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.

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.

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.

Posted in degrowth, economics, international, news | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A political party argues for degrowth

Remember when politicians in the UK wouldn’t risk arguing strongly against austerity? That changed with the June General Election but there are still things that appear to be “unsayable” in polite political company.  One of those is to suggest that the goal of so called economic “growth” should be abandoned.  You can’t say that: political death!  Not so for the independent republican left group CUP (Popular Unity List) that today launched a debate on degrowth in the Parliament of Catalonia, the region known for innovative, progressive politics as well as for a contentious debate about independence from Spain.  There follows a translation (from Spanish) of an interview with Sergi Saladié, spokesperson for the CUP group, from the website 15-15-15.  The population of Catalonia is about 2.5 times that of Greater Manchester, a little larger than the North West of England.  If with possible independence or increased autonomy, Catalonia were to pursue degrowth, then the kind of regional policies we have been promoting would be relevant there too (and we have also learned from innovations there, not least from what the Barcelona in Common city government is attempting).

Degrowth to be discussed in the Catalonian Parliament. An interview with Sergi Saladié, parliamentary member Popular Unity List – Consitituent Call.

In the Plenary Assembly1 of 7th September, the CUP will address the Catalan Government, specifically the Vice President, minister for the economy and the treasury, Oriol Junqueras, about the limits to growth and the need to assume the tenets of the degrowth movement for resilience. At the same time the independent left group will present a motion which could open the way to abandoning economic growth in the country as it sets out to secede from the Spanish state. The magazine 15/15/15 interviewed Sergi Saladié, the member of parliament who will present these initiatives tomorrow.

15/15/15: Sergi, explain to us what exactly it is that will be presented tomorrow by your grouping in the Plenary of Parliament.

Saladié: Technically we will introduce an interpellation2 to the Government, specifically to the Vice President and Minister for the economy and treasury, Oril Junqueras. We will set out the need to push for and specify public policies for degrowth as well as a series of proposals the Government could begin to enact.

15/15/15: As far as we know this is the first initiative of this kind, to introduce the debate about degrowth so explicitly in a parliament in Spain, or even at the European level. Do you know of any other similar initiatives? Has it been hard taking this step

Saladié: We do not know about other similar initiatives3. Initially as a political organisation (CUP) and especially as a parliamentary group (CUP-Crida Consituent) we had proposed to introduce a Law of Degrowth in the Catalonian parliament, even knowing with some certainty that we would not have the necessary support to see it through. The basic idea was to open the debate about degrowth in the Catalonian Parliament and thereby also in Catalan politics. Because of the political situation and the legislative calendar , along with the call for a referendum for October 1, we have had to opt for a more flexible instrument, like an interpellation.

15/15/15: What expectations do you have? Or rather, what are the most and least that you hope for from the initiative you are presenting this morning

Saladié: In the interpellation we will set out our arguments for the need to advance and realise degrowth in our society, and listen to the position of the government. The realisation of possible achievements will be through the subsequent motion that will be debated in the next parliamentary session. In that motion we will present a set of minimum demands where we will call on the government to create an intergovernmental and cross-sectoral commission of experts in degrowth, and the introduction of the debate on degrowth into the future Catalan constituent process.

15/15/15: I believe that many people, both inside and outside Catalonia, will be shocked that, at this moment, in the middle of the maelstrom of the process towards independence, with the referendum imminent, your group introduces this issue, that is not exactly an easy question. How do you relate it to the independence process and why have you chosen to present it at this historical moment?

Saladié: Our organisation sees the process toward the independence of Catalonia as an opportunity for a break with a political regime, yes, but above all as a path that opens up opportunities for social, economic and political transformation that allows the achievement of an authentic sovereignty, especially in those fundamentals for the development of life, such as energy and food. And we understand that degrowth is an indispensable route for reaching sovereignty in these things.

15/15/15: We assume that it is valid to interpret the degrowth position as already dominant in your group. Has it been a difficult internal debate? What can you tell us about the process that has put the CUP in the vanguard, if you’ll permit that expression, of the renovation, in degrowth terms of the left in this part of the world?

Saladié: Don’t make assumptions so quickly (laughter). The debate in the heart of the organisation has just begun, starting from the subgroup on energy and degrowth that took a proposal to the parliamentary group, and this group thought it opportune to give it political space. In parallel, this subgroup promoted a debate about degrowth in the CUP summer school last July. The internal debate has just begun, and that’s why the motion can be an element that also helps develop this internal debate.

15/15/15: You know the famous phrase of Juan Carlos Monedero [academic and former leading member of Podemos – SSM], that reflects not only the position quietly assumed by Podemos but also that of the majority of the Spanish left, that “talking about degrowth isn’t how elections are won”. The CUP doesn’t appear to fear a cost in electoral terms from the steps it is taking, positioning itself not only as an anticapitalist grouping but also now as “degrowthers”. Is that so?

Saladié: The CUP isn’t guided by criteria of electability and indeed we always express our political positions without sophistry [or what in the UK is called “triangulation”]. So our organisation isn’t afraid to speak publicly about degrowth and initiate an open debate in Parliament.

The other thing is that the CUP already is seen as a degrowth organisation. Linking with the previous question, the CUP still hasn’t agreed to position itself as “degrowthist” in any of its internal decision-making bodies. We expect that the ongoing work of the working group on energy and degrowth will allow the introduction of the debate within the organisation and that it will be able to position itself as degrowthist in the near future.

15/15/15: The eyes of a good part of the left, not just the degrowthist current, but that which still bases its policies on economic growth, and not just from within Spain, are tomorrow on the Catalan parliament. Are you going to publish the documents that you will present? Will it be possible to follow your intervention and the subsequent debate?

Saladié: Yes, the idea is to put the documents from the interpellation not only on the website of CUP but also on diverse degrowth sites.

As the plenary assembly is expected to be complicated by dealing with various laws relating to the referendum, the order of the day will be altered. Even so, through the Catalonian Parliament website it will be possible to follow the interpellation live (here, for those that can follow Catalan: https://www.parlament.cat/web/canal-parlament/sequencia/videos/index.html?p_cp1=8102705&p_cp3=8105387 ).

Translated by Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton: Steady State Manchester

steadystatemanchester.net

1 The Plenary Assembly of the Parliament of Catalonia is the highest body of the Parliament of Catalonia, competent to decide any question within the remit of the Parliament

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

3 However, for the UK see the work initiated by the All Party Group on Limits to Growth: http://limits2growth.org.uk/

Posted in degrowth, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What’s gender go to do with the viable economy?

wordcloudA small, thoughtful group met in Manchester City Centre to consider some of the key features of Steady State Manchester’s flagship policy proposals, the Viable Economy on a sunny summer’s night. We talked about the gender implications of the different aspects of the Viable Economy and also looked briefly what might be missing in Diva Manc’s Calls to Action (for a Greater Manchester that Works for Women ), presented to the incoming Mayor of Greater Manchester, in terms of the viable economy.

A number of issues ran through the discussion:

  • An economy that is good for women is good for all and that we should also be considering wealth, race, disability, sexuality, faith – indeed all forms of inequalities.
  • Across the world women are disproportionately negatively affected by climate change.
  • It can be very hard for all sorts of people to consider gender unless directed to do so, as the unconscious gender biases we hold remain just that – unconscious.
  • We need to keep an international perspective when discussing gender and the viable economy and the environment.
  • Care is needed not to generalise across all women (or indeed all men).

We had a wide ranging discussion, drawing on examples of practices and projects with women very centrally at the core.

VE Key Feature 1. Living Well and more equally. More is produced locally, providing decent green jobs and spreading the wealth. Women in general can only benefit if wealth is spread more evenly. There is a large gender pay gap at the moment starting at apprenticeship level and continuing through the lifespan to pensions. Local production could be more convenient, and enable women to juggle home demands with paid work, but as more distant jobs close, questions would need to be asked about who then loses their jobs, and who gains in local jobs. In part it will depend on what is produced locally. In rural areas, the local economy depends entirely on the unpaid work of women in problem solving, attending markets, dealing with money, and doing administration for farms and small businesses.

VE Key Feature 2. We are more secure because the environment is protected

from further destruction. Globally, women are disproportionately badly affected by climate change for lots of different reasons. Less environmental destruction will enable them to maintain livelihoods, live healthily and not suffer from environmental disasters.

VE Key Feature 3. Resilience: access to goods, especially food, will be more secure should there be shocks. In terms of resilience, a lot can be learnt from the informal social networks developed and maintained mostly by women in both rural and urban areas that, for example, support children, bring cultural activities to localities (for example, school fairs, park festival), share care. More women organise, and run the activities and stalls in some local festivals, such as Woolfest in Cumbria, whilst men mostly participate passively. This pattern is repeated at different levels. Whilst men and women are equally likely to volunteer, women are more likely to undertake informal volunteering, and to do this on a regular basis. Women are more likely to volunteer locally. Women form the ‘glue’ that holds communities together and makes places good to live in.

There are lots of examples of ‘exchange economies’ where local people form networks (usually organised by women) to exchange food, tools, unwanted goods. Whilst e-platforms enable some of this sharing, the most resilient examples are face to face exchanges.

VE Key Feature 4. More money stays local – our city’s wealth will be used for needed developments, for example energy efficient, affordable housing. It will be important to look at land ownership and how land is treated as an asset. The vast majority of peri-urban privately owned land is held by men, although the pattern may be changing as younger people acquire land through joint ownership. If women are not represented on decision making bodies, likely developments will be gender blind. (Just having women’s representation does not ensure a viable economy approach, but nor does not have women’s representation!). More promotion might be possible of informal money systems, like the Xitique of Mozambique – small, informal, collective savings process outside banks and not involving repayable interest.

VE Key Feature 5. Balance. Some sectors must grow (e.g. renewable energy) and some must shrink (e.g. fossil fuels). Women might well have a view on which sectors should grow the most and the fastest. The things that affect their lives more, maybe than men’s, include public transport, the manufacture of ‘light’ goods that can be carried easily (e.g. carbon neutral reclaimed wood bricks for fuel), home care, shorter working weeks, children’s shoes. The specific as well as the common interests of women need to be given voice. We are so used to not thinking about gender it can be difficult to facilitate this voice in practice rather than just in theory.

VE Key feature 6. Focusing on the things we want the economy to deliver, rather than growth for growth’s sake (GDP and GVA measures). It makes no sense to think of the economy without thinking about the household or about community maintenance, both largely women’s concerns. Ask women and the things ‘we’ want may look different. For example, if greater availability of fresh food is one such thing, who will collect and prepare this food? How will household tasks and caring be more evenly balanced. Care as an ethic for the economy, rather than a practice, about which women have written (see work by Julie Nelson amongst others)

So what is missing from the viable economy that Diva Manc has promoted?

Gender balanced leadership and representation and enabling women to contribute to policy making. This is about not leaving it to chance, but finding active ways of encouraging and supporting women to participate and take on leadership or representation roles. It is also about how local decision making happens and whether existing processes are gender friendly and accessible for women. Women’s loyalties may differ from men’s and this needs to be understood and taken into account.

Challenge conscious and unconscious bias against women – this is needed in everything we do and may start with some awareness raising of what unconscious biases might look like and how they operate.

Close the gender pay gap – The Viable Economy does discuss pay inequality. Indeed the one and only mention of gender in the pamphlet is in a section on inequalities, along with the other inequalities that must also be addressed.

Making Greater Manchester a place of choice for women and girls to live, work, study and care. This includes the delivery of quality of care across the lifespan; access to safe and affordable travel options; access to safe and affordable housing; and the ending of violence towards girls. More work needs to be done to include the household in analyses of the economy and violence towards women and safety as part of the spatial developments.

What can Steady State Manchester Do?

  • Continue the conversation more widely.
  • Examine all of our proposals from a gender perspective on an ongoing basis.
  • Consider a gender addendum to the Viable Economy
  • Promote the Purple Flag accreditation of our place based night time economies.
  • Make relevant links with Diva Manc and the Women’s Equality Party

 

Posted in Greater Manchester, key concepts, Viable Economy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments