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. 

events, News

Announcement about the Manchester Degrowth and ISEE conference

The Manchester 7th International Degrowth and 16th International Society for Ecological Economics Joint conference was due to be held in September 2020.  It will not come as a surprise to you that given the global Covid 19 pandemic we have been forced to postpone the conference.  We do so with deep regret.  The conference is now planned to go ahead in the week of July 5th 2021.  The conference will retain is existing overarching theme of ‘Building Alternative Livelihoods’. It will also keep existing subthemes.  However, clearly the overarching theme has new importance in the light of the global pandemic.  We will be sending out a new additional call in September 2020 looking more specifically at the implications of the Covid 19 pandemic for building and rebuilding alternative livelihoods.   It is planned that the conference in July 2021 will have a much larger virtual component than the original conference planned for September 2020.  Given the new arrangements we those who submitted proposals for contributions the following options  for  their proposals

1.    leaving their proposal as it is for consideration for the 2021 conference in Manchester;
2.    resubmitting  a revised version of their proposal for the 2021 conference in Manchester
3.    submitting a new proposal for the 2021 conference in Manchester
4.    withdrawing their proposal.

Those choosing the first option will not need to do anything.  It will be automatically considered for the July  2021 conference in Manchester.  Anyone wanting to pursue one of the other options please let us know by April 30th.  We will leave the call open for resubmissions and new submissions after this date.   Please also  let us know if you would like to present your session virtually or at the site in Manchester.

We do deeply regret having to postpone the conference until next year.  The team at Manchester did explore the possibility of doing the conference as a virtual conference in September 2020.  However, given the lockdown in the UK and after discussion with the conference administration at Manchester University,  it become apparent that the capacity did not exist to do this in September 2020.  The plan is to have a larger virtual component to the conference in 2021.  We do plan to offer a small online symposium in September 2020 specifically on the implications of Covid19 for ecological economics and degrowth.    We will announce further details about this colloquium later this year.

We would like to thank you for your patience in waiting for this update.  We are sorry we could not get back to you sooner.  As you can imagine it has been very difficult to reorganise the dates of the conference in current conditions.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes

The Local Organising Committee, Manchester

News

Message from the Manchester Degrowth Conference

This text is going out to those who have submitted to the conference.


Thank you for your submission to the Manchester degrowth and ecological economics conference. 

As you will be aware we are facing an unprecedented situation with the global coronavirus pandemic.

We are therefore reviewing options as to how to progress.

We have decided not to open registration until we have more certainty in the coming weeks. Meanwhile we have extended the submissions deadline until the end of March. 

Thank you for your patience, we hope you all understand this organisational challenge and wish you all the very best during these extraordinary times.

events, News

Degrowth and Ecological Economics conference, Manchester, Open Call now live

We are pleased to share the Open Call for the Degrowth and Ecological Economics conference in September, here in Manchester:
http://www.confercare.manchester.ac.uk/events/degrowth2020/open-call/
It can also be reached via  a link at the bottom of the main page http://www.confercare.manchester.ac.uk/events/degrowth2020/

Submissions from activists, policy people and politicos as well as scholars and academics are welcome.  The deadline is 15th March.

See you there!

Critique, Republished pieces

Open letter to Fridays For A Future. It’s time for action, but, what action?

Open letter by Marga Mediavilla to Fridays For A Future.  reposted from 15/15\15.

“There is one thing that worries me. In your speeches on climate change you can find demands for very ambitious decarbonization objectives…..

According to my knowledge and according to the studies we are making in our group, such ambitious goals as these would require very drastic measures which go far beyond the usual proposals such as investment in renewable energy, electric vehicles or energy saving and efficiency.

Therefore, I think we have to be very realistic about the decarbonization objectives and the measures we demand in order to achieve them. If we do not, our leaders can happily silence the protests, by using exclusively technological cosmetic measures that do not solve anything, and the hopes of many young people with good intentions may be frustrated.” 

Mediavilla goes on to explore decarbonisation scenarios using the MEDEAS simulation model.  The findings indicate the relevance of the degrowth perspective rather than technological optimism.

Read the whole post HERE.

Climate strikers in Manchester
Climate strike protesters in Manchester last September

books, Republished pieces

Utopian thinking in the ether: an interview with Boris Frankel

This interesting interview appeared in the Australian journal, Overland. It is relevant to many of the concerns discussed here. Frankel’s open access book, Fictions of Sustainability, is very good.

Thanks to Zacharias Szumer for this. Here is the beginning of the interview – follow the link at the end for the rest of it.

Is utopian thinking akin to casting a net into the ether – collecting the unimaginable and dragging it into the realm of the possible? Or, by neglecting to consider any parameters of the possible, is it a fanciful distraction from meaningful politics? Well, perhaps it depends on the type of utopian thinking. In Fictions of Sustainability: The Politics of Growth and Post-Capitalist Futures, social theorist Boris Frankel takes aim at certain types of utopian thinking: proposals that he argues are unrealisable or unsustainable regardless of whether political obstacles have been removed or transformed.  Throughout the book, which was released earlier this year, Professor Frankel seeks to ask the difficult questions surrounding concepts such as green growth, degrowth and post-scarcity, not with the aim of opposing radical solutions, but to facilitate the development of more plausible and effective policies. Political-economic dilettante Zacharias Szumer met with Frankel recently to try to get his head around this somewhat heavy going but important book.  

ZS: In the conclusion of Fictions of Sustainability, you write that one of your aims in writing the book was to “bridge the political and theoretical chasm or ‘analytical apartheid’ that characterizes so much socio-economic policy on the one side and environmental analyses on the other.” What do you mean by analytical apartheid? And how did you attempt to bridge this chasm?

BF: In the past, conservatives, liberal Keynesians, Marxists and anarchists were divided over how to analyse capitalism and debated its virtues and failings. Today, it is not enough to have a knowledge of political economy, whatever the political perspective, if it excludes crucial environmental issues. On the other hand, you’ve got many people who are active and concerned about environmental issues, but who neglect political economy. The ‘analytical apartheid’ I refer to is that environmental issues cannot be separated from political economy yet, political economists and environmentalists talk past one another and rarely consider one another’s issues and positions. Despite environmental crises being highlighted for over fifty years, traditional political economists and many on the left still treat environmental issues as marginal to the main issue of capital versus labour. This is now changing. But you’ll still find many leading political economists are completely silent on environmental issues. It’s important to bridge these two worlds. Similarly, many committed environmentalists have a detailed understanding of the damage being done to so many ecological habitats and the need to transform existing consumption and production. But apart from generalised ‘wish lists’ have a very limited understanding of how existing political institutions and the economy of capitalism works. So, in order to achieve their environmental goals, it’s critical that they become more familiar with the political economic debates that have been developed by non-environmentalists.
Click this link for the full interview on Overland.

Critique

Is the Degrowth Movement Delusional?

See also this article by list member Andrea Grainger:
In defence of degrowth: The climate movement and socialist movements must come together to build a new progressive movement.  Open Democracy, 5 September, 2019.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Is the Degrowth Movement Delusional?

by Steve Gwynne

In his latest article, Leigh Phillips, a strong advocate of ‘Socialist Growth’ and ‘Luxury Communism’ condemns the Degrowth Movement as delusional with an array of arguments that suggest unlimited growth is technologically feasible.
However, despite his technological utopianism, his most poignant omission is the fact that most developed countries in the world are in ecological debt.
As a result, ecological debtor nations are highly dependent on less developed ecological creditor regions for materials and resources in order to sustain and maintain their unsustainable economies. In turn, these import dependancies and the vulnerabilities that they create gives rise to Western foreign interference, whether through the market or through military or diplomatic intervention, in order to appropriate, protect and distribute raw materials into ecological debtor nations.
Unambiguously, the Degrowth Movement recognises this vicious circle which emerges from ecological debt, a vicious circle which not only seeks to sustain the unsustainable through the appropriation and exploitation of foreign resources but also seeks to limit the ability of weaker nations and their impoverished populations to sustainably develop adequate infrastructure that enables them a dignified and secure way of life.
By ignoring the ramifications of ecological debt, Leigh unwittingly justifies the market and military interventions that keep millions of people impoverished whilst rich nations copiously consume.
Since non renewable resources are by definition not renewable and therefore finite in quantity and quality, the international Degrowth Movement advocates a just and equitable contraction and convergence of
Population,
Affluence,
Consumption and
Technology,
in order to help bring ecological debtor nations back into ecological credit. Through the communicative tool of IM=PACT, the main intention is to allow less developed ecological creditor nations to use their resources for their own development rather than them being used for the continued growth of unsustainable ecological debtor nations such as the UK, the US and other major European nations. As such, in opposition to Leigh’s assertions, the Degrowth Movement advocates human impact contraction because it recognises that the planet is home to a diverse array of limitations which cannot be transcended by technology.
Leigh’s article argues the opposite. It proposes that the limitations posed by the availability of non renewable resources can be overcome by technology without specifying how except through human ingenuity. In essence, the author is claiming that technology will avail us of our natural, societal and human limitations by being able to produce a diverse array of unlimited materials from the atmosphere we breathe.
This of course is an intriguing science fiction idea and would no doubt if realised bring some relief to growing global resource scarcity and a growing global ecological debt but unfortunately he does not explain how the impacts of an atmosphere that is transformed into tangible substances will affect ecospheric processes so perhaps should be viewed with extreme caution.
Meanwhile, whilst waiting for this ground breaking technology, humanity is faced with the hard realities of limitations and the fact that global ecological debt needs to be reversed if human flourishing on a global scale is to be sustained. This means focusing our attention and our national policies towards ways of life that are materially sufficient for our needs and our development rather than orientated towards unlimited growth. See https://goodlife.leeds.ac.uk/
It is clearly unjust for countries which are in ecological debt to appropriate resources from nations in ecological credit when their basic infrastructures, infrastructures which we take for granted, are hardly in place whilst in comparison, we enjoy unimaginable luxury. This therefore means a strategy of contraction and convergence so that limited global resources are equitably shared for the utilitarian benefit of all.
Ultimately, PACT contraction is unavoidable even if we choose to continue using economic and military power to appropriate ecological credit solely for ourselves since eventually these resources will too run out. In other words, unlimited growth can only ever lead to collapse.
The only logical alternative to growth is sufficiency, however much it might pain us to let go and sacrifice our unsustainable ways of life for the global common good. So the Degrowth advocate Jason Hickel, is correct, we must rid ourselves of the unnecessary and build our systems around what is necessary for a dignified life for all.
In this regard, Degrowth literature is rich in diverse ideas by which to navigate the difficult and sacrificial path towards sufficiency which Leigh has conveniently referenced in his techno-utopianism piece. So for all those willing to take the sacrificial degrowth path, we need all hands and heads on task if we are to avert a climatic, environmental and ecological disaster of our own unintentional making.
___________________________
Do you have a response to Philips or other misconceptions and misrepresentations of degrowth / post growth thinking?  We’d be interested in covering them.
News

7th International Degrowth Conference: Call​ ​for​ ​sub-themes

Update  January, 2020

The call for subthemes generated a great deal of interest.  We have consolidated them into 14 themes: see the conference website.  The open call for contributions will be announced there in later January / early February.

The 7th International Degrowth and 16th International Society for Ecological Economics Joint Conference – Manchester

Building Alternative Livelihoods in Times of Ecological and Political Crisis

Call​ ​for​ ​sub-themes

Panorama of Manchester from the North
                                                                                                              Manchester, from the North (Mark Burton)

updated with some missing text, 19/9/19

We are delighted to announce that the first ever joint conference between the International Degrowth Research Network and the International Society for Ecological Economics will take place 1-5 September 2020 in Manchester, UK. This conference will bring together academics from the Degrowth and Ecological Economics communities, voices from the Global North and Global South, civil society actors, activists, artists and policy-makers. It aims to break down silos and stimulate dialogues between and within different perspectives, disciplines and social movements.

Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis is the overarching theme of the conference. Economic systems have always co-evolved with social, environmental and technological systems. The worsening ecological and climate crisis means we must urgently abandon practices of production and consumption that drive ecological degradation and that rely on unsustainable extractivism. We must develop alternative livelihoods which are harmonious with planetary limits and safeguard material living conditions.  We must invent and trial new ways of working, providing for everyone’s needs, caring for each other and democratising the economy. We must seek clarity about the systems of provisioning which will be utilised in a society beyond growth where states and markets play more peripheral roles in the allocation of resources. In short, we must ask what are the alternative livelihoods which ensure the future conditions of societal wellbeing.

The construction of alternative livelihoods entails a radical transformation of economy, culture and society. What are the institutional arrangements which safely provide for basic needs, social stability and democratic legitimacy in the transition to environmental sustainability? How can both social and ecological justice for the populations of the Global North and the Global South be ensured? How can political support be mobilised for the necessary transformations? How can the transition to environmental sustainability be made politically viable and democratically legitimate?

We list below some of the topics that the conference could cover. We also look forward to ideas beyond these, which would expand the geographical and thematic scope of degrowth, as well as advance and further substantiate current debates and dialogue within and between degrowth and ecological economics.

  1. the economy beyond states and markets
  2. the future of employment,  work and care
  3. debates on degrowth, green growth, the circular economy, and decoupling
  4. the democratisation of the economy and alternative models and forms of organisation
  5. the production and conservation of energy
  6. low carbon and low energy futures
  7. forms of decommodification and non-capitalist modes of resource allocation
  8. commoning resources
  9. money, debt and the financial system
  10. financing the (transition to a) post-growth society
  11. monetary and non-monetary measures of prosperity and well-being
  12. a universal basic income or universal basic services
  13. the green new deal
  14. the decentralisation of power
  15. decolonization and feminist economics as challenges to power
  16. post- growth policy-making, law and governance
  17. how to respond to the ethno-nationalist environmentalism and anti-environmentalism of ascendant populist groups
  18. the politics of transitions to sustainability and the lessons to be learned from past socio-economic and cultural transformation
  19. spatial issues: planning, housing and the future of cities
  20. diversity: class, race, gender, abilities
  21. Sustainable Development Goals
  22. conflict resolution processes and socio-ecological transformations
  23. biodiversity, ecosystem services, and sustainable livelihoods
  24. social metabolism
  25. political economy and ecological economics/degrowth
  26. sustainable livelihoods and ecological sufficiency
  27. languages of valuation and ecological conflicts
  28. extractivism, environmental justice and illicit activities
  29. social ecological economics
  30. production and consumption
  31. slow science and degrowth of publication economy
  32. strategies for degrowth transformation: lessons from the Vienna conference

Submission Procedure

There will be two stages for the call for academic and activist contributions. The first stage is a call for sub-theme conveners. Academics and activists who wish to actively participate in these sub-themes or suggest new sub-themes for inclusion in the conference should submit a proposal by 30th September 2019. Descriptions of the sub-themes should speak to the overall conference theme. It should be sent to degrowth2020@manchester.ac.uk

Each sub-theme can go from one to four sessions, with up to four papers or other contributions per session. There are many formats which a session can adopt, including the traditional format of paper presentations with a specific thematic​ ​focus, roundtable discussions, and participatory sessions encouraging reflection on a particular topic using an open format​ ​(e.g.​ ​discussion​ ​workshops,​ ​dialogical/reading/planning​ ​sessions,​ ​walks​, ​etc.). Sub-theme conveners will be given full autonomy and responsibility for the organisation of sub-themes.

Sub-theme conveners should present the following information in their proposal:

  1. theme title;
  2. convenor(s);
  3. presenters/roundtable participants anticipated;
  4. subtheme abstract (1 paragraph, maximum 250 words);
  5. how does this subtheme relate to the overall conference theme (maximum 100 words);
  6. format (paper presentation, round-table debate, etc.);
  7. live or remote or both;
  8. number of 1-2 hour sessions anticipated. 

Successful sub theme proposers will hear by 30th October 2019

Once sub-themes have been selected, we will announce a second deadline for individual papers. The main language of the conference is English, but we will review submissions in other languages​ ​also. For​ ​any​ ​questions,​ ​please​ ​contact​ ​us​ ​at:​ degrowth2020@manchester.ac.uk

News

7th International Degrowth Conference – Manchester September 2020

Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis

7TH INTERNATIONAL DEGROWTH / 16TH ISEE INTERNATIONAL JOINT CONFERENCE

Manchester, September 1st to 5th 2020

Download the first call for activists and campaigners.

Come to Manchester in September 2020 to meet with other activists, artists and scholars to explore how alternative livelihoods can respond to the worsening ecological and climate crisis.

We face a worsening ecological and climate crisis and that requires an urgent transformation of the the ways we organise, produce and consume. Alternative livelihoods could be the key to this in a democratic society that has gone beyond economic growth.

How can we ensure both social justice and ecological justice for the peoples of the Global South and North? How can we mobilise political support for the necessary transformations? How can we make the transition environmentally and socially sustainable, politically viable and democratically legitimate?

This conference will bring together academics, policy-makers, artists and activists in order to discuss these many challenges. There will be workshops, debates and discussions, artistic performances, walking tours and installations on the themes of the conference. It will also seek to contribute to local activist initiatives. It will strive not only to demonstrate and explore cutting-edge thinking on alternative sustainable livelihoods but also encourage political mobilisation amongst academics, activists, artists and policy practitioners.

The conference will include events and discussions, all underpinned by the search for social and ecological justice, will include topics such as,

  • The future of states and markets,

  • The future of employment and work,

  • Cutting carbon emissions: degrowth versus green growth,

  • The production and conservation of energy

  • Non-capitalist modes of resource allocation

  • Democratising the economy and alternative forms of business ownership

  • Re-commoning and de-commodifying resources,

  • Non-monetary measures of prosperity and well-being,,

  • Welfare arrangements such as basic income or jobs guarantee

  • Decentralising power,

  • How to respond to the threat of racist, nationalist populism,

  • The politics of transitions to sustainability

  • The lessons to be learned from past socio-economic and cultural conflicts.

The conference website is now live at http://www.confercare.manchester.ac.uk/events/degrowth2020/

Critique

Green New Deals – the degrowth perspective

Cover from the NEF Green New Deal report, 2008.
Cover from the NEF Green New Deal report, 2008.

Most recent update: 18 May,, 2020

The idea of a Green New Deal (or New Green Deal), despite first appearing more than 10 years ago, has become very popular in recent months. These Green New Deals “make an analogy to the response to the Depression of the 1930s with an idea today that with greater state expenditure a huge effort can be put into developing the infrastructure of an economy based on renewables and a decarbonised energy system. This would simultaneously create jobs...”(1). There is a lot to agree with, given that a massive transformation is needed towards a clean economy.  However, these proposals all assume continued economic growth, albeit “green growth”, and as we know, this is problematic since the material and energy flows entailed are what got us into ecological overshoot in the first place.  A number of pieces from across the degrowth community have raised various questions about these Green Deals and we thought it would be worth putting together a collection of links (3).  If you spot others, do let us know and we’ll add them.

A Green New Deal for an ecological economy.  Leah Temper and Sam Bliss at degrowth.info  Explores what the discipline of ecological economics (degrowth’s academic cousin) can bring to the formulation and implementation of Green New Deals.

What Kind of a Green Deal? The implications of material and monetary flowsMark H Burton  at Steady State Manchester     alternative link

This piece covers much the same ground, delivered as a talk at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Future Economies launch, 12 September, 2019: Six problems for Green Deals, Mark H Burton.  Another short piece written for a permaculture audience: Should we be supporting a Green New Deal?

A Green New Deal Between Whom and For What? by Nicholas Beuret at Viewpoint Magazine.  More recent than most of these cited here, so it includes many of the points made in others while offering a very good overview of the concept and its problems.

Energy and the Green New Deal: The complex challenge of powering societies. by Tim Crownshaw at Uneven Earth.  A clearly written and well referenced reality check on the energy assumptions of the Green Deal narratives.

Green New Deals….yes….but what does that mean? Brian Davey at FEASTA

That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant Stan Cox at Green Social Thought

Climate breakdown is coming. The UK needs a Greener New Deal  Jason Hickel at The Guardian

The ‘green new deal’ supported by Ocasio-Cortez and Corbyn is just a new form of colonialism  Asad Rehman at The Independent

And in similar vein,
As the left wakes up to climate injustice, we must not fall into ‘green colonialism’ by Dalia Gebrial at The Guardian

A Green New Deal beyond growth. A concise summary of the central dilemma, by Riccardo Mastini at degrowth.info (the English language section of the German degrowth network site).

A Green New Deal beyond growth (II) – Some steps forward, by Elena Hofferberth. Also at degrowth.info. Following Mastini’s piece, this helpfully identifies both commonalities between GNDs and degrowth and looks at their different emphases.

Between the Devil and the Green New Deal – by Jasper Bernes.  From Commune magazine.  A forceful critique that pulls together a number of themes including the reliance of the GND on unprecedented and carbon-intensive mineral extraction and manufacture and its political and economic implausibility under capitalism.  This version lacks references unfortunately.

The Green New Deal: What’s Really Green and What’s Really New?  by Brian Czech at CASSE blog: focussing on the question of the scale of the material economy in the USA political context.

Degrowth vs. the Green New Deal.  A very helpful “compare and contrast” piece by Aaron Vansintjan on Briar Patch magazine.

Degrowth and the Green New Deal. Another article comparing and contrasting the two and distinguishing among variants of the Green New Deal, by Gareth Dale in The Ecologist.

John Bellamy Foster, while not specifically allying himself with the degrowth movement, makes a number of similar points to those in the more explicit degrowth pieces collected here.  In his Monthly Review piece, On Fire This Time, focussing on GND proposals in the USA, he distinguishes between the original Keynesian New Green Deal, and the more radical variants emerging from a variety of social movements.  It is capitalism itself that imposes the limits of possibility for the GND.

False hopes for a Green New Deal.  by Rufus Jordana on Open Democracy.  “If the ‘Green New Deal’ is our best answer to the climate crisis, then we have no answer to the climate crisis.”

The Green New Deal’s contradiction – new infrastructure and redistribution may boost carbon emissions.  A point made in more detail elsewhere but here succinctly and via historical comparison with the original New Deal’s boosting of emissions and urban sprawl.  By Matthew Paterson at The Conversation.  Michael Jacobs, who is not in general a supporter of degrowth, also makes this point, citing Paterson, in a helpful overview of the challenges facing a GND in the UK.

A Green No Deal? A Terrestrial examines a Modern document by Christine Dann on her website.  She also makes the point that the US Green New Deal proposals imply “green growth”.

The problems of eco-capitalism. By Calvin Jones at Undod: Radical Independence for Wales.  Calvin problematises the GND a modified form of capitalism which is supposed to rescue us from the destruction brought by capitalism’s endless accumulation.  He also brings in a radical localist, Welsh, dimension.

In some versions of the New Green Deal, the growing GDP is rather hidden but it is, nevertheless there (as Burton discusses).  However, one of the pioneers of the approach, Robert Pollin, celebrates the role of “green growth” contrasting it with the degrowth approach in a highly critical article in New Left Review.  Responses have been made to this piece by Giorgos Kallis at TruthOut and by  Mark Burton and Peter Somerville in New Left Review (2) {Version in Spanish, Aqui}.

Also see this by Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis: “Is Green Growth Possible?” In the journal New Political Economy.

For a collection of well argued critical material on Green Growth, there is this excellent book:
Dale, G., Mathai, M. V., & Puppim de Oliveira, J. A. (Eds.). (2016). Green growth: Ideology, political economy and the alternatives. London: Zed Books.

None of us are saying that the degrowth alternative is an easy option.  It is just that the biophysical realities mean that the New Green Deal could inadvertently make the situation worse by continuing to destroy the physical and biological systems on which life depends.

What we need to work on is an ecologically and economically literate Green Deal.  The expertise is there in the degrowth movement, so what’s stopping us? Perhaps the arguments are getting through: the Green Deal for Europe consultation paper, released September, 2019, includes this intriguing passage.

“In addition to phasing out Europe’s existing carbon-intensive energy systems and infrastructure, aggregate energy demand must also be reduced by scaling down material production and throughput. The [Green Public Works] supports this transition by shifting income and welfare creation from industrial production to social and environmental reproduction: maintenance, recycling, repair, and restoration of environmental and infrastructural resources, as well as education, culture and care — for both people and planet.”

post updated 18 May, 2020

Notes

  1.  The quotation is from Brian Davey’s piece, quoted above.
  2.  The NLR articles are behind a paywall.  If you can’t access them, then contact us and we can help.
  3. Thanks to Riccardo Mastini for spotting some of these and sharing them on twitter.