News

The Post Growth Challenge

The Post Growth Challenge

Extended deadlinemidnight, GMT, Wednesday 31 March, 2021.

Calling writers, artists, designers and video makers.
Can you make a Post Growth Policy Package?

An initiative from Steady State Manchester, in collaboration with the Manchester Meteor and the Systems Change Alliance.

What?

A cooperative challenge to find a better way to present the post-growth alternative.

Why?

Over the last two years, various Green New Deals have become very popular. This demonstrates that a set of policy ideas can be effectively communicated by combining them into one positive package.

In contrast, the ideas and proposals of the degrowth, post-growth and steady state economy movements can appear complex, vague, negative and unattractive. Can we overcome that disadvantage by trying to do what the Green Dealers have done and present a Post-Growth Deal? There’s one way to find out – let’s try it!

How?

We invite you to present your Post Growth Policy package.

It needs to be presented in straightforward, concise, easy to understand, and attractive terms, without denying the real difficulties involved in reducing the material and energy throughput of our economies.

This could be done as,

  • A short policy briefing – of up to 600 words (you can use appendices to go into deeper detail).

Or…

  • You could present it in graphic terms, as an ‘infographic’, a cartoon or a comic strip, for example.

Or…

  • You could make a short video (max 5 minutes) to get your ideas over.

Or..

  • Maybe you’ve an even better idea for how to present it– the choice is yours.

Who?

Anyone who is interested in creating an economy that can sustainably support life on Earth.

We anticipate two classes of entry.

A)   Those focussing on a post-growth future in the specific context of Greater Manchester.

And

B)    Those with proposals for national or inter-state (European Union, ALBA, Mercosur, UN, etc. etc.) implementation.

When?

Send us your entries by midnight, GMT, Wednesday 31 March, 2021extended deadline.

How and where?

Entries should be sent to steadystatemanchester[AT]gmail.com

Articles, briefings, stories, or infographics should be sent in the form of an email attachment. They can be wordprocessor documents ( .odt, .doc, .docx), pdf files, or image files (.jpg, .png, ..gif, .svg). Please keep attachments to less than 2 megabytes in size. For anything larger, compress it or send as a file link (e.g. using dropbox, box, spideroak, google).

Videos should be uploaded to a video hosting platform and a link sent to the above email address.

We will acknowledge entries.

Prizes!

“Everybody has won and all must have prizes.”

All participants will receive a printed copy of our pamphlet, “The Viable Economy … and Society”. The entry that we like best in each class will be presented with a tee-shirt with the Steady State Manchester logo1. Wear it at events, or wear it in bed: we don’t mind!

Most important, though will be that we will publicise the best entries, through our various local and international networks.

In addition we might invite the creator of our favourite Greater Manchester entry to jointly nominate a local post-growth organisation for a small grant.

Rights

All entries will be made under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This allows anyone to share the work in its original form, so long as they give proper attribution to the creator.

1  So long as we have your size available.

 

events, News

Manchester Joint Degrowth and Ecological Economics Conference: 5-8 July online.

5th – 8th JULY 2021

The Building Alternative Livelihoods
in times of ecological and political crisis conference, postponed from September 2020 will now be virtual.

There is a new website. – full details including re-opened call (deadline 1 March) there.

International Online Joint Conference of the international degrowth research networks, the International Society for Ecological Economics and the European Society for Ecological Economics,  hosted by University of Manchester, UK.

https://www.isee-esee-degrowth2021.net/

events, News

Event: Envisioning a sustainable future in Northampton

WEBINAR – Envisioning a sustainable future in Northampton
Northampton University – Faculty of Business and Law
Envisioning a sustainable future in Northampton: promoting a green post-pandemic recovery
Date: 23-11-2020 – from 4pm to 6pm
Collaborate link: https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/d5c43a58fe444b28afcd856467af75cf
If you want to attend this event please click here to send an email to Elodie René before November 21st.

Description:
This webinar will gather UK-based researchers and practitioners involved in environmental and social
sustainability transitions.
Discussions will be structured around the following key questions:
1) What are the environmental origins of pandemics such as COVID-19?
2) Why our collective answer to this pandemic should integrate environmental parameters?
3) Can we afford (socially and ecologically) a business as usual recovery scenario?
4) To which extent a local ecological – degrowth transition can open new perspective to recover
from the Covid crisis?

Webinar Moderators: Elodie René

Confirmed speakers:
1. Overview of the impacts of current health crisis on the most deprived communities in Northampton
Robin Burgess
Chief executive at Northampton Hope Center and Chairperson at Northampton social
enterprise town.
2. Ecological transition in Northampton a grassroots perspective: a short history of Transition Town Northampton
David Garlick
Founder of Transition Town Northampton part of the global Transition network.
3. Why creating the conditions for a flourishing of the imagination is vital to the climate emergency?
Rob Hopkins,
Rob Hopkins is cofounder of Transition Town Totnes and Transition Network, and the author
of The Transition Handbook, The Transition Companion, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, 21
Stories of Transition and most recently, From What Is to What If: unleashing the power of
imagination to create the future we want. He presents the podcast series ‘From What If to
What Next‘ which invites listeners to send in their “what if” questions and then explores how
to make them a reality. In 2012, he was voted one of the Independent’s top 100
environmentalists and was on Nesta and the Observer’s list of Britain’s 50 New Radicals.
Hopkins has also appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought and A Good Read, in the French film
phenomenon Demain and its sequel Apres Demain, and has spoken at TEDGlobal and three
TEDx events.
An Ashoka Fellow, Hopkins also holds a doctorate degree from the University of Plymouth and
has received two honorary doctorates from the University of the West of England and the
University of Namur. He is a keen gardener, a founder of New Lion Brewery in Totnes, and a
director of Totnes Community Development Society, the group behind Atmos Totnes, an
ambitious, community-led development project.
4. Potential and limits of circular economy within the entertainment industry: an insider perspective
Tom Harper
Unusual Rigging, Managing Director
Tom was appointed as managing director at Unusual Rigging in April 2020. In his role as
sustainability coordinator, Tom established the company’s carbon reduction strategy in 2013
and is exploring the company’s potential, as an organization, to pioneer a ‘circular economic’
business model within the industry. Tom has an MBA in Innovation and the Circular Economy
and is co-project managing the implementation of a custom asset tracking software system
which will also improve the efficiency of the company’s workflow.
5. Can we afford a business as usual recovery scenario? Envisioning a Degrowth case against the business case.
Fabian Maier and Iana Nesterova,
Fabian is a PhD researcher at Nottingham University in the field of critical organisation
studies and studies cooperatives, grassroots and community-based organisations in relation
to degrowth. Fabian is interested in discourses around prefiguration, post-work, and
solidarity economies. He is a member of the ‘Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research
Group’ and active in a worker co-operative in the East Midlands.
Iana Nesterova, PhD is a researcher based in the UK. Her PhD focused on small business transition towards degrowth. Iana’s research interests include the philosophy underpinning sustainable change
and what sustainable change means and entails. She currently teaches health economics
from a heterodox economics perspective. She is a member of SUCH (Sustainable Change)
research network and the ‘Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group’.

 

events

Economy and livelihoods after Covid-19: Save the date, 1-4 Sept. 2020

Economy and livelihoods after Covid-19

A global on-line symposium of the International Degrowth Network and the International Society for Ecological Economics.

September 1 to September 4th, 2020, University of Manchester.

The sessions will be in the afternoons BST.

Join us for this symposium over four days. We’ll be considering the implications of the global Covid-19 pandemic for economy and livelihoods. The Covid-19 pandemic and responses to it have had deeply  unequal impacts on lives, livelihoods and well-being across race, gender and class.  At the same time it has opened up the space for new possibilities for building alternative livelihoods and economies that can take us beyond a capitalist economy that requires ever expanding growth.  Will we go back to business as usual with all the ecological, social and economic risks that will bring or take the path towards a new kind of economy that provides for human needs of all while restoring and protecting the natural world that we all depend on?

Programme and registration details now at this Eventbrite Link

Here it is again: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/economy-and-livelihoods-after-covid-19-tickets-116083505891

News

No more business as usual: introducing the Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group

by Ben Robra, Iana Nesterova and Fabian Maier

As the ongoing crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to illustrate once again, an unforeseen economic shock appears to threaten the very foundations of social life and indeed the livelihoods of people across the globe. With social distancing and lock-down measures in place, people were forced to stay at home and economic activity has been slowed down, at least temporarily.

In a world of turmoil and uncertainty, re-igniting the flame of excessive economic growth appears yet again as the overarching response and universal panacea by politicians and economists to counteract the severe crisis induced by the coronavirus. Thus, unbridled business activity and consumption is yet again the number one political measure to boost GDP figures, thereby continuing the fairy tales of endless growth.

However, seeing the COVID-19 pandemic as one crisis amongst multiple social, ecological, political and economic crises that are not just looming but are already in progress, puts this path increasingly into question. Moreover, the links of growth-obsessed capitalist economies to dire outcomes, such as, climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and soaring social inequalities, are becoming more and more obvious. In light of this crisis-prone tendency of growth, a return to a state of perceived normality and business as usual appears highly questionable and alarming. 

It is past time to think about alternatives to this way of life and to ask ourselves, how can we organise social life differently, in a more resilient and sustainable manner? Challenging the hegemony and ingrained notions of growth needs to necessarily incorporate radical questions about organisations in relation to transforming socio-economic systems.

For this reason, our newly formed Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group (@DegrowthOERG) aims to target these fundamental questions by looking at organisational projects that are critical and counter-hegemonic towards mainstream and taken-for-granted business theories. Dedicated to a radical change of economic organisation, we are studying alternative forms of organisation and work from a degrowth perspective.

Why?

Degrowth has significant implications for organisations and particularly economic organisations. The dominant economic organisations (i.e. corporations and other businesses) and their modus operandi, aligned with capital accumulation and productivism, do not fit degrowth and its principles. In other words, economic organisations that aim to accumulate capital and hence increase economic growth are incompatible with degrowth.

However, economic organisations do play a key role in transforming our society towards a sustainable degrowth society. As such, economic organisations are essential for the organisation of social life and the satisfaction of basic needs throughout society, to reach a good life for all in harmony with nature.

Therefore, exploring and studying organisations in the context of degrowth is crucial. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to this area of enquiry thus far. The majority of publications available disregard core principles of degrowth such as anti-accumulation and matter-energy throughput reduction.

Various research has sought to reconcile business logics and degrowth. This can equally be understood as a reconciliation of capitalism and degrowth. Businesses, as the core reproducers of the capitalist hegemony and drivers of growth, are not compatible with degrowth. We comment on this shortfall of alignment in our recent blog post: Why degrowth should scare business.

So far, the translation of degrowth principles from the macro to the micro level have only marginally taken place in an organisational context. Thus, the aim of this new research group is to ratify and study alternative economic organisations extensively in the context of degrowth. We aim to halt what we believe is a co-optation of degrowth on the micro-economic level, by shifting the focus to concrete utopias of alternative organisations. 

Who?

We are (so far) three ‘young’ academics in various stages of our PhDs focusing on organisation and the political economy in the context of degrowth. While we are aware that there is increasing attention towards this topic (forthcoming special issue in Organization), we perceived a lack of official research groups that are tackling issues of organisation in the context of degrowth. Therefore, our research group wants to address these shortcomings by starting a conversation across multiple disciplines. We envision a collaborative group of researchers looking to fill the vast research gap within organisation from a degrowth perspective. Interested researchers, activists, and practitioners sharing our vision and/or experiment with ideas of degrowth are welcome to join us and start a collaboration. 

Find the Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group on twitter (@DegrowthOERG)

Ben Robra – is a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds in the Sustainability Research Institute. Ben studies organisations in connection to degrowth using both political economy and social systems theory. He has a keen interest in organisations utilising the digital commons and P2P collaboration.

Iana Nesterova – is an independent researcher based in the UK. She holds an MSc in International Business and Finance. Her PhD focused on small business transition towards degrowth. Iana’s research interests include social ecological economics on the micro level. Further, she is interested in the philosophical questions surrounding degrowth.

Fabian Maier – is a PhD researcher at Nottingham University with a background in organisation and critical management studies. Fabian studies cooperatives, grassroots and community-based organisations in relation to degrowth. He is interested in discourses around prefiguration, post-work, and solidarity economies. 

News, Republished pieces

Degrowth: New Roots for the Economy

Re-imagining the Future After the Corona Crisis

The Coronavirus pandemic has already taken countless lives and it is uncertain how it will develop in the future. While people on the front lines of healthcare and basic social provisioning are fighting against the spread of the virus, caring for the sick and keeping essential operations running, a large part of the economy has come to a standstill. This situation is numbing and painful for many, creating fear and anxiety about those we love and the communities we are part of, but it is also a moment to collectively bring new ideas forward.

Logo for #NewRoots

The crisis triggered by the Coronavirus has already exposed many weaknesses of our growth-obsessed capitalist economy – insecurity for many, healthcare systems crippled by years of austerity and the undervaluation of some of the most essential professions. This system, rooted in exploitation of people and nature, which is severely prone to crises, was nevertheless considered normal. Although the world economy produces more than ever before, it fails to take care of humans and the planet, instead the wealth is hoarded and the planet is ravaged. Millions of children die every year from preventable causes, 820 million people are undernourished, biodiversity and ecosystems are being degraded and greenhouse gases continue to soar, leading to violent anthropogenic climate change: sea level rise, devastating storms, droughts and fires that devour entire regions.

For decades, the dominant strategies against these ills were to leave economic distribution largely to market forces and to lessen ecological degradation through decoupling and green growth. This has not worked. We now have an opportunity to build on the experiences of the Corona crisis: from new forms of cooperation and solidarity that are flourishing, to the widespread appreciation of basic societal services like health and care work, food provisioning and waste removal. The pandemic has also led to government actions unprecedented in modern peacetime, demonstrating what is possible when there is a will to act: the unquestioned reshuffling of budgets, mobilization and redistribution of money, rapid expansion of social security systems and housing for the homeless.

At the same time, we need to be aware of the problematic authoritarian tendencies on the rise like mass surveillance and invasive technologies, border closures, restrictions on the right of assembly, and the exploitation of the crisis by disaster capitalism. We must firmly resist such dynamics, but not stop there. To start a transition towards a radically different kind of society, rather than desperately trying to get the destructive growth machine running again, we suggest to build on past lessons and the abundance of social and solidarity initiatives that have sprouted around the world these past months. Unlike after the 2008 financial crisis, we should save people and the planet rather than bail out the corporations, and emerge from this crisis with measures of sufficiency instead of austerity.

We, the signatories of this letter, therefore offer five principles for the recovery of our economy and the basis of creating a just society. To develop new roots for an economy that works for all, we need to:

1) Put life at the centre of our economic systems.

Instead of economic growth and wasteful production, we must put life and well-being at the centre of our efforts. While some sectors of the economy, like fossil fuel production, military and advertising, have to be phased out as fast as possible, we need to foster others, like healthcare, education, renewable energy and ecological agriculture.

2) Radically reevaluate how much and what work is necessary for a good life for all.

We need to put more emphasis on care work and adequately value the professions that have proven essential during the crisis. Workers from destructive industries need access to training for new types of work that is regenerative and cleaner, ensuring a just transition. Overall, we have to reduce working time and introduce schemes for work-sharing.

3) Organize society around the provision of essential goods and services.

While we need to reduce wasteful consumption and travel, basic human needs, such as the right to food, housing and education have to be secured for everyone through universal basic services or universal basic income schemes. Further, a minimum and maximum income have to be democratically defined and introduced.

4) Democratize society.

This means enabling all people to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. In particular, it means more participation for marginalized groups of society as well as including feminist principles into politics and the economic system. The power of global corporations and the financial sector has to be drastically reduced through democratic ownership and oversight. The sectors related to basic needs like energy, food, housing, health and education need to be decommodified and definancialised. Economic activity based on cooperation, for example worker cooperatives, has to be fostered.

5) Base political and economic systems on the principle of solidarity.

Redistribution and justice – transnational, intersectional and intergenerational – must be the basis for reconciliation between current and future generations, social groups within countries as well as between countries of the Global South and Global North. The Global North in particular must end current forms of exploitation and make reparations for past ones. Climate justice must be the principle guiding a rapid social-ecological transformation.

As long as we have an economic system that is dependent on growth, a recession will be devastating. What the world needs instead is Degrowth – a planned yet adaptive, sustainable, and equitable downscaling of the economy, leading to a future where we can live better with less. The current crisis has been brutal for many, hitting the most vulnerable hardest, but it also gives us the opportunity to reflect and rethink. It can make us realize what is truly important and has demonstrated countless potentials to build upon. Degrowth, as a movement and a concept, has been reflecting on these issues for more than a decade and offers a consistent framework for rethinking society based on other values, such as sustainability, solidarity, equity, conviviality, direct democracy and enjoyment of life.

Join us in these debates and share your ideas at Degrowth Vienna 2020 and the Global Degrowth Day – to construct an intentional and emancipatory exit from our growth addictions together!

In solidarity,

The open letter working group: Nathan Barlow, Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Manuel Grebenjak, Vincent Liegey, François Schneider, Tone Smith, Sam Bliss, Constanza Hepp, Max Hollweg, Christian Kerschner, Andro Rilović, Pierre Smith Khanna, Joëlle Saey-Volckrick

This letter is the result of a collaborative process within the degrowth international network. It has been signed by more than 1,100 experts and over 70 organizations from more than 60 countries.
See all signatories here

You can find the translations of the open letter here:

Catalan
Croatian
Danish
Dutch
French
German
Greek
Hungarian
Italian
Korean
Mandarin
Portuguese
Russian
Slovenian
Spanish
Swedish
Turkish

You can find the press release here

Uncategorized

How we can heed Covid-19 and realise a sustainable, sufficient and resilient future for all?

Steve Gwynne

For me, the central basis of a sustainable, sufficient and resilient future is to manage the gdp size of the global economy so that it remains well within the global safe operating space. This I imagine could be measured and monitored using an adapted version of the Doughnut economic model whereby GDP size is mapped on to the doughnut model.
Adapted doughnut model
As such, the pathway of a sustainable, sufficient and resilient future for All could best be charted by implementing the conclusions of The Good Life study which charts a way for humanity to live within planetary ecological boundaries.
At present, there does not exist an international based or global based strategy to create The Good Life except for the growth orientated SDG framework. As such, the only available strategy is a national based one, or to be more precise, a global system based on national communities (see Good Life study above).
As a global/national strategy, the Good Life would work mostly using a bottoms up approach whereby national communities, in relation to other national communities, would manage their own ecological IMPACT* in relation to their own national ecological capacity. This bottom up approach could be enhanced by using a more federated county national system like Germany which reduces the prevalence of overcentralising and overconnected megacities through which risks and shocks rapidly spread. A UK federated county system would also enable the decentralisation and diversity of innovation hubs to help realise a post carbon economy.
The overarching goal of #TheGoodLife is to contract our human economy and return humanity to within the global safe operating space. Particular responsibility is put on high impact nations living well beyond their ecological means. In this regard, a core economic strategy for high impact nations could be ‘levelling down’ (or to ‘level down’) which means bringing everyone into the £15-30 per hour wage rate (after tax) and thereby reducing our national GDP and our ecological impact* but at the same time utilising taxation to create robust and resilient public systems.
Levelling down would cause a lot of unemployment so in ancipation, Good Life systems would need to be developed that can sustainably support human redundancy on a potentially large scale with these alternative systems actively seeking to reduce our overall human impact*. The low impact (and low cost) solution could be achieved by utilising 1 acre smallholding systems which derive much of their survival needs mostly from the land. These smallholder systems would also utilise cottage industries using locally sourced renewable resources to create household items like brushes, baskets and brooms. This new use of land may need a new status, perhaps smallhold in contrast to leasehold or freehold and would be premised on existing allotment systems or crofting systems.
By facilitating back to the land/nature livelihoods, human industrial redundancy would be actively reducing our national impact* and increasing our national resilience, especially in food, shelter and water. Low impact smallholding lifestyles would also broaden economic diversity, so will add further to our overall national resilience.
I think that the Good Life national endeavour would need to be temporarily supported with tax paid grants to help with relocation and reskilling. This would be an investment for everybody, especially future generations, so that we can develop an adequate human knowledge base to live low impact lives. This knowledge base will inform us on how to achieve high levels of self reliance whilst enhancing wild Nature too. This means, in order to deploy industrial redundancy to best effect, smallholding systems should be integrated into nature recovery networks by providing public goods in the form of ecosystem services such as pollinator habitats, soil improvement, flood management and carbon requester practices.
Two important critiques that commonly arise regarding ‘leveling down’ and instituting 1 acre smallholding systems is that levelling down needn’t cause unemployment if remaining full time jobs became job shares so that people were working 15-20 hours instead of the 40 hour week. Regarding one acre smallholding systems, it is argued that this would most certainly devastate what little remains of other nonhuman life and their habitats and instead we should focus our attention on encouraging urbanisation and utilising synthetic foodstuffs.
In response, I argue that levelling down – and through taxation bringing everyone into a £15-30 hourly wage bracket – would cause unemployment since middle class professionals will no longer afford domestic services, care services, gardening services, trade services, etc – all of which are predominantly the domain of the working class.
Similarly, a reduced income for much of the middle class will require a complete price recalibration of mortgages, rents and utility services, which will mean a significant loss of profits and the simplification of many businesses which will cause unemployment in the managerial sector.
What jobs are left could be job-shared but this shift from full time work to part time work would result in even lower household incomes to pay the bills and raise taxation. In other words, bottom up equalisation if it included the fair distribution of jobs, would simply result in everyone levelling down into relative poverty and so would be rejected by the public imagination. Similarly, universal job sharing would dramatically reduce per capita tax revenues which would require a dramatic reduction in public service provision unless people utilised their newly created non-paid-job time to volunteer their labour and expertise to run public services at the community level. In addition, reduced tax revenues would make it difficult to support policies such as the universal basic income.
However, by implementing the policy of levelling down but at the same time retaining full time jobs and deploying industrial redundancy into land based livelihoods, tax revenues can be sustained whilst not tipping working people into poverty. Therefore, I’d argue full time jobs will need to remain largely intact with labour redundancy deployed into self-reliant land based livelihoods which would combine food growing with cottage enterprises.
Regarding the concern that smallholding systems will denude our countryside of even more wild Nature, my experience of helping to manage a city based allotment site  says differently. That is to say, wild Nature on site and in the surrounding area is prolific. This is enhanced even more when allotments use permaculture techniques like mulching which provides additional all year round food webs for birds in particular. For example, as a result of mulching on site, we are now visited twice a year by a large flock of redwings.
On, around and over our site, which is only a mile from the centre of Birmingham, we regularly have buzzards, seagulls, magpies, crows, jackdaws, jays, occasional mallard ducks and herons and recently there have been sightings of hen harriers. Owls are also in abundance, as are sparrows, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, robins, long tailed tits, greater spotted woodpeckers, green woodpeckers, song thrushes, wood pigeons, wrens with treecreepers and gold crests also occasionally spotted.
We also have badgers, mice, rats, foxes and domestic cats on the site as well as a huge diversity of flora, insects and reptiles including newts. In other words, smallholding systems designed with wild Nature in mind, with trees, shrubs, hedges, ponds and other wild areas in association with permaculture growing practices such as mulching and growing pollinator attracting plants like comfrey (which doubles up as a fertiliser) would easily outperform the ecological desolation of industrial agricultural fields.
Therefore, in my opinion, Good Life smallholding systems would be ecological synergy in action, bringing humans closer to the land, closer to wild Nature, providing low impact and low cost modes of human survival and most importantly helping to reduce overall global human impact to that wild Nature can thrive. In addition, according to Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, under allotment-style management, all of our current fruit and vegetable consumption could be grown in the UK on just 200,000ha of land (the equivalent of 40% of the current area of gardens, and just 2% of the current area of farmland).
In order to achieve the Good Life, democratic system ls and associated public consent would decide how we wish to manage our economic gdp size in order to remain within our national safe operating space. I’d imagine it would be a democratically decided balance between national capitalism and national socialism with a view of reducing import dependancies and inshoring our international ecological impacts so we become more ecoliterate about our national consumption. This would be in association with co-creating highly circular economic activities as well encouraging more community based systems such as mutual credit, self build communities and more localised procurement systems. However manifested, the Good Life will need to incorporate ecological resource caps and taxation to help facilitate a just transition.
I think the ethics underlying The Good Life would simply need to be ‘caring’ and ‘sharing’, so these virtues would need to be a central feature of any communications strategy. The added benefit of using caring and sharing as values is that they are easily transferable to other nonhuman biological beings and systems.
Especially important so that national communities can best implement and demonstrate the values of caring and sharing, the Commons Dilemma will need to be a central consideration in national policy which can be facilitated and negotiated through neighbourhood forums, ward and constituency meetings and regional citizens assemblies in order to best achieve different consensus perspectives.
As mentioned previously, this national based strategy is at present, the only existing strategy by which humanity can live within the safe operating space of the Earth. However, what has impeded its implementation to date is designing and implementing a just transition plan. Well Covid-19 and the dramatic effects of lockdowns has just potentially provided the space for one.
By this I mean, in an ideal (caring and sharing) global ecological society, we would be passionately heeding the natural warnings of human encroachment into wild Nature and use the tragic opportunity created by Covid-19 to begin designing and sharing the potential of the Good Life.
This will obviously need to be done by co-designing and co-creating back to the land low impact smallholding systems and the policy of Levelling Down which I feel should be key policy responses regarding the lockdown exit strategy. This will obviously need to include adapting our planning and taxation laws in order to facilitate their emergence. In this respect, an important part of the narration would be to highlight how low impact smallholding systems is the only viable counterbalance to medium and high impact economic activities in order to bring Britain back to within its safe operating space.
Of course, these specific policies will be part of a much broader strategy developing and implementing sustainability, sufficiency and resilience systems. This I think will be significantly aided with the utilisation of metrics which can distinguish economic activity as low/medium/high impact*. This would occur as part of the process of identifying democratically decided essential/nonessential goods and services. These categories will be required in order to help inform how we manage and balance the size of our gdp in relation to our ecological capacity. Balancing the size of our national economy with our national ecological capacity will also require public education programmes around the need for ecological resource caps.
Ultimately, the objective of the Good Life is to build upon the national solidarity that has built up in response to Covid-19 which would hopefully maximise national participation in creating a sustainable, sufficient and resilient future for All.
In conclusion, with a sombre warning in mind, if it is an ecological fact that Covid-19 is a stark warning from wild Nature, then failure to implement this national Good Life strategy (or develop and implement an international/global strategy) will mean humanity becoming increasingly vulnerable if human expansionism continues with increasingly intelligent killer virus attacks until human Nature eventually retreats.
In this respect, the Good Life is our only hope, so either support it or create a viable international or global alternative, since by opting to continue growing and expanding the human ecosystem so that it continues breaching planetary ecological limits will simply mean  using even more ecological resources in order to prepare human systems for ongoing killer virus attacks.
*
I
M
P opulation
A ffluence
C onsumption
T echnology
events, News

Introducing #DegrowthTalks

2020 was supposed to be the inaugural year of the UK Degrowth Summer School, an initiative organised by past attendees of the well-respected annual degrowth summer school held at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Unfortunately, due to the covid-19 crisis, the UK summer school – along with the Manchester degrowth conference it was scheduled to precede – has been postponed.

However, the summer school organising team have acted swiftly to organise instead a fantastic schedule of online talks, by some brilliant degrowth scholars. The talks are free and open to all, and will be streamed live via the Degrowth Talks youtube channel. See the poster below for details of the full schedule of talks. The first talk will take place on Wednesday 29th April, at 6pm BST. See you there! #DegrowthTalks #NoBackToNormal

Degrowth Talks youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnmLreZXaPwgAdFhWmJbKBA

DegrowthTalks twitter: @DegrowthTalks

UK Degrowth Summer School website: https://www.ukdegrowthsummerschool.org/

Republished pieces, Uncategorized

This Pandemic as an Opening for a Care-Full Radical Transformation

We are delighted to republish this piece, collaboratively written by roughly 40 scholars and activists affiliated with the Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA), a network that aims at making feminist reasoning an integral part of degrowth.  More information about FADA in the endnote.

Collaborative Feminist Degrowth: Pandemic as an Opening for a Care-Full Radical Transformation

The crisis we face as a global community must be understood not only as a public health crisis, or as an economic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, but also, fundamentally, as a crisis of the reproduction of life. In this sense, it is a crisis of care: the work of caring for humans, non-humans, and the shared biosphere.

The pandemic is a historical rupture. It’s also an opening for reworlding––as one recent meme says, “There is no going back to normal because “normal” was the problem.” As a group of activists and scholars from the Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA)1, we take this opportunity to reflect on how we can, from our diverse positions, face this moment, organize, and collectively imagine radical alternative modes of living: those with more time for community, relationship building, and care for each other as well as the non-human world.

This collaborative reflection is motivated by the following concerns: First we would like to stress that this crisis is NOT our degrowth. Secondly, we want to clarify what an intentional (feminist) degrowth project means, and why it is more necessary now than ever. Thirdly, we want to bring attention to dimensions of care and reproductive work that have been so centrally relied upon, yet so invisible and neglected, in this pandemic. Finally, we want to offer proposals for how this crisis can help us move towards care-full economies in the long term.

GDP is plummeting, resource use exploitation and pollution are declining, CO2 emissions have fallen, and in some places non-human life is able to reinhabit spaces made through diminished human activity. At a first glance, these items might read like a degrowthers’ or environmentalists’ wishlist, and yet we want to underline that the slowdown in the global economy provoked by the pandemic is NOT to be confused with feminist degrowth. On the contrary, some responses by dominant actors present worrisome and dangerous paths within surveillance, authoritarianism, and ecofascism. As the slogan proclaimed in the context of the last financial crisis: “your austerity is not our degrowth.”

Economic recessions or depressions are crises, they are not equitable to care-full social transformations, and they serve nothing to disentangle economic models from biophysical impossibilities of indefinite capitalist growth. Feminist degrowth embodies the vision of a radical transformation towards a just, sustainable, and convivial society brought about by voluntary change. Degrowth is an umbrella term for visions of doing economies otherwise, in ways which do not have growth and accumulation as their overriding aim but instead focus on care, well-being, conviviality, solidarity, provisioning economies, commons and commoning, and a concern for equality, human flourishing, and meeting basic needs as defined in context. It is rooted in collective, and democratic decision making.

Responses to the crisis in some quarters have included a much-needed re-evaluation of public collective goods and infrastructures, and an acknowledgment of government’s capacity and responsibility to provide for their citizens2, moves on which we want to build. However, we must be wary and vigilant against other visions seeking to capitalize on this moment that may mobilize inequality, authoritarianism, austerity, and repression. This includes Silicon Valley fantasies of provisioning to those who can afford it via Amazon drones, the fortification of global hyper-surveillance states, and a further deregulation of wage work which is already being implemented in many places. Many who are dropped from formal, more stable employment in the context of this crisis will not recover it afterwards, as countries pass special legislation allowing precarious contracts and short-time work in order to “save” businesses. Meanwhile, interventions to flatten the curve of contagion rely on repression including militarization of countries such as Ecuador, India, and Kenya, to enforce physical distancing in absence of a functional public health system, opening the way for recurrent human rights violations.

Our intervention therefore asks: how can we use this moment to democratically rebuild social organization of labor and care work? To reconstruct the realm of public welfare that has been so depleted by decades of neoliberalism, austerity, structural adjustment, and the privatization of education and healthcare? How can this opening lead our economies towards emancipation from the grips of the growth paradigm founded in heteropatriarchal capitalist principles? A feminist degrowth project calls for an end to the subalternization of reproduction in service to the realm of production.

We suggest here some priorities behind an intentional degrowth informed by a democratic and feminist approach that empowers all facets of society to engage, mobilize, and transform:

1. Towards a Provisioning Economy: Recognize and regenerate social and ecological reproductive capacities

As all but essential services are locked down, this crisis invites us to (re)consider the nature of the essential and the superfluous. As “productive” enterprises are shuttered, the material bases that sustain and regenerate life and that which we cannot live without are starkly emphasized. Some have termed those material bases the provisioning economy, one which provides what people actually need for their well-being and reproduction. This refocusing on basic material needs has sparked appreciation for the farmers who grow our food, to the supermarket workers who stack the shelves.

This capacity to provide is further based on the maintenance, recycling, repair, and restoration of environmental, infrastructural and social resources. These undergird social and environmental reproduction and are sometimes termed the reproductive economy––the work done to reproduce ourselves. It includes unpaid work in the home, as well the protection, regeneration and defense of the ecological capacities to reproduce life, often led by peasants, activists and Indigenous peoples who engage in care-full work and struggles to feed the soil, to keep water sources free from contamination and air unpolluted. Their reproductive and care labor has been considered free of charge and available for exploitation, while the including air, water, and soil fertility have been long considered a “free gift” to capitalism.

Focusing on provisioning and the reproductive economy brings economics back to its core. The word economics comes from the Greek oikonomia, which means administration of the household. A feminist degrowth calls for restructuring our economy to shift the emphasis from the production of things to feed the growth imperative and endless desires, and towards the reproduction and provisioning of life and meeting needs. It is crucial to foster this provisioning set-up of economic practice––without romanticizing ideas of the ‘local’ or forgetting gendered impacts of any economic transformation.

The sustainability of life should constitute the main goal of social organization. This requires the recognition, regeneration and strengthening of social and ecological reproductive capacities as well as a transformation of markets and modes of exchange as modes of provisioning.

Therefore, we urgently call for a society that not only stays within planetary boundaries, but replenishes and boosts both social and ecological reproductive capacities. One example are food systems based on small peasant agriculture or community supported organic agriculture which both increase local resilience, support the regeneration of the soil and reduce dependence on global supply chains.

2. Home as a site of production and reproduction

“I stay at home because I care for the vulnerable” is a common phrase we hear to promote physical distancing (problematically called social distancing) in this uniquely uncertain time. Unpacking this call for retreat into the domestic sphere as an act of caring brings up multiple questions. Who gets to stay home safely? Who are the vulnerable? And how can we care for others beyond isolation?

Firstly, we should note that the home as refuge is made luxury under existing capitalist social organization. The wealthy are those who have the luxury to shelter in place and maintain their salaries, the disadvantaged less so. In some cases, their work cannot be done from home. Some have to go out to care for others. Others don’t have a home at all. The virus, like pollution, is not democratic. It discriminates across structural inequalities, modulated by forms of oppression and discrimination which cumulate and interlock across gender, race, class, (dis)ability, age, and place, among others. Men are dying in higher numbers due to Covid-19 across all locations. In the US, black communities are more impacted, to give only some examples.

Further, the home is not always a safe space. Measures to restrict movement confine vulnerable people to the same space with their abusers leading to increasing levels of domestic violence against mainly women and children. As employers expect people to do care work and wage work at the same time, either in home offices, in their factories or on their fields, while replacing teachers at home, without due attention, gendered divisions of labor become ever more defined and unequal. This collision of wage work and care work in the home has starkly revealed what feminist scholars have always pointed out: that the household has always been a work-place and that the workplace depends on the household whether or not they are the same place or different places.

Finally, we must ask how we can center care for each other and our communities and social solidarity while maintaining physical distance. How can the conviviality and solidarity integral to degrowth thrive over alienation in these moments? While the state assumes that all households are made up of hetero-patriarchal families, and these will serve as safety nets to absorb the social and economic dislocations of this crisis; the reality is that in many countries, the most common household type is a single person.

This atomization means that forms of practical solidarity and, in fact, social proximity are needed. All over the world, communities are building support and care networks that reach beyond the heteropatriarchal nuclear family, and that support and interconnect members of non-nuclear family households, which make up the majority in every country. We share the enthusiasm of anarchist thinkers for affinity groups as one model for recreating networks of “odd-kin” rather than “god-kin” (in Haraway’s words) for surviving the virus. They suggest that by choosing a group of people you trust and with whom you share similar risk factors and levels of risk tolerance, we can joyously engage in togetherness and care now to preserve our mental and physical health. Such affinity groups can then be connected in broader groups of mutual aid which can engage in broader practical solidarity with the homeless, migrants and refugees, and collective mobilization and support for each other’s struggles and resistance––from rent strikes and labor movements to direct solidarity with care workers, LGBTIQA+ and prisoners´ rights groups.

Creating these networks of care now, beyond our homes, can overcome alienation and provide fertile ground for the necessary collective mobilization to create the futures we want in this historic moment. Further it can help us imagine more collective ways to organize the reproduction of their lives, while relying on commoning, community resources and attending community needs.

3. Towards a Caring Economy. Care Labor and Care Income

In most countries today, the majority of nurses, health aids, and child-care workers are women, while essential positions where men are concentrated include hospital orderlies, garbage collectors, agricultural laborers, doctors, delivery-people, and others. Many of these essential positions are occupied by informalized, undocumented, or migrant workers. As such, these workers face specific difficulties accessing public health and welfare services. If they fall sick they likely will still have to continue to work. So they also face greater risk of being fired or criminalized, as in many cases they will be forced to choose between hunger and health.

We consider degrowth a question of regeneration. While many aspects of our global economy need to degrow, some critical democratic infrastructures, such as infrastructures of care, will have to flourish. Therefore, we need to invest in transformative policies that center around the (re)production of life and the commoning of care. In a feminist degrowth future, the provision of community, domestic, and environmental care beyond the market and the state will be based on radically different logics than profit maximization, competition, or efficiency. We therefore also call for the socialization of all universal health care, the socialization of utilities, the decommodification of food, housing, medicines, education, and other basic services.

This pandemic has raised the pitch of calls for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), by actors ranging from Pope Francis to the Spanish Parliament and US tech venture capitalist Andrew Yang. Defined as a modest sum paid monthly to each resident to secure conditions of life, the UBI has been advocated as part of wide-ranging visions and purposes. Degrowth aligns with those proposals that seek material conditions that can liberate individuals from exploitative employment, support transformation away from environmentally-damaging regimes, and help move beyond battles of jobs vs. environment toward politics that address viable livelihoods as inseparable from a sustainable earth.

As feminist advocates of degrowth, we propose a Universal Care Income that builds on and differs from other proposals by foregrounding the social recognition of unpaid and gendered care work that we all perform to sustain the life and wellbeing of households and communities. Care income seeks to foster equity and solidarity by conceptualizing this income as an investment out of common wealth in capacities for all citizens to take care of ourselves, our kin, and others. For example, we support the call for a care income by the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and Women of Color GWS, which urges governments to recognize the indispensable role of (re)productive work of life and survival, that we now depend on even more than ever.

4. Towards a Solidarity Economy

In the immediacy of the pandemic, we need to strengthen existing affinity groups, mutual aid networks, and all related efforts. We acknowledge that solidarity comes in many forms. Therefore, we need to support each other’s struggles and resistance––from rent strikes and labor movements, to direct mutual aid solidarity with precarious care workers, unhoused persons, and prisoners. In recognition of the enduring coloniality of North-South relations, a global foreign debt relief for states in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

We need long-term structural solutions to protect those who are vulnerable. We need shelters, sanctuaries and direct support for refugees, undocumented people, and the homeless. We also need the decarceration of immigrant detention centers and prisons, as a proven proliferation ground for community spread magnified by systemic human rights abuses, and as a further claim for a united effort for care-full transformation. Care-based crises can’t be solved by mass incarceration, or the closure of national borders. Degrowth is about planetary thresholds, not borders. The pandemic shows us that life (and its backside, death) does not recognize borders, but it does hinge on limits, for example, as deforestation from agro-industry incurs into forestlands and viruses jump from displaced wildlife to livestock and then to humans.

For now, world leaders are focusing on saving the economy. They need to focus instead on saving the biosphere, by way of swift policies like a solidarity-based Global Green New Deal. We don’t need to choose between jobs or climate protection, nor do we want to return back to ‘normal’ life or business as usual. The pandemic reveals that climate policy will require a much wiser, better-organized approach than ‘normal’. Given the global climate thresholds we have already unleashed, this concerns everybody’s survival although vulnerabilities vary strongly: while the resulting crises are distant and punctual for the privileged, their effects are disproportionate on the most vulnerable.

The pandemic offers an unprecedented, vital insight: the true, total interdependence of all humans on the biosphere. It reveals the interdependent and systemic way in which we must transform economies in the face of the growing climate and environmental emergencies to foreground care for humans and the environment. We need an economics based first and foremost in care, stewardship, cooperation, sharing, and commoning. For industrialized societies, this means vast resource and wealth redistribution, sweeping protection of ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as degrowth, and decarbonization of the economy. This must include social and environmental justice that make up for centuries of coloniality and plunder.

Change needs to be systemic to match the scale of the emergency and the inequalities uncovered and reproduced by the pandemic. This crisis can and should be used as a collective learning point for a transformation towards an alternative feminist degrowth future.
We demand a more care-full world!

Footnotes

1. Launched in September 2016 at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest. We are an inclusive network of academics and activists that aims to foster a dialogue among feminists and degrowth proponents, and to make feminist reasoning an integral part of degrowth activism and scholarship.
2. Ireland’s nationalizing of its health system is one such example.

Author: This piece is collaboratively written by roughly 40 scholars and activists affiliated with the Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA), a network that aims at making feminist reasoning an integral part of degrowth. You can subscribe by sending an email to fada-subscribe@lists.riseup.net. Also, you can visit our FaDA project space on degrowth.info, follow us on twitter, or write to the coordination group at fada-feminismsanddegrowth@riseup.net.

Participants in conversations leading to this text include among others Amanda Mercedes Gigler, Anna Saave, Barbara Muraca, Corinna Dengler, Dominique Just, Eeva Houtbeckers, Emily Rose McDonald, Evi Curu, Federico Demaria, Giacomo D’Alisa, Janina Dannenberg, Jennifer Wells, Leah Temper, Lina Hansen, Lindsay Barbieri, Manuela Zechner, Maria Consuelo Revilla Nebreda, Marisol Bock, Megan Egler, Miriam Lang, Natalia Avlona, Patricia Susial Martín, Rebecca Rutt, Sophie Sanniti, Sourayan Mookerjea, Stefania Barca, Susan Paulson, Teal George, Wojtek Mejor.

Republished pieces

Access to land plus a participation income could change the world

by Samuel Alexander and Alex Baumann

Our civilisation is facing an alarming barrage of overlapping crises, together presenting an existential threat to life as we know it. Climate breakdown is intensifying; we are decimating wildlife populations; and more generally the life-support system called Earth is trembling under the weight of overconsumption.

Just as concerning are the social consequences. The global economic system has produced deep, socially corrosive inequalities; poverty around the world is extreme; and worst of all, perhaps, is that even those who are ‘winning the rat race’ so often find that the promises of consumer lifestyles are unfulfilling.

Too much ink has been spilt already criticising this broken system. What about solutions and creative responses? In words often attributed to Albert Einstein, we cannot solve our problems with the same kinds of thinking that caused them.

In this article we’d like to offer some new thinking: a policy proposal that we feel has the potential to be transformative. At its simplest, our proposal involves providing self-selecting unemployed public housing residents with a basic, living wage. With housing and other basic needs secured, the goal would be to enable these public residents to participate voluntarily in the creation of ‘simple living’ communities and neighbourhoods that are sustainable, resilient, and consistent with human flourishing.

If successful, proposal is that these initial examples could be scaled up to support the economically ‘redundant’ and attract progressives across the political divide as a viable alternative for a sustainable society. Central to this vision is the recognition that access to land, just as with air and water, is not a market product. It is a human right and should be recognised as such. 

We need land to live simply

The great 19th century philosopher of ‘simple living’ Henry David Thoreau spent two years living on the shores of Walden Pond, where he built himself a small abode, grew his own food, and generally lived an abundant life of voluntary simplicity.

Thoreau also wrote an amazing book called Walden, in which he presented a fiery critique of the emerging consumer culture in the United States and a beautiful defence of simple living. Both his example and his words are inspiring – and, in an age of overconsumption, more important today than ever before. In a key passage, he writes:

I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.   

But Thoreau’s living experiment at Walden Pond depended on access to land, which is the prime barrier to people living simply and sustainable today. It is hard to follow his example of sufficiency-based living, even for those of us who want to. After all, most of us have to work full time in an unsustainable growth economy just to afford somewhere to live. 

The huge cost of land and housing has significant implications, affecting what we do for work, how much we work, our need for a car, and a range of other consumer habits. Our economy has developed in such perverse ways (particularly when it comes to land cost) that we are often locked into high-impact consumerist lifestyles.  

There is absolutely no way affluent consumption practices of the developed regions of the world can be globalised to all 7.7 billion people on the planet today, let alone the 9.7 billion expected by 2050. Technology alone cannot solve this ecological contradiction. If we are to respond effectively to the overlapping crises of our times, we need to empower individuals, households, and communities to transcend consumer culture and embrace a ‘simpler way’ of life, like Henry Thoreau.

Our policy would enable low-impact living for more people, by providing access to land (in the form of secure housing) and a ‘participation income’ – a Walden Wage, if you like.

Let us explain how it could work.   

Access to Land is Fundamental: Unpacking the Vision  

At its simplest, the Walden Wage is similar to a ‘voluntary-work-for-the-dole’ scheme – but with a twist and a grand vision that we will share. The policy’s most important feature is linking a secure but modest income with access to public land and housing.

This housing and income option would be offered (at first) to unemployed people who are already in, or on the top of the waiting list for, public housing. These public residents would ‘self-select’ to be involved in around 15 hours per week of local community programs, like growing food, maintaining the neighbourhood, facilitating sharing schemes, or even building new homes.   

In other words, the Walden Wage would provide a ‘participation income’ for jobless public residents wanting to engage in the necessary work of creating new forms of sufficiency-based living, enabled by access to land.

The ‘wage’ part of this scheme has some similarity to the notion of a ‘basic income’, which is being talked about a lot these days. However, there are some critical differences. The primary difference is that it would be offered, not universally, but only in the context of public housing and community development – as a minimal and sustainable living wage. This would make it affordable to governments, and since it is linked to access to public land and housing, people receiving the Walden Wage would not find themselves needing to ‘top up’ their incomes by engaging in an unsustainable growth economy in any significant way.

Interestingly, the fact that this income (through the voluntary-work-for the-dole-scheme) it is already available (in Australia) for unemployed people who are over 55, demonstrates that it has already been deemed affordable by government. And, unlike the UBI, it would neither be universal (i.e. paid to all citizens) nor promote or depend on a limitless growth economy to fund it. Indeed, a Walden Wage would function to support the building of a new form of sustainable economy, based on a new land governance arrangement and sufficiency-based, community economies. If over 55s could show a viable pilot, we believe this option could easily be extended to under 55s who are unemployed in public housing.

Land, we should add, would still be owned by the Commonwealth, and residents would pay 25% of their income in rent. Without having the expense of private land and housing, a modest participation income is all that would be required to live well. If we assume that income is a rough proxy for environmental impact, we can also say that the Walden Wage would imply roughly an 85% reduction in impacts compared to the national average, on the basis that the dole ($489.70 per fortnight) is roughly 15% of the average Australian income.

Given the security of public housing and the many benefits of local collaborative development, this wage could be sufficient and even desirable. If shown to be viable, it’s a way of living that represents a massive reduction in market dependence and certainly puts it in the ballpark of global sustainability.

The Benefits and Prospects

The best thing about this seemingly radical idea is that it isn’t actually that radical. With the right supports, it could actually begin now – given that the policy settings are already in place to allow public residents, who are over 55, to self-select into voluntary-work-for-the-dole programs. Such a pilot, if well-conceived, could show that access to land plus a participation income could help build new forms of sustainable economy.  If this pilot showed some success, it’s not hard to see how one pilot could turn into two, and even be offered to some willing participants who were under 55.

The next phase could be slightly more ambitious. If governments could provide some more land, these public residents could not just develop community economies around existing public housing projects, but actually participate in the building of their own homes, in collaboration with others, and under the guidance of experts. This would also reduce pressure on existing public housing, giving others the opportunity to participate in this scheme.

Also, providing these public residents with such an opportunity, coupled with a voluntary-work–for-the-dole scheme (reframed as the Walden Wage), represents a shift many on the political right would want too, in the direction of less passive and more active forms of ‘welfare’.

In fact, this policy would totally reframe welfare for those who self-select.  If such an opportunity could be encouraged, the identity we give to public housing tenants who participate could begin to be uplifted and even celebrated. Their status in society, and how they might conceive of themselves, could move from being regarded as ‘social dependants’ to ‘pioneers of a new, social economy’.

What if things scaled up?

As more people are cast into unemployment by the automation of jobs, the globalisation of labour, or the phasing-out of high impact industries like fossil fuel power stations, it is highly likely that more and more people will require a new and sustainable housing and community development option like the one being proposed here. For this reason, we need bold new thinking and action now – and the courage to experiment with new housing and living arrangements. 

With the community economies we envision becoming increasingly self-reliant, it is not hard to see how this proposal, that started with the unemployed in public housing, could expand to include the growing numbers who have found themselves alienated from the market. This is where things get really interesting and where our policy shows most promise.

Once this local and cooperative sector of the economy started to flourish, we could imagine the sustainability dream coming into fruition – bike lanes weaving their way through food forests, with a few shared electric vehicles available for occasional use when necessary. We can imagine renewable energy micro-grids and large water tanks supporting these new communities on public land. And we can imagine people enriched by the process of participating in the building of their own sustainable homes (e.g. mudbrick), under expert supervision, and in collaboration with others. Soon enough, these pioneers (being liberated from a market mortgage or rent) would be living as free citizens in a thriving, local economy of sufficiency

This work building new sustainable communities would ‘earn’ or justify the small participation income, providing many benefits – not only to participants, but also to the broader neigbourhood. Through the participants 15 hours per week in local sustainable productivity (professionally run community gardens, resource share and repair programs etc.), many neighbours could opt to be involved and enjoy collaborative benefits. Neighbours could also enjoy a greater sense of community connectedness. Very importantly, all neighbours would also benefit from a much more sustainable future! 

Empirical studies show that that some simple living communities and strategies can reduce ecological impacts by up to 90% or more, which is arguably the scale of downshifting needed to bring developed nations within sustainable limits of the planet. Our policy provides an essential key to helping such sustainable communities and neighbourhoods proliferate, namely, by empowering people with access to land (thereby freeing them from the lifelong debt of the mortgage / rent and everything that goes along with it).

Over time, as the realities of globalised labour, technological job redundancy and environmental limits to consumer growth really start to kick in, why should we not imagine thousands of these ecovillages emerging within existing societies? If this happened, we might at last see the planned contraction of energy and resource demands that is so clearly necessary for any ‘degrowth’ transition to sustainable, steady state economy.  

Let governments be as ambitious as the Senegalese government, which is has announced a plan to establish and support 14,000 ecovillages.

Build a new model

Our wager, then, is this: if people are provided with affordable rent through public land and housing opportunities to undertake their own sufficiency-based living experiments like Henry Thoreau, then many people would do so. Access to land liberates people from market growth and facilitates ways of living consistent with degrowth.  At the very least, it makes sense to support all willing pioneers and encourage their skill development and empower them to build new worlds within the shell of the old.

As Buckminster Fuller once said: ‘You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.’

This is a republished version of an article first published on The Fifth Estate.

Dr Samuel Alexander is a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs and researcher with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne. Most of his writing is freely available at: samuelalexander.info 

Dr Alex Baumann lectures in Sustainable Futures at the University of Western Sydney. He is also involved with the ‘Neighbourhood That Works’ sustainability project.