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.
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