Practical degrowth for Labour

The article below is a slightly longer version of the piece published on the SERA (Labour Environment Campaign) website on 17 December, 2017.  See also this piece, also by Mark, which was  carried on the Left Foot Forward website, in response to John McDonnell’s speech which acknowledged the Limits to Growth.    Look out for a longer, more analytical piece coming soon!  SSM is a non-party group (collective members are members of more than one party, and of none)  but we think it important to be aware of, and engage with political actors – parties, other organisations and individuals.

Practical degrowth for Labour: a response to Chi Onwurah

Mark H Burton

As the size of the world economy has grown, so too has the pressure it places on our ecosystems. The consequences of that pressure are now becoming all too apparent. John McDonnell

Chi Onwurah praises economic growth but unfortunately combines a number of misunderstandings of the steady state and degrowth approach.

Every day the evidence mounts that industrial civilisation has reached a state of ecological overshoot and is heading for collapse. Climate change is the most obvious aspect, as scientists from Stockholm’s Resilience Centre have made clear with the concept of Planetary Boundaries. In 2015 they found that four of these planetary boundaries had already been crossed. Biodiversity loss, damage to phosphorous and nitrogen cycles, climate change and land use have all reached dangerous levels.

This scenario was presented by the “Limits to Growth” scientists in 1972. It was confirmed in their update report of 2004 and by University of Melbourne studies in 2008 and 2014. What other economic forecasting model has been so accurate over such a long time-scale?

Chi distances the Labour Party from the Green Party on economic growth. Eight Labour MPs including Daniel Zeichner and Barry Gardiner are on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Limits to Growth, chaired by Caroline Lucas. The possibility of economic growth on a finite planet is not a question of party affiliation but of scientific evidence: there is some evidence, probably temporary, of decoupling of CO2 emissions from GDP growth, in a few economies, at far less than the annual rate needed to mitigate climate change. There is none on other material use.

Solar energy is great but materials can’t be synthesised from sunlight and there are increasing carbon emissions from concrete and steel production, deforestation and soil destruction.

Technology can facilitate economic and social change but the economy is material, embedded in the ecosystem. ICT relies on vast expenditures of energy, copper, rare earths, water, and so on, which all impose limits on scale.

The present economic model depends on treadmill growth but degrowth to a steady state economy could be a planned, managed process. Socialists believe in taking control of the economy rather than it commanding us. Ecological economists Peter Victor and Tim Jackson have demonstrated that ceasing GDP growth needn’t increase poverty and unemployment. It does mean rejecting some shibboleths like the desirability of increasing productivity. But planetary limits do mean a radical reduction of consumption which can only be achieved fairly with planning and redistribution. This could mean escape from the treadmill of competition for status via consumption, with its deadly societal consequences, instead nurturing people’s capacities, conviviality, solidarity and stewardship.

Does it mean turning our backs on the global South? No, our wealth has been acquired through exploitation of those regions in concert with exploitation of workers here, and our prosperity still depends on exploitation those in the Global South. Our growth economy, with its insatiable consumption, continues to ravage the South through resource theft, hyper-exploitation, dispossession, rigged trading mechanisms and more. Degrowth could be a win-win, strengthening both our economies and those of the global South, freeing them from the malign environmental, social and economic impacts of extractivism.

Some sectors will have to grow, the “replacement economy” of socially and environmentally benign production. Whilst much of Labour’s economic and industrial approach is appropriate, it is only ecologically realistic if the aggregate level of resource throughput decreases and then stays stable. You can’t have that and overall growth.

Repeating the mantra of “growth” avoids devising and securing support for unprecedented and innovative policies. Like these:

1. Stop subsidizing and investing in activities that are highly polluting, moving liberated public funds towards clean production.

2. Sharing work-and resources, reducing the working week to some 32 hours, supporting employers to facilitate job-sharing, with income loss for the top 10% only.

3. Minimum and maximum income. High incomes mean disproportionate resource use: cap them but also set a floor.

4. Tax reform for a progressive system that taxes use of energy and resources, wealth, property and land value.

5. Control money creation, regulating bank lending for tight but cheap credit.

6. Citizen debt audit: “pardon” unpayable household debts.

7. Support the alternative, solidarity society through subsidies and tax exemptions for co-operatives, social enterprises, community land trusts, opening up resources to community groups.

8. Optimise buildings. Retrofit, refurbish, downsize and share, saving fuel costs and emissions. Expropriate vacant housing. Respond to any remaining need by building low energy social housing, within already urbanised areas.

9. Curb advertising, reducing the incessant promotion of consumption.

10. Establish environmental limits, via absolute and diminishing caps on the CO2 that can be produced and the material resources the country uses, including emissions and materials embedded in imported products.

11. Abolish the misleading GDP indicator. Focus on real things- jobs, incomes, activity, investment, care, health, wellbeing and environmental restoration.

This isn’t a full programme for a steady state economy but it demonstrates how, far from suggesting something impractical and unpopular, SERA could and should promote a genuinely ecological literate and socialist approach: degrowth.

Note:
* Some of the ideas in this list first appeared in a piece by Giorgos Kallis.  Some have been reframed for the British context.  Others have been added here. Other notable attempts to construct a practical post-growth/degrowth/steady state policy set include those in the 2010 Enough is Enough report and the subsequent book by O’Neill, Deitz and Jones.

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Why do people move? Implications for a Viable Economy.

Why do people move, or not move? What impacts does moving have on places that people move to? What about the impacts on places that people have left behind? These were some of the questions we discussed at Steady State Manchester’s recent ‘Moving on up?’ discussion.

 

Migration is not a crime cartoon

(from openclipart, by “worker”)

At Steady State Manchester, we have developed policies and positions within the Viable Economy that begin to address the question of mobility.1 For example, we put forward alternative ways of thinking about migration and population, capital investment and localisation, and inequality and regional differences. Each of these incorporates mobility in some way. However, within these are different kinds of mobility. On the one hand, mobility can refer to the geographical process of moving around, or to a more abstract understanding of moving between socioeconomic classes, or to the flows of capital. These can likewise be understood at the individual, regional, national or international scales. Finally, there is a time aspect: are we considering the mobility of everyday life, or the longer-term and more permanent residential mobility?


In order to develop Steady State Manchester’s understanding of mobility, we view the physical mobility of people in the world as an issue with impacts on Mancunians, with clear implications from the global scale to the local. Indeed, the decision of people to move (or not) relates to questions of local infrastructure, global events, socioeconomic class and capital flows. For example, in Manchester, this can include a tram line linking the wealthy suburbs of the city, a refugee fleeing war-torn Syria and settling in Salford, a new bicycle lane connecting Manchester and Didsbury, global capital funding of massive new high-rise apartments, or a Northerner settling in London because “that’s where the jobs are.” Each of these involves the physical, spatial mobility of people, either in daily life or more permanent mobility, and occurring at both global and local scales. This phenomenon is also being repeated in urban areas around the globe.

To clarify our position on mobility, we sought to have a discussion with people from the Greater Manchester area about this very issue, which we hope to inform our advocacy, research and publications, but also to develop a clear position ahead of the new draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) publication in June 2018. The first draft of this document was woefully inadequate. Indeed, the Executive Summary resembles an out-of-touch plan to pursue ‘growth’ (mentioned 15 times), at all costs, barely accounting for the residents (4 mentions) or even people (6 mentions) impacted by this. A second draft is being written in response to over 20,000 comments, but we are preparing for the real possibility that this new spatial strategy will again inadequately reflect the long term interests of Greater Manchester’s people, let alone even consider limiting the economic ‘growth’ that harms the natural ecosystems and environment. A spatial plan for Greater Manchester ought to take account of the many reasons why people might make a ‘mobility decision’ to move to this area, or how likewise how an ‘immobility decision’ is reached. So, we felt that our understanding of physical, residential mobility – with clear economic, social and ecological implications – should be informed by the thinking of interested people from the Greater Manchester area.

The range of unique perspectives at the discussion provoked some stimulating conversation about mobility, and surely will contribute toward our organisational position on the GMSF – and on mobility more broadly, into the future. Below is a brief summary.
The first part of the evening was a brainstorm exercise in groups around the question of why people move, or don’t move. This generated considerable conversation both within and between the groups. At the end, each group recorded the reasons they came up with on sticky post-its, then put them all on a flipboard sheet. A wide variety of reasons for moving or not moving – what seems appropriately called a ‘mobility decision’ – were identified (see Table 1, below). Broadly, five categories of drivers emerged: economic, necessity, government policy, identity, and social relationships.

Table 1: A ‘mobility decision’: why people move or don’t move

Themes

Reasons to move

Reasons to not move

economic -for work or job opportunities

-education or study

-lack of resources

-unaffordability

necessity -persecution/forced to leave

-escaping from civil strife/conflict

-climate change (flooding of low-lying land, desertification)

-age-related events (access to care, safety, particular accommodation needs)
government policy -forced displacement for development

-policies favouring gentrification

-social housing policy

-ease of transit links

-infrastructure

identity -adventure

-hope for a better life

-culture (nomadic, or characteristic of society)

-uncertainty and risks

-fear of change or the unknown

-comfort where one is already

-membership of a cultural community

social relationships

-to start a family

-to be closer to family/friends

-love and family

-social contacts/network

-roots and support networks

Then, a second exercise asked the attendees to identify the outcomes for people moving, both on the places people move to and on places people leave (see Table 2, below). These included demographic, economic, socio-economic, and socio-cultural impacts.

Table 2: Outcomes of moving: Impacts on places people move to versus leave

Types of impacts

Places people move to

Places people leave

demographic -cultural diversity -depopulation, ageing population

-money sent home

socio-economic -bringing new skills/ knowledge/expertise

-gentrification

-investment and spending

-strain on resources

-‘brain drain’

-lower tax income

-loss of ‘social infrastructure’

socio-cultural -conflict

-local exclusion

-loss of diversity

-fragmentation of families

Following these exercises, we came together for a discussion about the outcomes of mobility in the case of Greater Manchester in particular, both now and in the future as more people are making the decision to come to this city-region. This led to the identification of some key challenges, included reckoning with the tension between development and equity, the role of speculative finance in development, a need to address safety and health concerns, the possibility of the loss of heritage, and the potential for regional integration. Finally, we discussed the global issues at play in driving these outcomes, including environmental damage to the global food system. We concluded that these need to be integrated into the GMSF. One attendee’s call for any policy to “start with the pavement” serves as a palpable reminder that these global issues driving mobility decisions have a tangible impact on the everyday lives of Mancunians.

Overall, this discussion illuminated a host of issues that ought to receive scrutiny in the new GMSF. While some have been considered by Steady State Manchester in our previous work, others emerged that present opportunities for further exploration and understanding. Over the next months, we plan to develop an alternative position for the GMSF that captures and incorporates the discussions had and insights gained at this fruitful event. Thank you again to everyone that was able to attend!

James Vandeventer and Steady State Manchester

1 By “mobility” we mean here the longer term movement of people from place to place to take up new homes and livelihoods, rather than the ability to move around a particular place.

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Community wealth building: resources for a new dawn or for a better collapse?

I attended a launch event for the new issue of Stir magazine. In case you don’t know it, Stir is a great source for thinking and practice in the (alternative) New Economy, with quite a big emphasis on finding ways to make these approaches take off at scale. The Stir Magazine covercurrent issue is on the theme of “community wealth building” and includes articles on Anchor Institutions, Local Government procurement, woodland, radical cities, the post-anarchist thought of Murray Bookchin, corporate colonisation of localist initiatives and more. It’s worth a subscription.

The evening event, in Manchester’s new Federation House venue, was well attended (with a lot of people I didn’t recognise, a lot of them from the co-operative movement I’d guess) and fronted (in order of speaking) by Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, Stir’s editor, Neil McInroy of CLES, Matthew Brown of Preston council and Clare Goff who edits New Start magazine (another good resource but sadly mostly behind a paywall). Each has an article in the current Stir edition.

Neil spoke on the need to keep “our wealth” local, making it work for our communities and stay there. Inevitably this leads straight into the question of power: as with wealth, the key questions start from “who has it?” and “how is it used?”. Matthew spoke about the Preston model, where, building on the success of getting local anchor institutions to purchase locally, the council, in alliance with other actors, is trying to simultaneously pull on several levers at once: good incomes via the Living Wage, good investment via the local Pension Fund, gaps in business coverage, good financial institutions via a possible Community Bank, and a local socially and work to establish an environmentally and socially friendly energy utility. Clare spoke about a local organisation in Liverpool that is showing how urban regeneration can be community-led.

This is all exciting and inspiring stuff and I want to see more of it. Yet it is also important to maintain a critical understanding of what is happening and therefore what its limits, shortcomings and indeed traps might be. So what follows isn’t meant to dampen enthusiasm but rather to help critically energise it, so that these approaches can be relevant and effective.

Taken together, these approaches all intervene in the circuits of exchange and distribution. Indeed calling them “community wealth building” isn’t quite accurate. They are really more like “community wealth capture” and maintenance. Yes, the wealth is already there in our urban settlements, but where does it come from? What these approaches don’t seem to do is intervene in the circuits of production and accumulation – where wealth is actually created, as value (in the Marxist sense of transformation based on labour power, harnessing the earth’s natural bounty). These circuits are now global in nature, with much production having been outsourced, especially during the Thatcher years, to the global South. That is why our urban landscapes are post-industrial, and in the regions outside the hot spots of London and the South East, still (structurally, chronically) depressed.

So, once the circuits of exchange have been captured, once wealth is put to use in the local economy, what then? Is this a sufficient answer to the malaise of our local, low wage, low satisfaction, economies? The official model has been one of “capture inward investment, and in the joy of being exploited for profit by external investors, some of it will trickle down” (no they don’t quite say that). That doesn’t work, and we are all struggling to find the magic bullet to replace it.

The bigger question follows, and that is about ends. Is this about restoring and augmenting, what despite the inequality and pockets, nay swathes, of deprivation, is nevertheless an extremely privileged, resource dependent, globally exploitative standard of living? By increasing the disposable incomes across our settlements won’t this do just that? Won’t it also increase the stream of imports? On a global level, we reached overshoot on August 2nd: that’s to say, humanity used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year. We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, soil destruction, over-harvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the biosphere can take up. Worse, if the whole world had extracted and polluted at the rate of the UK, then Overshoot Day would have fallen on the 4th May.

Putting these two issues together, with the realisation that overshoot leads to system collapse, then it seems that the “community wealth capture” strategy might be better thought of as a tool for ensuring that we “collapse better1”, rather than as a path to a new dawn where we will all enjoy a restored pre-2007 prosperity, or a 1964 level of well-being.

Several people from the audience (myself included) asked questions that picked up elements of this challenge and to be fair, the three panellists answered them well. Neil spoke of the importance of starting somewhere and learning from action as you go. Together they emphasised the limits of local strategies in the face of central government’s continued austerity policies, the rise of automation, the need for Trade Unions to embrace the model of worker-run enterprises (recalling the heretical left thinking of Benn allies, the Institute for Workers Control, of the 1970s) and the need to “crowd out” the traditional capitalist banks.

Mark H Burton

Read more about the adequacy or otherwise of alternative policy frameworks to the post-industrial challenge, and the concept of a “better collapse”, in Mark’s longer working paper: After Peak Capitalism: The Livelihood Challenge.

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Greater Manchester Pension Fund: an obstacle to action on climate change?

A new report “Fuelling the Fire” shows that UK council pension funds are still investing billions (£16 Billion in fact) in fossil fuel companies. The sums invested have increased, although this is more a result of stock value and currency movements than an actual strategy of ramping up fossils.  However, it also means that little progress has been made on taking the monety out of these risky investments and putting it to better use.   Our local fund, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) is a big part of the problem.  At nearly £1.7Bn  is holds more than 10% of the total fossil investment of UK local government pension funds.  That’s the biggest absolute holding (OK it’s the biggest fund) and also the biggest percentage holding (so being the biggest fund doesn’t work as an excuse).  This is risky stuff given that there is a carbon bubble – most of the assets of these companies can’t be used, if even the modest aspiration of Paris

are to be met.
And it is risky for all of humanity, GM pensioners, their families, not to mention people in Bangladesh, the Andes, the Pacific islands and Manhattan.  That’s because companies use capital to continue opening up new reserves and then promoting their combustion.  That’s your money, GMPF scheme members.

 

Just think of what good that money could be doing if divested (in a responsible, planned way) from fossil fuels and re-invested in Greater Manchester.  GMPF has made investments in housing (some of it social) and in renewable energy, but these investments are insignificant compared to the fossil fuel stakes.

To learn more – see the press release from Fossil FreeGreater Manchester: http://fossilfreegm.org.uk/index.php/2017/11/09/greater-manchester-councils-investing-1-8-billion-climate-wrecking-companies/
and the full report is here: http://gofossilfree.org/uk/fuellingthefire
Press coverage:

The Financial Times covered it here – and “Greater Manchester Pension Fund did not respond to requests for comment.”

The Meteor covered it here.

Salford Star covered it here.

About Manchester covered it here.

Manchester Evening News has still to cover the story.

 

 

 

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Local action on climate change and flood prevention.

Our outgoing collective member, Judith Emanuel writes:

“I spent a wonderful day planting a hazel tree coppice in the Calderdale valley organised by an inspirational organisation Treesponsibility, which is based in Hebden Bridge. So lovely to be out in a beautiful place, learn a new skill and do something with others which may make a positive difference.

New plantings (via http://www.treesponsibility.com )

“Treesponsibility aims to educate people about the need for action on climate change, to involve local communities in tree-planting, and to improve the local environment and biodiversity for the benefit of local people and future generations. In recent years they have been focussing attention on tree planting for flood mitigation. They work in partnership with bodies such as the Environment Agency, Calderdale Council and the National Trust.

“Hundreds of people from all walks of life have been involved with the project, including local volunteers and landowners, schools from Calderdale and beyond, a wide range of community groups, and visitors from further afield joining tree-planting weekends, details of which can be found on their website (http://www.treesponsibility.com/.

“Since its formation in 1998, Treesponsibility has planted an average of 5 hectares every year – that’s over 12 acres of new woodland per year. This season they plan to plant 30,000 trees; three times as many as last season!

“Treesponsibility is also a founding member, and a key delivery partner in The SOURCE partnership, which aims to take preventative action to help create a healthy, resilient and biodiverse landscape, for the benefit of all the people in the Calder Valley both now, and in future years.

“They plan to expand over the coming years, and would like to play an additional role in the delivery of the Yorkshire and Humber regional forestry strategy by offering help and support to anyone interested in starting a similar project in other parts of the region. They hope to achieve roughly 10-20% of the region’s targets for new woodland through community reforestation. They offer skill-sharing workshops, passing on practical advice on obtaining, evaluating and designing planting sites, maximising involvement, raising resources and communicating the science of climate change.

“You can join a weekend which is open to all. Children are welcome. Access is limited for people with limited mobility. Not all the jobs are physically demanding and people who need the less demanding jobs are welcome too. They were very flexible, welcoming people to come when they could and wanted to be there, for as long as they could and wanted to be there.

“Other weekends are open for group bookings. They welcome celebrations of special event with friends and family and team-building events. Cost per person for the weekend is £25 including all meals which are vegan and home-cooked at the hostel. People are also welcome to come for the day for which there is no charge. They welcome donations

“If you are inspired, I recommend joining a weekend and might even see you up there”

For background reading, here is George Monbiot’s article on the link between upland deforestation and lowland flooding.

 

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Website changes

Regular readers might have noticed that we have been revamping our website to give it a less cluttered appearance and make it easier to navigate.  It was getting a bit cluttered! We hope you like the changes.

You’ll find that some of the new pages are empty for now – we are working on this with some new material to help readers orientate and navigate.

It would help us a lot if you would let us know if there are any broken links:  just email us by clicking here.

And do let us know if you’ve any thoughts an ideas about the site.

Thanks!

 

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Moving on up? An open discussion on global-local issues.

Global and local.

Tuesday 7th November from 6.30pm to 8.30pm
Methodist Central Hall, Oldham St., Manchester, M1 1JQ   please book by emailing us through this link

There is a growing social divide by income and geography, an ever-widening wealth gap between peoples of different backgrounds, races, genders, classes and generations.
Many people are experiencing difficulties in making ends meet, and have greater insecurity and anxieties for their futures.
November’s Steady State conversation will explore the many troubling and challenging questions that face peoples and communities affected by poverty and austerity, conflict, aggressive resource extraction, climate change and environmental damage.
How does social and geographical mobility affect personal and group identities? What influences disparities in income and wealth for particular groups in today’s society? What would help and encourage social cohesion and global solidarity? What lessons are to be found in social movements that support a more inclusive and better future for all?
Steady State Manchester invites those who are interested in developing a common agenda and vision for peoples in both the Global North and the Global South.

For more events see our ‘What we are doing’ page

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What happened when Degrowth was discussed in the Catalan Parliament?

The "estelada decrecentista", or the Catalan flag with the degrowth symbol instead of the usual star

The “estelada decrecentista”, or the Catalan flag with the degrowth symbol instead of the usual star, from “Casdeiro” – click for original context.

Update: 19 December, 2017.  Further to the article below, a lot has happened in Catalonia.  The parliament has been suspended by Madrid’s Popular Party minority government.  Oriol Junqueras, criticised for his conventional economics below, is in prison with another independista politician. The (centre right) Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is in exile in Belgium. Elections take place on Thursday, 21st and the CUP, Sergi Saladié’s party is campaigning on a broadly post-growth and anticapitalist manifesto.  Some of the key points are available in a one page English translation together with a longer machine translation from Catalan to Spanish of the section “For an Ecological Republic that breaks with the logic of capitalist growth and guarantees the environmental future of the popular classes” at the file linked here.  By sharing this we do not necessarily endorse the position of the CUP with regard to independence.  The arguments of Podemos and its allies on this matter should also be considered.  But we do welcome the CUP’s distinctive and clear message on the need for alternatives to the pursuit of GDP growth.

The article by Antonio Turiel, posted in October, follows.

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Introduction from SSM.

We recently carried a translation of an interview with Sergi Saladié who introduced a debate on degrowth into the Catalan parliament.  Catalonia is very much in the news at the moment with the referendum held by the governing coalition and the violent repression by the Spanish State.  We do not have a view on this matter, noting that independence has not had a majority following in Catalonia but that the disproportionate actions of the Spanish government could well change this.  We believe in the principle of subsidiarity, that decisions should be taken as locally as is feasible – some very local, some on a supra-national level.  The question of separation is one for all the population of Catalonia.  But whatever the degree of autonomy that eventually emerges, the question of the limits to growth, together with that of material resource flows in and out of the territory, cannot be escaped.  The initiative of Sergi Saladié is therefore relevant to our own situation in a city (or better, bio-) region, and so is the reception that it received.  In the following piece, Antonio Tureil analyses the debate, with particular focus on the arguments put forward by the more conventional socialist from the ERC, Oriol Junqueras.  In our own parliament we have an initiative in the form of the All Party Group on Limits to Growth, but to my knowledge the MPs listed as members have not themselves adopted an explicit degrowth stance.  More widely, gross misconceptions are routinely voiced, not dissimilar from those that Antionio Turiel takes apart.

What happened when Degrowth was discussed in the Catalan Parliament?

Antonio Turiel

During the last week, Spain has lived through an institutional crisis without precedent. What many thought would never happen finally did. I won’t dwell on the details: readers in Spain probably know them only too well, and for those that live elsewhere it should be enough to say that the independence-supporting parliamentary majority in the Catalan parliament has passed laws to convene a referendum on 1st October and for the eventual creation of a Catalan Republic. Of course these laws set themselves up as above those of Spain, something that the Spanish institutions obviously cannot accept, and so the institutional crisis is intense at this moment.

At the edge of this new chapter in the journey of Catalan sovereignty (which will obviously not lead to the proclamation of the Catalan Republic at this time, although it will obviously increase the pressure for independence for the future), in the midst of this storm, something surprising and significant has happened: on behalf of the Popular Unity List (CUP: la Candidatura d’Unitat Popular – a movement that describes itself as anticapitalist and for independence, that supports the governing majority in Catalonia) the MP Sergi Saladié (a university professor when not in parliament) presented an “interpelation1” on degrowth to the vice-president and minister for the economy in Catalonia, Sr. Oriol Junqueras, currently president of The Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC: Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya). It is the first time that a motion of this type has been discussed in a national parliament in Spain, and this makes it an event of great importance.

Context

The presentation of this interpelation led to an interview with Sergi Saladié published by Manuel Casal in 15/15\152 ….. The interview is already quite eloquent about the dissensions and divergences within the CUP, which makes it clear that the promotion of this interpelation comes more from the effort of Sergi and several people who support him than from [degrowth being] a majority sentiment in the CUP. For all that, it marks a big and important precedent, as does the response from Oriol Junqueras.

It is worth remembering that the ERC is a party that knows about Peak Oil and the Limits to Growth3: its previous president, Joan Puigcercós, spoke openly on these themes on several occasions, and notably in a [Catalan] television programme. In this parliament, the ERC spokesperson, Marta Rovira, made explicit mention of Peak Oil during the debate over the failed investiture of Artur Mas. This makes it especially opportune to analyse the discussion that took place between Sergi Saladié and Oriol Junqueras as a result of this interpelation. I will provide a summary of the debate before analysing its most outstanding aspects.

The presentation and its responses

Sergi Saladié contextualises the interpelation4 in the constitutional process for the new republic, explaining that degrowth is understood as an ordered process of reduction in activity and consumption, and that on several indicators we are already in a process of degrowth, though not a planned one. He mentions that resources are limited and that the capacity for absorption of waste products is also limited, while capitalism feeds the myth of infinite growth. He explains that the ecological footprint of Catalonia is 6.7 times that of its territorial area and that it therefore has to appropriate resources from other countries. Later on he recalls that the International Energy Agency recognised Peak Oil (for conventional oil) in 20105, and that since then many false solutions to the problem have been proposed, introducing new liquid hydrocarbons of low quality and at high cost, which have led to the ruin of many businesses, and that at the present time, petroleum companies are dis-investing ferociously6. And moreover, the same thing is happening with coal, uranium and gas. He adds that some economists (e.g. James Hamilton7) have been warning for some time that these peaks will bring about an indefinite economic crisis. He finishes asking for reflection in order to confront these realities.

Oriol Junqueras’s response8.

Oriol Junqueras begins his speech with thanks for the opportunity to speak on these themes (as if someone had prevented this happening up until now). He then discusses whether the issue is degrowth in general or just economic degrowth, and says that with respect to the use of natural resources he is very much in agreement with Saladié (leaving implicit that with regard to the economic part they do not agree), emphasising that the solution lies in the improvement of efficiency and better deployment of resources in order to reduce their use. After this he talks about the meaning of economic degrowth and says that about this they are not so much in agreement, since growth is important to create jobs and to fiscally sustain the Welfare State, and that is why economic growth is a key objective. He then goes over the current good economic indicators for Catalonia (as is that demonstrates something with respect to what is under discussion). The ecological footprint then gets lost in a historical review of the population that Catalonia has supported, leading to the Catalan economy being an open one, thereby misinterpreting the term by focusing on the amount of agricultural land needed. According to Junqueras, technological development has made it possible to gain access to resources that would otherwise be considered exhausted, and as a result, the point in time at which Peak Oil is reached is somewhat unclear as it depends on technology and on prices, and the rivalry between various forms of production makes the problem still more unclear, none of which is to negate the seriousness of the problem of sustainability. He then goes on to discuss the increases in productivity of the Catalan economy, better than that of other countries in the area, although that does not negate the importance of decreasing the use of resources, although here again he puts his faith in technological improvement. He finishes with a brief discussion of the evolution of the concept of property in the context of capitalism and its historical evolution, which he promises to develop in his final response.

Sergi Saladié’s reply9

Saladié recalls the Limits to Growth report10 and how it anticipates a collapse in the middle of the twenty first century on present paths. He notes the collapse of 26 civilizations before our own, citing the book “Collapse” by Jared Diamond11. As he explains, in the five cases that Diamond discusses, the collapse is usually the result of a combination of environmental degradation and scarcity of resources, and unlike what has happened previously in history, now we are about to face a collapse on the global scale, which means it will be important to increase territorial resilience. Precisely because of that, there would need to be radical changes, in energy, settlement patterns, food, and even more importantly, in social values. Moreover, this change is urgent and would be comparable with the establishment of a war economy, given that we are, in effect, in a state of war against our own extinction. He justifies taking the opportunity to introduce this debate now, given the exciting moment of construction of a new republic, saying that that this therefore is the best occasion to raise the question of degrowth, given that it is very important and not merely an eccentricity. Finally he asks if the government considers or has considered measures to improve food and energy sovereignty.

The final response from Junqueras

Junqueras replies, he says, from the perspective of the Department of Economy and Finance and affirms that the higher the productivity of production, the higher its sustainability, and that the key is technology. He reminds us that Catalonia has resources that are subject to limits (emphasising the case of water but acknowledging that there are others) and that it is necessary to take action. He accepts that there have been complete civilizational collapses (he says in “economic systems”), but puts the emphasis on the environmental dimension, only discussing climate change. He emphasises supporting the production of products with high added value, which he asserts, offer greater resilience and he reminds us that Catalonia has approved a climate change law. But he also reminds us that the problem of climate change is not confined within the borders of Catalonia. He concludes by affirming that he awaits the proposals in the motion that will follow this interpelation, with specific measures in the areas of energy, food, water, etc. that will certainly be incorporated legislatively.

An analysis of the debate

Sergi Saladié’s contribution is very well focused and gives quite a lot of facts, despite the short amount of time available to discuss something of such importance. The contextualisation is absolutely correct, and perhaps the only thing he might have overlooked, if I had one criticism, would be to have focused more specifically on the negative consequences that the typical business as usual responses and false solutions proposed by Junqueras would have for Catalonia.

I will spend a lot more time analysing Oriol Junqueras’s replies, of course, for two reasons: firstly, because he is representing the Government, particularly with his economy portfolio, and secondly, because Oriol Junqueras is an intelligent, well educated person who is part of a left-wing party which is, moreover, very aware of the problems referred to above. So, it is really important to understand the arguments which Junqueras is using in order to, basically, carry on without doing anything. To sum up, I would like to understand what he is mentally relying on in order to take the weight off his conscience and not fall into the logical consequences of that which we are talking about. And I would like to identify those justifications in order to be able to destroy them and make it more difficult for him to evade his responsibilities next time around.

Junqueras’s initial argument is a logical error of grand proportions. Affirming that economic growth is necessary to create employment and the financial sustainability of the Welfare State is a tautology, once one adds on the necessary tag of “in the context of our liberal capitalist democracies”. Without even questioning whether this might be the best or only type of social organization, Junqueras’s argument is totally pointless: what Saladié is proposing is that it would be physically impossible for growth to continue, irrespective of whether we like it or not, or if it suits us or not. In this context, to say that we need growth if we want to have employment, a welfare state and, in general, a peaceful society, is to recognise that not facing up to the physical impossibility of more and more growth implies that we ought to make changes to our social organization because otherwise we will end up with enormous levels of unemployment, the welfare state would collapse and, to sum up, we would descend into open social conflict.

Naturally, Junqueras is perfectly aware of this non sequitur (even though growth might be necessary for him does not imply that he could ensure that growth would occur) and he therefore returns to his main argument, that which recurs throughout his reasoning: techno-optimism (it might be better to call it “techno-faith”) in its variant forms. Before going into the discussion over the various techno-optimistic arguments which Junqueras uses, it would be helpful to make a general observation. Faced with a problem as serious as one being argued at the present (seriousness accepted and recognized by Sr. Junqueras in this case), the core of his response is that we cannot discount the possibility that technical progress will improve the situation. In other words, we have a complicated situation but with a spot of good luck technology will resolve everything. Sr. Junqueras should be advised that such an attitude is completely irresponsible and unacceptable within public affairs, because if the miracle materialises all well and good, but if not we are all headed for disaster. For this reason, it would be much more prudent and acceptable, from the point of view of the responsibility of the administration, to be much more conservative, depend on that which you actually have available and adapt policies and strategies to those things; and if in time extraordinary advances take place then policies could be relaxed accordingly at that point. To sum up, it is a version of the precautionary principle, much invoked, yet much ignored, in talking about climate change. It is not surprising, as in the case of climate change, that applying the precautionary principle is eluded so as to not put at risk Business as Usual, given that what really matters to responsible politicians is economic growth for economic growth’s sake, despite it being moribund, if not definitely dead.

The first reference to technology which Junqueras makes is related to the improvement in efficiency of production processes and is a fairly obvious eulogy to the dematerialization of the economy. Junqueras seems to believe that one can reduce the material and energetic base of the economy, at the same time as its GDP rises. Such a supposition is a fallacy discredited as much by history as by econometric analyses: 70% of GDP growth corresponds to the use of energy, and those much vaunted examples of improved energetic intensity show precisely the opposite of what they set out to demonstrate: the fact is that the economy does not dematerialize in absolute terms12 (perhaps it would be a good idea for Junqueras to read the minutes from the ”Meeting between the exponential economist and the physicist”13). In any case, it would be useful for Sr. Junqueras to revise the conceptual and theoretical bases which he has based his arguments on, as he is foolishly regurgitating enormous fallacies which are completely discredited by the actual facts.

In the same way, Junqueras appears to believe, without being able to say exactly what he is referring to, that technology opens up access to new resources which were previously scorned. The only large scale example of this supposed change in recent years is the oil fracking exploitation in the U.S.A., a business which, as Saladié told him in his first speech, is ruining many companies and whose viability is impossible, and not because of the question of prices. It looks as if Junqueras has accepted the simplistic and infantile argument of so many inattentive experts and does not understand that the dynamics of price in a situation of scarcity, like the present, is that of high volatility and the destructive cycles of supply and demand known as “the spiral”. It is pathetically sad that Junqueras views the question of peak oil as a question of prices, and that those prices actually correspond with the dynamics of rivalry, accepting the repeated explanations by the Spanish financial press that it is all about a price war between OPEC and the U.S.A., with fracking as the spearhead. It would be extremely helpful if Sr. Junqueras would extend the range of his reading and pay attention to what Sergi Saladié told him in his first speech, where he says that the enormous fall in investment, collectively, by the world oil companies, in order to avoid bankruptcy, is causing a dramatic fall in investment in new reserves which condemns us to suffer a new peak in oil prices, probably before the end of 2018, as HSBC bank warned in December 2016, as did the International Energy Agency itself in March of the same year, although this was already indicated in its Annual Report for 2016 (substantial and authoritative references that Sr Junqueras and his advisors really ought to read).

On the other hand, Sr. Junqueras believes that if the Catalan economy is centred around sectors of greater added added value, it naturally becomes more resilient, when what happens is actually the opposite: the products of higher added value are those of higher technological complexity, while the services of higher added value are those of the quaternary sector (services to services, and notably, for its added high value, those of the financial sector). Both sectors are extremely vulnerable to the problems of scarcity of resources: the technological, because they depend on scarce materials which require a large quantity of energy in their production; and the services sector, because its strength is conditioned by the availability of the income of the middle classes (the most obvious case is that of tourism, the main economic sector in Catalonia) and this is being compromised by the unstoppable internal devaluation which is causing the scarcity of resources and the fall of wide sections of the population in The Great Exclusion. In fact, this focus of the Catalan economy makes it more fragile, which is the opposite of being more resilient, but as Sr. Junqueras is dazzled by the current good evolution of the Catalan economy, he is unable to see the wall in front of him. The endless praise of technological advances and greater efficiency in the use of resources ignores, repeatedly, the Jevons paradox as well as the fact that technology is not energy, and implies that Sr Junqueras has an impoverished understanding of what has driven previous industrial revolutions.

To bring the subject to a close, it is worth commenting that the subject of climate change is also given an excessively light treatment by the Generalitat Government’s vice-president. Given the urgency and serious nature of this challenge, the dilution of actual responsibility which he is so proud of, is really not acceptable when he says that it is a problem which falls outside the concerns of Catalonia (if every country were to say the same nobody would do anything). On the other hand, climate change is only one of the many environmental problems which we have to face; there are many more, generally of an entirely localized nature, many of which are occurring in Catalonia, which require action but about which nothing is being done at all.

Conclusion:

Sr. Junqueras’s responses to the questions posed by Sr. Saladié have been really poor and are not commensurate with the education and experience of such a person. If the vice-president really believes in the arguments he has set out, it is his duty to be better informed, in particular about what is happening to energy on a world scale and he should be capable of reading other texts which are not the unfounded banalities published here by the local press. And if he actually comes to realize that the situation is not like that, he should take on board the fact that there is no time for making compromises in order to look good to the economic powers; we are right now in the age of consequences and every month, every week and every day which we fritter away brings us closer to a change of disastrous consequences, and the responsibility for what might happen could fall on him in particular, given that he understood and knew what was being discussed. If, next year, we enter into a new surge of global recession and if Catalonia faces it under worse conditions than it might have had, then he will be mostly to blame.

However the debate about de-growth, so crucial at this moment in time, has been completely overlooked in the midst of this informative whirlwind which has been occasioned by the tense and chaotic approval of the Catalan laws about its referendum and separation. So as we were saying, daily conflicts prevent us from seeing and understanding the processes we are following , to the point where we are incapable of recognizing collapse.

Originally published in The Oil Crash blog: https://crashoil.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/sucedio-en-el-parlament.html

translated by Amelia Burke and Mark Burton

1 Process of submitting formal questions to the Government resulting in a debate.

3 Indeed it allies with the Green Parties in the European Parliamentary bloc the GreensEuropean Free Alliance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greens%E2%80%93European_Free_Alliance

10 Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., & Behrens, W. W. (1974). The Limits to growth : a report for the Club of Romes project on the predicament of mankind. London: Pan Books. Available online at http://www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf An excellent recent summary and discussion is Jackson, T., & Webster, R. (2016). LIMITS REVISITED A review of the limits to growth debate (p. 24). London: All-Party Parliamentary Group on Limits to Growth. http://limits2growth.org.uk/revisited

11 Diamond, J. M. (2006). Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive. London: Penguin Books.

12 Only in relative terms: the rate of growth of material use slows as the economy grows but the absolute level of material use continues to increase.

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