Tag Archives: thoughts

The 6 Reasons Why I’m Voting to Stay in the EU

I know.

You’re sick to death of hearing about the god damn EU referendum.

I get it. But, it’s like a super important once in a lifetime – maybe once ever – thing, so please just suck it up and stick with me.

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EU flag. Photo by Flickr user MPD01605 (Creative Commons).

When this all started a few months ago, I was unsure but leaning towards In. I was unsure because the EU is centralised power (which I don’t like) and I highly disproved of the way it dealt with the Greek crisis – but I liked the way it kept a check on crazy Tory zeal. I was leaning towards In, mainly for the emotional reason that I like European culture and my grandfathers were Bulgarian and Italian. But I wasn’t too sure.

As the debate wore on and I did more and more research, I became more and more sure that In was the right choice for me. I still wasn’t too passionate though, as I felt we would definitely vote to stay In anyway. Recently I’ve become very passionate about the case for Remain and become very worried that we may in fact opt for Brexit. I’ve also been quite surprised to see that so many people that I know are still undecided – less than a week before the big day. I really feel I should be out on the streets campaigning like I did before the 2015 general election, but I’m working 3/4 jobs and I’ve left it rather late to realise how much I care.

So instead, here’s my top 6 reason’s for staying In, in blog form.  Continue reading

One Year Dies, and Another is Born

Hello lovely readers, I hope you’ve all been having a gorgeous festive time.

As 2014 draws to a close and the new bubba year is just a couple of days away, I’d like to take this opportunity to write about some of the big deals in sustainability from the last year, sustainability-related things I’ve been doing personally, and some of the things I’m eagerly and nervously awaiting from 2015. I think it’s going to be a big year.

This is a UK-centric post as that’s where I’m based. If you live in another country, please feel free to leave a comment telling me what the big sustainability news from your neck of the woods has been in 2014!
Continue reading

Universal Citizen’s Income

Have you heard of the universal citizen’s income?

Otherwise known as universal basic income, it refers to this (so far) theoretical policy where every citizen in a country is given enough money to cover their basic needs. It doesn’t matter if they’re working or not, how much they earn, what their health status is, – as long as they’re an adult and a national citizen, they get the same amount. Everyone does.

Do you think it sounds crazy? I kind of do too. But this article by the ever knowledgeable Another Angry Voice has made me doubt my initial incredulousness.  Continue reading

Screenshot from the program. Not my image.

A Political Ramble

It’s the European elections in twelve days. It’s the UK general election next year.

Politics is really on my mind at the moment. It’s a mixture of excitement at exercising my voting ability for the first time (the last general election was just before my 18th birthday), hope that things may get better after this, and anxiety as UKIP fever sweeps the nation.

Whether it’s misguided praise or spitting rage, everyone seems to be talking about this new extreme-right party, and the BBC have been granting it’s leader an outrageous chunk of airtime. What I’m most baffled about is that, according to the polls, many people are voting for them because they are sick of the traditional parties and want to ”stick to the man”, as it were.

This is ludicrous. Continue reading

image credit: CASSE, steadystate.org

Steady State and Political Frameworks

A steady state is an economy or society where the goal is sustainable and equitable human well-being rather than economic growth. In order to stay within biophysical limits the goal is for the economy to reach an optimal size and then remain steady or mildly fluctuating – thus ensuring economic stability (no boom and bust cycles) ecological sustainability and a high quality of life for all. Continue reading

Getting Past the Dilemma of Growth

Indefinite economic growth is not physically possible, and there’s mounting evidence and opinion that it’s not even desirable.

Cartoon by Polyp.org.uk

Cartoon by Polyp.org.uk

I’m convinced that our best hope of sustainable progress is to transition to a steady-state economy, where consumption and population are kept at steady, ecologically safe levels, and equitable human well-being is the overarching focus. In Enough is Enough, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill outline a practical blueprint for such an economy. Their engaging and accessible book suggests seven key policy goals, each with examples of specific policies:

  • Limit throughput of natural resources
  • Stabilize population
  • Distribute income and wealth
  • Reform financial institutions
  • Change our progress indicators
  • Secure meaningful jobs
  • Rethink commerce

Although these are all brilliant suggestions, I think the book misses a crucial point. After reading Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson, I’ve realised that I was being quite naïve in my assumption that the only things blocking my vision of a steady-state were political will and corporate influence. Of course those are huge obstacles, but the real underlying obstacle is what Jackson calls ‘’the dilemma of growth’’.

This dilemma, or paradox, is that although continued economic growth risks ecological collapse, we’re locked in to chasing it simply because our economy doesn’t work if it stops growing. When growth stops, or even slows down too much, it causes recession. People lose their jobs, and sometimes their homes. Businesses go bankrupt. The government interferes by borrowing money from banks and hands out stimulus packages, desperate to get the economy growing again. But this creates public debt.

This is why economic growth is always the top priority, why the media’s always cheerleading it and why the political will for a steady-state is non-existent. But it’s vital that we get past this catch-22, and fast. While we’re forced to pursue economic growth, action on climate change, poverty, social justice and biodiversity loss will be marginal. We desperately need to find a way past this systemic problem, because limiting throughput (and Dietz and O’Neill’s other ideas) won’t be possible in a growth-based economy.

If you thought this post was going to just be me moaning about the problem, then think again. I’ve been racking my brains and I’ve come up with an idea, which I think is feasible.

This is a top-down, policy based approach. Later I’ll be writing about what role individuals, businesses, the media and NGOs will play in the transition.

Stage 1:
Introduce substantial taxes on all forms of pollution (atmospheric, water, soil etc). This would have four beneficial effects. Firstly, it would obviously discourage pollution. Secondly, it would help to internalize externalities, forcing companies to pay the full price of their production processes – which would force them to put their prices up, meaning retailers would also have to, meaning people wouldn’t be able to afford as many consumer goods. Thirdly, it would massively reduce economic growth (which is only possible by externalizing costs and not counting things like pollution). Fourthly, it would raise funds for stage two.

Stage 2:
Before the harmful effects of recession kick in, implement an ecological investment package. This would be similar to a stimulus package in that it would aim to prevent unemployment, but of course it wouldn’t be trying to stimulate growth. Instead, the investments would be laying the foundation for our steady-state economy, while creating millions of jobs and opportunities for enterprise and innovation. The package would provide investments and grants for:

  • Public transport
  • A new smart electric grid
  • Renewable energy
  • Retrofitting buildings
  • Recycling plants
  • Parks, urban farms and green spaces
  • Pedestrianized city centres and plazas
  • Organic agriculture
  • Reforestation
  • Habitat conservation
  • Scholarships for environmental degrees
  • Green skills evening classes
  • Research into clean technologies, e.g. hydrogen power

Many of these investment areas would improve health and well-being, all of them would reduce our ecological impact and all of them would create jobs. Note that employees with a huge range of skill levels and types will be required: from scientists to construction labourers and from teachers to engineers. This should address the risk of unemployment. It would also harbour the growth of many new green businesses. But crucially, many of the investments will not be productive in conventional terms, or will only be productive in the long term. This should mean that although employment will be high, growth should be slow.

Stage 3:
However, there’s no telling how people will spend their wages. If people still spend all their disposable income on consumer goods then our sustainability gains will be negligible. There’s two ways of reducing consumption, and I recommend we use both simultaneously:

Limit throughput:
The pollution taxes will already be reducing consumption to an extent, as super-cheap disposable products will be increasingly unavailable. A few more policies could help speed up this trend:

  • A tax on the use of virgin raw materials which can be recycled, such as paper, plastic and aluminium. This would boost recycling, reduce resource-intensity of products and gather funds for future investment.
  • Stricter controls on advertising could help to reduce demand for consumer goods. As a start, advertising to children should be banned.
  • Some kind of limit could be placed on the import of consumer goods, to prevent the risk of being green at home but outsourcing all our dirty industry, pollution and resource use. Maybe a ceiling could be set and then companies could buy import rights in a kind of auction.
  • Tighter product standards, where goods are expected to be durable and repairable. Better quality products without built-in obsolescence would reduce demand, as they would last longer and could be repaired.
  • Encourage labour intensive but low-carbon services to fill needs rather than products. E.g. massages over cosmetics, gigs over video games… Could be done by offering tax breaks to service companies, or start-up grants, possibly.

Improve Equality:
The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett show that more equal societies perform better across a range of health and social factors: they have better literacy and life expectancy, and they have less crime, less teenage pregnancy and less obesity. In addition, more equal societies are less consumerist. This is because in unequal societies, envy and competition lead to the increased consumption of status goods (such as flashy cars and designer clothes). Poverty and wealth are always relative; people compare themselves to others in their society. If some are excessively rich, everyone aspires to that materialistic bench mark. For these twin reasons, a steady state aims to be more equal. Note: I am not suggesting a totally equal society. All jobs having the same salaries just wouldn’t make sense. What I am suggesting, is that the gap between rich and poor should be narrowed. This could be done by several policies:

  • Phase out fractional reserve banking and the interest function of money. Is it really fair that people be paid just for being rich? The interest function deepens inequality by distributing wealth to those who already have it. Fractional reserve banking allows banks to create money out of thin air and locks us into cycles of debt that can’t be repaid even with economic growth, let alone without it. Dietz and O’Neill suggest we phase out fractional reserve banking until eventually banks can’t loan money unless they literally have the funds to do so.
  • Progressive income taxes, used to fund extensive public services such as healthcare, education, libraries and museums, incapacity benefits, child and elder care. These would help to ‘’level the playing field’’. I think eventually we should have free university education for those who have the right A Levels and pass an interview.
  • As outlined in Enough is Enough, pay ratios could be used to reduce inequality. If a company had a pay ratio of 1:80 this would mean the CEO couldn’t be paid more than 80 times the salary of the lowest-paid employee, probably a cleaner. More transparency in business would pressure companies to publish their pay ratios, as well as their bonuses.

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With these three stages, I think it would be possible to get past the dilemma of growth.

There’s undoubtedly going to be a large element of creative destruction with this transition. Some companies won’t adjust quickly enough and will go bankrupt. But that’s okay, as long as there are other innovative companies rising from the ashes. The steady-state economy is people centred. It’s not the companies that are important, but the people behind them – what we’re trying to avoid is unemployment. If people lose their jobs because their employer has gone under, that’s okay as long as there are other new job opportunities open to them. It’s only a problem if there aren’t enough jobs to go round or if companies can’t afford to employ the workers they need.

Persuading politicians to undertake this strategy is the subject of future posts, because that’s where the role of individuals, the media, NGOS and businesses come in.

Until next time!

 

Recommended reading:

Dietz, R and O’Neill, D. (2013) Enough is Enough. London and New York: Routledge.

Jackson, T. (2009). Prosperity Without Growth. London: Earthscan.

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2010). The Spirit Level. London: Penguin Books.