Choosing between our economy and our future

12 02 2015

Christiane Kliemann

A guest post from Christiane Kliemann who writes on postgrowth, alternative economy and societal change. She is a member of the Degrowth 2014 team

The new year has just begun and we’re already inundated with horrible news: two new reports have collected further evidence that human economic activity puts life on Earth at risk, and another shocked us with the fact that the 85 richest people on the planet are as wealthy as the poorest 50% – and that the gap between them is still widening. Not to mention the brutal attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, the ongoing wars and conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and the devastating situation of refugees.

At the same time, a lot of effort is being spent to reassure us that economic growth and a capitalist economy are essential for solving what some call the “crisis of civilization”.

Growth is the perennial buzzword of the World Economic Forum – and this year is no exception. Delegates keep assuring us that their own profitability is vital for safeguarding humanity, while we ordinary people go about our day-to-day lives: we happily drive our cars, book flights to our next holiday destination and raise our children as we’ve always done.

It seems that we are in collective denial about the threatening implications of reality. We still trust in the old narratives that growth and competition are good, that technology and experts will fix it and that capitalism is history’s ultimate victor.

Not only ecological limits and growing social inequality, but also the increasing violence of fundamentalists of all sorts indicates that it is high time for a new economic and social narrative. An economy that is essentially based on competition will always perpetuate violence and hatred.

Wanted: new economic narratives

Before a new narrative – degrowth, for example – can gain ground, we have to accept that there are only radical options left. We have to choose between our economy and our future.

Even now, degrowth is already appealing to a growing number of people, as last year’s Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Leipzig proved.

It embraces many aspects that are common to a rising number of social and ecological grassroots-initiatives around the globe:

  • Integrating social and ecological issues instead of playing them off against each other
  • Replacing economic growth with a holistic idea of wellbeing
  • Turning away from resource-intensive production and industrial agriculture
  • Claiming more democratic participation and co-creation
  • Preferring small and decentralized solutions with short feedback-loops, re-localization of economic cycles and decentralization
  • Prioritizing sufficiency and resilience
  • Creating resilient livelihoods instead of unstable jobs in fragile globalized supply chains

In circles closer to the mainstream, I have personally observed that criticizing the dependence on economic growth and calling for a social-ecological transformation of the economy is welcomed by many.

Doubts and reluctance stem from the widespread perception that transforming the system is unrealistic, given the powerful interests of the elites.

Ordinary people feel subject to, rather than masters of, their circumstances.

In order for the vision of a degrowth society to become broadly accepted as a realistic option, we need to agree on the following points:

  • Growth and climate stability are incompatible
  • Continuous growth does not increase prosperity
  • Growth will soon come to an end anyway
  • After a certain point, the ecological and social price paid for keeping up growth becomes unacceptable
  • Growth and Western consumption patterns are increasingly resented in the Southern Hemisphere
  • The “trickle down” effect has been proven wrong
  • There is no such thing as “green growth
  • Degrowth does not only mean less, but differently, i.e. meeting everyone’s needs more sustainably and equitably with fewer resources
  • Degrowth is not against innovative technologies, but requires them to be administered democratically and “convivially” based on the precautionary principle

It is high time to shape a broad social movement

Despite what corporate interest groups say, we can all understand that a good life does not require ever more traffic, bigger houses, and greater quantities of waste. We cannot square the benefits of “more stuff” when it threatens our ecosystem and coincides with extreme poverty in some parts of the planet.

A good life requires long-term security in meeting everyone’s basic needs: food, shelter, affection, leisure, protection, understanding, health, participation, creation and freedom. All of these requirements are dependent on a healthy planet.

If we take our oft-cited Western values seriously, there is no doubt that we have to change our ways and ensure that our values come before any corporate or private profit.

It is high time to shape a broad social movement that pressures governments and businesses to help adjust consumption and production habits to allow the good life for everyone. We want cooperation instead of competition, common instead of corporate interest, solidarity instead of greed, strong social relationships instead of meaningless consumption, mindful resource stewardship instead of extractivism and compassion instead of indifference. We demand less traffic, fewer mega-projects and more community-based policy.

It is high time to take our future in our own hands and to realize that our current economy is part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution.

Originally published in the Guardian.

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Are we reaching some sort of tipping point…?

28 06 2013

The news, all bad of course, on the subject of Climate Change are cascading at a most alarming pace.  At least I’m alarmed, and frankly, if you‘re not alarmed, you’re just not paying attention…….  Following on from my two last post on this sad matter, the heat wave in Alaska and Siberia, the disappearing Arctic ice, now come news of another heat wave about to hit Western USA…..

Mangled Jet Stream and Global Warming to Shatter Earth’s Highest Recorded Temperature This Week?

The weather forecast for the American West is startling. An extreme blocking pattern that has persisted there since last year is now set to hit its highest amplitudes yet, allowing a massive heat dome to grow and sprawl out over the west for an extended period. The result will likely be a deadly heatwave that could send temperatures rocketing high enough to shatter Earth’s all-time record.

This blast-furnace heat is forecast to begin this weekend with temperatures expected to reach 126 to 129 degrees (Fahrenheit) in Death Valley, California. This range is very close to the all time high record Earth temperature of 134 degrees. So even a minor intensification of this predicted heat wave could result in a new Earth temperature record.

Other regions in the West are also predicted to experience record heat. Temperatures for both Phoenix and Las Vegas are expected to exceed 110 degrees (F) and could also shatter records for these two cities.

Overall, a broad swath from the American west and up into Canada is expected to experience temperatures between 10 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit above average. A visual representation of this incredible heat spike is provided by Weather Bell via Climate Central:

Record heat anomaly

(Image source: Climate Central and Weather Bell)

And it gets worse………  if that’s possible.  In a throwaway line on Facebook, Nicole Foss stated that the Gulf Stream was down 30% from its normal level.  Not possible I thought….  how could this not have made the headlines?  I mean, I follow news feeds pretty closely, but this is earth shattering stuff, especially for Europe……  so I did some research, and on my very first google, found this in the Guardian…:

Alarm over dramatic weakening of Gulf Stream

Interactive guide to the Gulf Stream

The powerful ocean current that bathes Britain and northern Europe in warm waters from the tropics has weakened dramatically in recent years, a consequence of global warming that could trigger more severe winters and cooler summers across the region, scientists warn today.

Researchers on a scientific expedition in the Atlantic Ocean measured the strength of the current between Africa and the east coast of America and found that the circulation has slowed by 30% since a previous expedition 12 years ago.

The current, which drives the Gulf Stream, delivers the equivalent of 1million power stations-worth of energy to northern Europe, propping up temperatures by 10C in some regions. The researchers found that the circulation has weakened by 6m tonnes of water a second. Previous expeditions to check the current flow in 1957, 1981 and 1992 found only minor changes in its strength, although a slowing was picked up in a further expedition in 1998. The decline prompted the scientists to set up a £4.8m network of moored instruments in the Atlantic to monitor changes in the current continuously.

Dr Harry Bryden

“If the Gulf Stream remains as weak as it is now, temperatures in Britain are expected to drop by an average of 1°C in the next ten years”, according to Harry Bryden at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton who led the study. “Models show that if it shuts down completely, 20 years later, the temperature is 4°C to 6°C degrees cooler over the UK and north-western Europe,” Dr Bryden said.

Climate records suggest that the Gulf Stream has ground to a halt in the distant past; however, the prospect of it completely shutting down over the next hundred years are, luckily, extremely low, according to climate modellers.

Skeptics continue saying we can’t tie any one event to Climate Change, but the frequency with which this stuff is now happening is starting to freak me out….. is it just me, or is the whole show just suddenly accelerating..?  Is this a short-term variation, or part of a more devastating long-term slowing of the flow?  Are we reaching some sort of tipping point…?  Climate scientists all along predicted chaotic weather, and it looks like it’s here right now.

India is joining the chorus too…….:

 

Rotting corpses spark fears of epidemic amid ‘Himalayan tsunami’ – ‘It’s very difficult to know the real figures and the scale of the disaster’

In this 20 June 2013 photo, the Kedarnath shrine, one of the holiest of Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, and other buildings around it are seen damaged following monsoon rains in at Kedarnath in the northern Indian state of Uttrakhand. A joint army and air force operation evacuated thousands of people stranded in the upper reaches of the state of Uttrakhand where days of rain had earlier washed out houses, temples, hotels, and vehicles. Photo: AP

By Nita Bhalla; Editing by Nick Macfie
26 June 2013

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Rotting corpses contaminating water sources and poor sanitation amid devastating floods in northern India could lead to a serious outbreak of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, aid groups warned on Wednesday.

The floods, triggered by heavy monsoon rains more than 10 days ago, have killed at least 822 people in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and forced tens of thousands from their homes. Officials say the death toll may cross 1,000 and thousands are still reported missing.

Barack Obama has finally decided to act on Climate Change, hopefully forcing the hand of everyone else running this poor planet.  Let’s hope it isn’t too little too late.  Or maybe we should just hope, as Guy McPherson reasons, the collapse intervenes first….