You already know you’re working too many hours, so let’s change that and save the planet in the process. Economic growth has physical limits and we’re hitting those already as we run out of finite resources, or those resources are getting harder and harder to reach like oil. So to maintain growth we need to switch to a renewable energy based economy and fast. We can also just work less and focus on decreasing the growth of consumer capitalism.
This is where the idea of degrowth comes in. Degrowing our economy focuses on getting rid of things awe don’t need and are incredibly destructive to the environment (like fast fashion) and focusing our attention to bettering society as a whole (like free daycare). Another way to degrowth the economy is to reduce our working weeks to produce more jobs and give everybody more leisure. Aren’t we all working for the weekend anyway?
To get emissions to zero, it will involve a kind of “degrowth,” but one targeted specifically at fossil-fuel consumption. “That doesn’t mean we have to degrow everything,” Pollin said. “We really need to degrow the fossil fuel industry to zero, but massively expand the clean energy systems, the investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.” This is essentially the Green New Deal: a push to increase renewable energy while eliminating fossil fuels, and including an effort to create a just transition for the people who have jobs in that sector.
To Pollin, even this would be a radical improvement. A plan to get to zero carbon emissions in 30 years would mean shutting down one of the world’s most powerful industries. He thinks that that is ambitious enough without trying to implement other broad societal changes.
“If we take the climate science seriously, we only have a few decades to make huge progress,” Pollin said. “And whether I like it or not, we’re not going to overthrow capitalism in that time.”
Any visitor to a North American city knows that a lot of the geography is designed for single occupant car-based transportation. Anybody who’s spent months in any of these places knows that this car-focused design has been an unmitigated disaster. People are dying, the planet is being killed, and so many other problems stem from building cities for cars.
That badness all being acknowledged, we are at turning point of urban design. The evidence for making our streets for pedestrians over cars is overwhelming; cities which life easier on people are witnessing demonstrable benefits. Those benefits are quantifiable and more research comes out every month highlighting the benefits of desiring for people. Over at Strong Towns they have compiled a great article outlining some of the benefits of pedestrian friendly design.
The cost of paving sidewalks for people is minuscule compared with the cost of paving wide roads for cars, installing traffic signals, paying the salaries of traffic cops, etc. Even the cost of providing enhancements to pedestrian space such as trees and benches pale in comparison to what we spend when we build around cars.
Furthermore, the wear and tear caused by foot traffic is also negligible compared with the wear and tear caused by car and truck traffic, meaning that long-term maintenance costs for walk-friendly areas are also much lower than for auto-oriented places. (Ironically, most cities spend exponentially more on their roads while utterly neglecting their sidewalks.)
In short, a simple sidewalk could serve millions of people traveling on foot for decades, even centuries, with only a small amount of up-front investment and minimal maintenance costs for the city — yet it would support dozens or hundreds of local businesses. The same length of street designed primarily for cars would cost exponentially more to build and keep up and would only serve a handful of businesses.
Economics is a large field filled with nuance – and assumptions. One of those assumptions is that environmental concerns and inequality are secondary to that of economic concerns. These assumptions are questioned in a new course prepared by an international team of economists called the core team. Their work is available for anybody around the world to download and use for free, unlike traditional economic textbooks. You can check it out at The Economy.
Traditional, wallet-busting introductory textbooks do cover topics like pollution, rising inequality, and speculative busts. But in many cases this material comes after lengthy explanations of more traditional topics: supply-and-demand curves, consumer preferences, the theory of the firm, gains from trade, and the efficiency properties of atomized, competitive markets. In his highly popular “Principles of Economics,” Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw begins by listing a set of ten basic principles, which include “Rational people think at the margin,” “Trade can make everybody better off,” and “Markets are usually a good way to organize economic activity.”
The core approach isn’t particularly radical. (Students looking for expositions of Marxian economics or Modern Monetary Theory will have to look elsewhere.) But it treats perfectly competitive markets as special cases rather than the norm, trying to incorporate from the very beginning the progress economists have made during the past forty years or so in analyzing more complex situations: when firms have some monopoly power; people aren’t fully rational; a lot of key information is privately held; and the gains generated by trade, innovation, and finance are distributed very unevenly. The core curriculum also takes economic history seriously.
The damage that wealthy bankers did to the economy back in 2007/08 is still with us, and that has led to a whole generation questioning the validity of modern hyper-capitalism. That same germination witness ongoing environmental destruction and the erosion of labour rights (amongst a litany of other ills) all for the goal of getting more profit. The rejection of the prevailing thought has caused a few people to be scared of the change to come.
Don’t be afraid of the future, embrace it. Be part of what you want to see come true by examining what’s to come through exploration of what already is.
Fortunately, there is already a wealth of language and ideas out there that stretch well beyond these dusty old binaries. They are driven by a hugely diverse community of thinkers, innovators, and practitioners. There are organizations like the P2P (Peer to Peer) Foundation, Evonomics, The Next System Project, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking reimagining the global economy. The proposed models are even more varied: from complexity, to post-growth, de-growth, land-based, regenerative, circular, and even the deliciously named donut economics.
Then, there are the many communities of practice, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the barter economies of Detroit, from the global Transition Network, to Bhutan, with its Gross National Happiness index. There are even serious economists and writers, from Jeremy Rifkin to David Fleming to Paul Mason, making a spirited case that the evolution beyond capitalism is well underway and unstoppable, thanks to already active ecological feedback loops and/or the arrival of the near zero-marginal cost products and services.This list barely scratches the surface.
Business that adapt to climate change are more likely to be successful in the coming years, and business that basically cut their carbon footprint to zero will thrive. This is the thinking behind a growing field that helps companies reduce their consumption and waste while increasing their profits. With the likelihood of global warming reaching two degrees above normal companies will have to change their practices regardless of their industry. It’s good to see that some business are planning beyond the next quarter.
“Sustainable strategy is just that — it’s a strategy. It’s not a function, it’s not an industry, it’s not just recycling. That’s a very, very small piece of a much bigger movement for business,” Loinaz says. “We’re a launching pad for future industry leaders to solve the world’s problems, particularly the most pressing social and environmental ones.”
The health of a company’s labor force is inextricably linked to its environmental practices. Oftentimes the people who extract the resources companies use are underrepresented, marginalized, or disenfranchised. Nearly all smartphones, for instance, are made from mining rare metals and rare earth elements. As investigations show, it’s incredibly dangerous work that often requires miners — many of them children — to hand-dig tunnels hundreds of feet underground, with few safety precautions in place. Local communities are often exposed to poisonous levels of toxic metals and waste as a result.