, I present a sample of five defects in today’s unsustainable economy, followed by the kind of response faith-based communities could make.
In summary, those who seek a true cost, steady state economy should work with faith-based communities to discuss how the crucial linkage between serious problems like climate disruption and new economic policies to achieve a sustainable economy fit into their work.
By raising objections to cheater economics, to pollution externalities, and to phony benefit-cost analyses used to justify grotesque environmental practices (such as tar sands oil and mountain top removal), faith-based communities will make a difference. These coummunities can speak with moral authority about caring for future generations, about caring for God’s creation, and about loving one’s neighbors–not polluting them.