Continuing the alliterative series on how to reform and save ourselves. The Eight Elementary Errors got a big response, so I might develop these into something more substantial.
1. Take back the economy. An economy should be the way a society makes its living. It should be the servant of that society. It should not be an abstract entity that dictates our societies and degrades our lives. An unholy alliance of misguided economists and self-interested economic warlords has taken over economic management. The economists claim there is only one way to organise an economy – unfettered markets for almost everything. This creates economic anarchy, and anarchy begets bullies and warlords, so the economic warlords are free to manipulate and maraud. All of this is bunkum. Markets need to be managed, there are as many ways to organise an economy as there are cultures in the world, and each economy can be tailored to serve its culture, as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and other founding economists would agree.
2. Rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This must be the top priority, simply because the science says it is desperately urgent that we do so (97% of science papers say it is, 1% say it’s not – which will you believe?). The Earth is close to tipping into drastic, irreversible changes that will bring down our global industrial system and threaten the livelihoods and lives of billions. In conjunction with Step One, emissions reduction is not as hard as it may seem. First, eliminate the trillions of dollars of subsidies to fossil fuel burning. Second, find and promote all the ways to save energy that are already waiting in the wings, but are blocked by present mindsets and interests. They are not expensive if done right, and many of them actually save money too. This will get us much of the way, and quickly. The rest we can work on as we get to it.
3. Apply the same approach to all natural resources. It’s not just global warming, our other demands on the planet must be reduced if we are not to be brought low – water, forests, soils, fisheries, ecosystems, biodiversity, they are all stressed and degrading. Smart people have already figured out how to save water and recycle many materials, so our demand on the planet can be declining without reducing our quality of life. In fact our quality of life would improve from having fewer pollutants and a healthier, more natural environment around us. These actions also need not be very expensive if done right, and many of them save money.
4. Phase out industrial agriculture. Industrial agriculture degrades and destroys soils, so it cannot continue. We are totally dependent on this miraculous, living planet of ours for our food, water and air, and none of our technological miracles have changed that simple fact. Soils are the most immediately threatened. We can replace industrial agriculture with natural farming systems that recycle organic material, manage pests and build soil fertility. Many such systems world-wide are yielding as much as industrial systems, so let’s invest in and promote them. Natural food is more nutritious and has fewer chemical pollutants. Better soils hold more water, so they are more drought-resistant and global-warming resistant. Better soils hold more carbon so they counteract global warming. Win-win-win-win.
5. Take back society – particularly government, communication and marketing. Market fundamentalists claim government is bad, but that’s demonstrable nonsense. Governments are the way we organise and monitor our societies. Governments protect us from marauders – internal and external. If they are not working well, improve them, don’t eliminate them. Because of a vicious spiral of self-interested warlords, ossified political parties, poorly-organised public service hierarchies and cultivated public cynicism we feel helpless. Start a virtuous spiral to re-invigorate and extend democratic processes, build confidence and break the strangle-hold of special interests. We will also need to reclaim our means of communication. Why ever have we allowed a handful of warlords to own the means by which we talk, organise and govern? We also allow people to prey on us by manipulating our human foibles for their own profit. They promote our wants for ever-more stuff, but those wants are destroying the planet.
6. Take control of our lives. Do we, in the rich countries, live just to acquire ever-more stuff and ever-fancier toys? Or do we live to do satisfying things, to raise our children the best way we know how, to enjoy, support and be supported by our friends and communities, to love and be loved. Stuff does not satisfy our needs for belonging, appreciation and love. The marketers have got the perfect recipe – they’ve got us addicted to stuff but it never satisfies, so we come back for more stuff. If we step out of this craziness then we can focus on what really matters. Up to a quarter of working adults have already “down-shifted” – taken a reduction in income to improve the quality of their lives. Think, for a moment, how subversive that is of this consumerist insanity we’re enmeshed in.
7. Revive community. We can rebuild neighbourhoods that are also communities. We can stop trying to escape the hustle and instead stop contributing to it. As more of us downshift, so it will become easier. Work will move to where people are. We won’t spend large parts of our lives driving because we’re in the wrong place for the next activity There will be corner shops again. We can smell the flowers more, hold hands, play with the kids, meet friends. And, eventually, stop worrying that we’re ruining the planet for our grandchildren.