Planning Inspectorate can’t say if its inspectors are carbon literate.

We have had a (late) response from the Planning Inspectorate to our Freedom of Information request. We asked for information on whether planning inspectors have received carbon-literacy training.

The response is disappointing:

  1. The Planning Inspectorate delivers training, and regular updates, to
    inspectors on the application of the wide range of policy and
    legislative matters, to which they must have regard and about which
    they must apply their judgement, when making decisions or
    recommendations. The issue of Climate Change cuts across a number of
    areas and, as such, it is not possible for us to supply details of any
    discrete training nor the figures that you request. It has not
    assessed its training against that of the Carbon Literacy Project.
  2. The Planning Inspectorate does not record the numbers of Inspector’s (sic)
    that receive specific types of training, and as such we do not hold
    any information regarding this part of the request.

So, effectively, the Planning Inspectorate can’t assure us that its Inspectors do have an adequate level of training on the carbon impact of development.

Since we know that the carbon impacts of building developments are large, potentially large enough to blow the UK’s carbon budget, we might expect a clearer response. It may be that inspectors have a sufficient level of education or training on the carbon impacts of development, but we have no way of ascertaining this, since the Inspectorate isn’t collecting the data. Nor does it appear to have a standard against which to assess such training. We don’t know what proportion of inspectors have received relevant training on carbon impacts, nor do we know when. We don’t know to what standard such training might have been delivered.

Given the existential impact of climate change and the carbon emissions that cause it, this gives us little confidence.


  1. You can read our request and the full response here.
  2. Recent research evaluated the carbon impact of meeting the government’s housing targets and concluded that it would exceed the UK’s legally binding carbon budget. See zu Ermgassen, S. O. S. E., Drewniok, M. P., Bull, J. W., Corlet Walker, C. M., Mancini, M., Ryan-Collins, J., & Cabrera Serrenho, A. (2022). A home for all within planetary boundaries: Pathways for meeting England’s housing needs without transgressing national climate and biodiversity goals. Ecological Economics, 107562.
  3. Inspectors examining the Greater Manchester Places for Everyone spatial plan declined to add our assessment of its carbon impact to the examination database. This was despite the GMCA not having attempted to assess the likely impact quantitatively.
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UK Planning Inspectorate hasn’t responded to FOIA about carbon literacy yet

By law, the Planning Inspectorate should normally have responded promptly and by 16 May 2023.

Of course things can reasonably be delayed but I have not had the courtesy of a communication from them to that effect. MHB

Dear Planning Inspectorate,
Carbon literacy is a training award based on a short course usually delivered within organisations (see… ). Since Local Plans and Planning Management Decisions require an understanding of authorities’ obligations under the Climate Change Act (2008) and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act (2004), Inspectors will need to be carbon literate.
Please supply details of training provided to inspectors that meets the standard of the Carbon Literacy Project or otherwise equips inspectors in making decisions and recommendations that appropriately take account of the need to radically reduce all sources of carbon emissions.
This can be provided in tabular form, identifying numbers of inspectors and the training type. Please supply this information for the 5 years to the end of March, 2023.
Thank you,

Yours faithfully,

Mark H Burton

Follow this request at What Do They Know?

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For a Post-Growth Europe

We are delighted to be among 400 co-signatories of this Open Letter published all over Europe on the occasion of the opening of the Beyond Growth conference at the European Parliament.

You can read the letter with all the references and signatories at this link.

Open Letter published all over Europe on day 1 of the EP Beyond Growth Conference (15 May 2023)

As political leaders gather for a second conference at the European Parliament on
how to move “beyond growth”, we, the undersigned academics and civil society
organisations, see the geopolitical crisis as an opportunity to disengage from the
socially and ecologically harmful growth competition and instead embrace a
wellbeing cooperation.

There is no empirical basis indicating that it is possible to globally and sufficientlyQuotation from the letter - no empirical basis for decoupling at sufficient scale
decouple economic growth from environmental pressures. The pursuit of endless
economic growth by high income nations is a problem as it either reduces or cancels the
outcomes of environmental policies. The current climate chaos and unravelling web of
life on which our society depends is an existential threat to peace, water and food
security, and democracy.

Advancing to a post-growth economy is not only to survive, but also to thrive. This calls
for a democratically planned and equitable downscaling of production and consumption,
sometimes referred to as ‘degrowth’, in those countries that overshoot their ecological
resources. This is Europe’s global peace project, because its current economic growth is
causing conflicts both in and beyond Europe.
In the context of high-income nations, a smaller footprint does not mean worse living
conditions. Sufficiency policies focusing on frugality, resource reduction, and work time
reduction can significantly increase wellbeing and decrease environmental pressures,
therefore creating the possibility for sustainable prosperity without growth.
In order to ensure the highest quality of life with the lowest footprint, we must
completely change the goals and rules of the economic game. In a post-growth economy,
the current focus on quantitative growth would be replaced by the aim of thriving in a
regenerative and distributive economy, one that delivers qualitative wellbeing by meeting
the needs of all people within the means of the living planet – as elaborated in the
framework of Doughnut Economics.

The markets have proven to be ill-equipped to make the most crucial decisions in our
society. For the economy to serve the people, rather than the other way around, people
must be given back control over the economy. To change the rules of the game, we need
to learn from already existing initiatives. For example, upscaling across the EU the model
for not-for-profit cooperatives.

In light of these pressing challenges and stimulating opportunities, we call on the
European Union, its Institutions, and Member States to implement:

1. Post-growth European Institutions: constitute permanent structures at the
Commission, the Council, the Parliament, and within Member States to assess post-
growth strategies and pathways.
2. A European Green Deal beyond growth: design a new flagship programme shaped
around a systemic change approach that aspires to create a thriving future within
planetary boundaries, with degrowth as a necessary transition phase towards a post-
growth destination.
3. Beyond growth policies based on the four principles of:
• Biocapacity: fossil fuel phase-outs, limits to raw material extraction and nature
protection and restoration measures for healthy and resilient soils, forests,
marine and other ecosystems. E.g., a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a
Resource Justice and Resilience Act including a binding material footprint
reduction target and real, area-based nature restoration.
• Fairness: fiscal instruments to foster a more equal society by eradicating income
and wealth extremes, as well as super-profits. E.g., a carbon wealth tax, both
minimum and maximum incomes.
• Wellbeing for all: secured access to essential infrastructures via an improved,
ecologically-sensitive welfare state. E.g., Universal Basic Services (including the
human rights to health, transport, care, housing, education and social protection
etc.), job guarantees, price controls for essential goods and services.
• Active democracy: citizen assemblies with mandates to formulate socially
acceptable sufficiency strategies and strengthen policies based on ecological
limits, fairness and wellbeing for all and a stronger role for trade unions. E.g.,
local needs forum, climate conventions, participatory budgeting.
It has been five years since the first “post-growth” conference. Within civil society
and academia, growth-critical ideas have been getting ever stronger. The details of
these ideas are being discussed in the European Parliament and with the European
Commission right now. Scientific knowledge and policy insights are available to
make the ideas of degrowth and post-growth a reality. The crises we face are also
opportunities to create a new system that can secure wellbeing for all while
allowing for a thriving democratic life and a slower yet sweeter mode of living.

Full References and signatures can be found in the pdf version.

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No to reform!

Review of Marx in the Anthropocene: Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism. Cambridge. £29.99 paperback. ISBN 9781009366182

Mark H Burton*  pdf version

Sometimes it has seemed as if the ecological movement and the socialist movement are inevitably at odds. While the ecological movement has questioned the endless expansion of production, consumption and the consequent acceleration of resource and energy use, the left has often emphasised the domination of nature not just to meet everyone’s needs but to offer a universally high standard of living.

However, there is another left tradition that has always questioned the alignment of social progress with material expansion. At its heart has been an opposition to turning everything into a commodity1. Socialism is not simply the efficient and equitable management of the existing system but a complete alternative.

So where did the Copernican2 thinker of the socialist movement, Karl Marx, stand on this issue? Was he of the brown or the green left? That is what Kohei Saito addresses in Marx in the Anthropocene: towards the idea of a degrowth communism. The book was a surprising best-seller (half a million copies), in Japan, which has a distinctive and innovative Marxist tradition3 as well as a long-standing tradition of ecological thought and practice4.

Saito has for some years made a detailed study of the notebooks that Marx filled after completing the first volume of Capital: these have only appeared in recent years in a collection known by the initials of its German title5, the MEGA. Saito’s previous book explored the evidence for Marx’s “ecological turn” in those notebooks. In this latest one he widens the discussion, connecting with historical and contemporary debates and the work of key thinkers including Frederik Engels, Georg Lukacs, Rosa Luxemburg, István Mészáros, Herbert Marcuse, James O’Connor, Jason Moore, Noel Castree, Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster.

Saito’s key finding, and key argument, is that the later Marx rethought his earlier positions, both as a result of, and as a reason for, pursuing extensive studies in the physical and biological sciences, on the one hand, and pre-capitalist societies on the other. While comments in earlier texts such as the Communist Manifesto and the Grundrisse, and indeed some passages in Capital, are consistent with socialism harnessing and expanding the forces of production developed by capitalism – ‘productivism’, Saito finds that Marx thoroughly revised his position. That included abandoning the notion of stages of history and, critically, the idea that socialism must follow capitalism, standing on the pillars it had erected. Saito uses his findings to reconstruct what Marx’s new philosophy was – “degrowth communism”.

The argument is persuasive. Two key ideas underpin the argument. Firstly, Marx adopted the concept of the “metabolic rift”, the disturbance of the natural regenerative cycles of what we now call ecosystems, as a result of the massive resource and energy transfers occasioned by the capitalist mode of production.

Its basic thesis is relatively simple: the metabolic interaction of humans with the rest of nature constitutes the basis of living, but the capitalist way of organizing human interactions with their ecosystems inevitably creates a great chasm in these processes and threatens both human and non-human beings.” p. 23

There are three dimensions to the rift, the technological (for example, natural regenerative soil cycles are replaced with polluting artificial fertilisers based on massive fossil fuel consumption), the spatial (e.g. the displacement of pollution from cities to the rivers and ocean) and the temporal (the time lag between a capitalist process and its ecological impact – as in the fossil fuel – climate change relationship).

Secondly, Marx came to revalue pre-capitalist social systems with their land tenure and property arrangements, not uncritically or romantically, but as systems to build upon where capital had not yet dominated, and as sources of insight for how a post-capitalist world might be organised.

Marx’s call for a ‘return’ to non-capitalist society demands that any serious attempt at overcoming capitalism in Western society needs to learn from non-Western societies and integrate the new principle of a steady-state economy. Marx’s rejection of productivism is not identical with the romantic advocation (sic) of a ‘return to the countryside’’. … The critique of productive forces of capital is not the equivalent to a rejection of all technologies.” p. 208

Saito’s notion of “degrowth communism” draws on these two sets of understanding and as such it is the antithesis of what the green new dealers, the accelerationists and luxury automation advocates imagine. For me its combination of a progressive critique of capitalist modernism, ecological understanding and a decolonial ethic align it with liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel’s notions of analectics and transmodernism. In analectics, the experience of the oppressed and excluded global majorities dialectically engages critically with the dominant system, negating it yet yielding a positive synthesis. Rather than the rejection of the modern, it transcends it, aiming for an alternative, ethical and sustainable modernity6. It is this combination of the ecological, the decolonial and Marx’s Copernican unveiling of capitalism’s dirty secret, the expropriation of surplus labour7, that characterise degrowth communism as both critique and utopia.

While the book finishes on the relevance of degrowth communism for today’s impending catastrophe, earlier chapters get into some fundamental philosophical questions. The sections of the book that cover these questions are not the easiest of reading. While the issues might seem arcane they do have some practical relevance.

The status of nature in relation to human activity under capitalism.

Human activity, so amplified under capitalism’s ‘great acceleration’, has profound impacts on the natural world. That has led some writers to argue that nature and humanity are co-constructed, so intertwined that it is wrong to treat them separately. The options of monism (one category comprising the human world and nature) or dualism (two categories, humanity and nature) themselves can each be divided in to two aspects, the ontological and the methodological. What does that mean? For Saito, while it is tempting to argue that there is not a distinction because humans are themselves part of nature, and do not leave it untouched, that is unhelpful when it comes to understanding the ways in which humans have their impact on nature. So he argues that while the stuff is the same – humans are part of nature – it is essential to distinguish their sphere from the natural, analytically, otherwise you can’t understand the relations involved. It is precisely because of the contradiction between the social process of capital’s self expansion, based on the appropriation of value from commodified human labour, and the physical and biological laws of the natural world, that we have the multiple ecological and planetary systems crises that face us today under very late capitalism.

Formal and real subsumption

What would happen were capitalism to be defeated? In what ways would a socialist (or communist) society be different? A strong tendency on the left (whether in the shape of luxury communism accelerationists, green deal social democrats or Leninist productivists) is to see the new society picking up the industrial systems and technologies developed under capitalism and turning them to serve the working class, and people as a whole. However, a more radical (i.e. to the root) perspective understands this to be both naive and a betrayal of socialism. Why?

Marx distinguished between two forms of “subsumption”.

Historically, in fact, at the start of its formation, we see capital take under its control (subsume under itself) not only the labour processes as it finds them available in the existing technology, and in the form in which they have been developed on the basis of non-capitalist relations of production. … at the beginning it only subsumes it formally, without making any changes in its specific technological character.”

Marx, Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63 (quoted by Saito, p. 146, his emphasis).

So the actual character of the labour process doesn’t change at first but the relations of production do, replacing things like craftsmanship and guilds with capital and wage-labour. Those changes were bad enough, increasing the working day and reducing incomes as surplus labour was extracted under the new ownership system. Real subsumption then introduces further transformations in the mode of production.

With the formal subsumption of labour under capital a complete (and constantly repeated) revolution takes place in the mode of production, in the productivity of the workers and in the relations between the workers and capitalists.”

Marx, Capital v1. (cited by Saito, p. 147).

Capitalism has not just modified the labour process through the application of science and technology but also through the social application of labour, the way workers work, which is now outside their control. Everything has changed, and that everything soon goes beyond the workplace, into the homes supplying workers and consumers, and into the territories supplying materials, and more workers and consumers.

To get off the road to ecological catastrophe requires such fundamental changes that we can only partly imagine them, being mentally colonised by the capitalist imaginary, whether we like it or not. As I have noted before,

Capitalism is a global system. Like the life of an animal it exists at the micro (workplace, shop, household – molecular and cellular) level, at the meso (firm, community – organ) level and at the macro level (conglomerate, industry, economy, State – whole animal) as well as existing over time from generation to generation and through nested cycles of energy transactions, production, consumption, reproduction. Everywhere you turn it is there before you. More than that it is you – in your food, your thoughts, your emotions and the systems that tie these together. Around you and in you and beyond you.”

Sustainability: utopian and scientific (2009)8

Just taking over its technology and making it green will not solve the problem.


Finally, Saito has an interestingly nuanced view of Engels and his contribution. I had come to see Engels as a proto eco-socialist, and this is not exactly wrong. The argument is well put in John Bellamy Foster’s monumental “The Return of Nature” which places Engels at the beginning of a line that includes scholars as diverse as William Morris, Nikolai Bukharin, J.D. Bernal and Rachel Carson9. Saito, however, finds differences between the ecosocialisms of the later Marx and Engels.

To summarise an argument that appears, focussing on different dimensions of the difference, across the length of the book, Saito argues that Engels did not appreciate fully either the full significance of the metabolic rift or the impact of real subsumption. Putting these two things together, with his insights on pre-capitalist and indigenous communisms, Saito’s view is that the late Marx, as a degrowth communist, did not see the possibility of transforming society and its relationship with nature, solely on the basis of changing the ownership of the means of production. Altering the relations of production would be insufficient to change the form. Engels on the other hand, did promote this view, with some justification since his project was the pragmatisation of the complex theoretical insights of the two thinkers, for the use of the socialist working class movement. Marx was still reworking his ideas, drawing on his extensive studies, at the end of his life and that, together with his failing health, is why he never published his revised framework. It was left to Engels to deliver a reconstructed set of texts, putting his own researches to one side, and in so doing there was some misrepresentation. That is why the socialist movements deriving from the long twentieth century have often been at odds with that other radical and critical movement, the ecological movement. Yet both radical movements have at their core the critique of capitalism as a self-expanding system that tramples all before it: all that is solid turns to air, and all that is green turns brown.

Inevitably Saito falls short, as another reviewer concluded10, when it comes to drawing out the implications of his researches for political praxis. There is much to do there, but also much to build from, in the burgeoning literature and practice of the degrowth movement, in the work of scholars and activists who continue to explore Marxism as an open-ended approach to inquiry, and in the practice of the most inspiring, and, let’s be clear, extreme, social movements whether badged under environmentalism, community or indigenous and workers rights. 


* This review is the personal view of the author.

1 Burton, M. (2019). Degrowth: The realistic alternative for Labour. Renewal, 27(2), 88–95.
Wainwright, H. (1999). Raymond Williams and Contemporary Political Ecology. Keywords, 2, 81–93.
Williams, R. (1982). Socialism and Ecology. SERA.

2 ‘Copernican’ in that his insight into the hidden nature of the commodity,and its relations of production under capitalism, revolutionised understanding of political economy. That implies that the neoclassical and Keynesian economists, among others, are rather like flat earthers.

3 Walker, G. (n.d.). Marxist Theory in Japan: A Critical Overview | Historical Materialism.

4 Brown, S. A. (2013). Just enough: Lessons in living green from traditional Japan. Tuttle Publishing.
Edahiro, J. (n.d.). Toward a Sustainable Society—Learning from Japan’s Edo Period and Contributing from Asia to the WorldJFS Japan for Sustainability. JFS Japan for Sustainability. Retrieved 3 February 2022, from
Natural farming (Fukuoka method)

5 Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe.

6 Burton, M. (n.d.). DUSSEL, Enrique. GLOBAL SOCIAL THEORY.
Dussel, E. (2000). Europe, modernity and eurocentrism. Nepantla: View from the South, 1(3), 465–478.
Burton, M. (2013). The analectic turn: Critical psychology and the new political context. Les Cahiers de Psychologie Polítique, 23, online.

7 The law of (commodity) value under capitalism, is that the average exchange value of a commodity is proportional to the average amount of labour-time that is socially necessary to produce it. Capitalism’s trick is in the discrepancy between the time necessary for the production and the recompense the worker receives. That difference, expressed in money terms is profit, resting on the surplus value extracted from the worker, as surplus labour. Marx’s insight is this hidden secret of the capitalist mode, on which its accumulation of value is based.

8 In the collection, Burton, M. H., Kagan, C., Vandeventer, J. S., & Riddell, M. (2021). A Viable Future? Explorations in post-growth from Steady State Manchester. Steady State Manchester.

9 Bellamy Foster, J. (2020). The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology. Monthly Review Press.

10 Johnstone, B. (2023, February 8). Thinking About Ecology with Marx—A review of Kohei Saito’s Marx in the Anthropocene.

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Green Belt – the net approaches the gross as GMCA backtracks

Still from th ePlanning Inspectorate hearing on 9 March

When Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) published its Places for Everyone, 9-District Spatial Plan, it was keen to point out that the impact on the Green Belt had been reduced by the designation of some existing green spaces as Green Belt. While we welcomed the increased protection for those spaces, we noted that because the GMCA emphasised the net Green Belt loss, this tended to disguise the extent of loss.

“…some changes to the Green Belt boundaries are necessary, but these have been minimised as far as possible, having regard in particular to the need to promote sustainable patterns of development. This will result in a net reduction in the Plan area’s designated Green Belt of 1,754 hectares …”
Places for Everyone, p. 165

However, the actual loss, adding together the quoted net loss and the additions (which had been subtracted from the area slated for development), was to be 2,429 hectares. That does not include an additional 1,090 ha. of non-Green Belt green space loss.

Yesterday, however, at the ongoing Planning Inspectorate hearings about the plan, the GMCA sprung another surprise: what had been a total of 675.4 Green Belt additions will now only be 153.9 hectares of proposed new Green Belt.

Mr C Katkowski, the King’s Counsel appointed by GMCA to front the authority at the hearings, referred to the 2014 legal ruling of Gallagher v Solihull (at which he had unsuccessfully represented that authority which proposed to extend the Green Belt). This ruling mandates what is described as “a very stringent test” for establishing new Green Belt. That ruling cited a definition of the test (from the NPPF) but it is decidedly vague, “circumstances are not exceptional unless they do necessitate a revision of the boundary”. One might argue that taking 2,429 ha out of the Green Belt would indeed necessitate the remaining boundary. Presumably the GMCA believes it can make such a case for the remaining hectares 153.9 ha but not for the rest.  We also wonder why this old ruling has suddenly been resurrected by the same lawyer who was knocked back by it all those years ago.

Be that as it may, another veil has been cast aside. The net loss has become closer to the gross loss, weakening the green claims of GMCA yet again. That follows the weakening of policies on net zero emissions from buildings and the priority of building on brownfields.

Moreover, the change seriously undermines the validity of the already flawed public consultation, since that was conducted on the basis of the massaged “net loss” figure and the improved protection for those 675.4 hectares of green space. This must challenge the soundness of the plan.

Places for Everyone is an ecologically destructive plan with inflated projections for all types of building, far in excess of demonstrated need. That reality cannot be disguised with a sprinkling of sustainability policies.

We are grateful to Jackie Copley, Planning Director of CPRE, for alerting us to this development.  The post was amended ,11 March, to note the date of the Gallagher-Solihull ruling.

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Degrowth UK Website Now Open to Contributions

Reposted from

DegrowthUK sail logo with text "Call for Contributions: articles, news, campaigns and events.

Have you heard about a campaign, or perhaps you are involved in a local community group?

Have you read something interesting, or have you been thinking about writing a word or two to the Degrowth Community?

We are now accepting contributions!

We want to nurture the website to be a resource for the UK degrowth community and allies.

We are especially interested in signposting degrowth related activities and materials, including those which may have already been published elsewhere.

Submissions could include; information about campaigns, upcoming events, research, publications and comment pieces (short form is encouraged). We are open to your creative lead!

However, to do this we need your help.

What to do:

  • For content you would like to be re-posted on the website please provide a brief summary and link to the event or publication details, along with any copyright free images you would like included. We prefer open source publications, but all are welcome.
  • For original submissions, please send a brief email of enquiry outlining your proposal.

For all enquires and submissions please e-mail: degrowthuk[at]

Thank you! Your contributions will help us to develop and expand the degrowth community in these islands.

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More than just places

Book coverBook Review

Adamson, D., Axinte, L., Lang, M., & Marsden, T. (2023). Sustainable places: Addressing social inequality and environmental crisis. Routledge. £35.99 paperback, £26.99 ebook.

This short book covers much the same question that we have been concerned with in our own work. That is how to organise an economically, socially and ecologically viable local society, providing dignified lives for citizens without using more than their fair share of the world’s limited resources, nor overstepping the boundaries that the planet’s ecological and geophysical systems impose.

The first part of the book is an insightful review of the existentially challenging context in which genuine community development now takes place. This has environmental and social aspects; in all they list 14 key issues and trends, from climate change and land contamination to global poverty and inequality. Any developmental approach has to take them all into account. The analysis is degrowth-friendly, and maintains a global awareness grounded in the realities of local communities.

In part two the authors get into the alternatives. In doing so they review a number of increasingly influential mainstream and alternative economic and policy approaches, including those familiar to our readers, Social Exclusion analysis, Transition Theory, Total Place, The Foundational Economy, Anchor Institutions, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They then synthesise their own methodology, what they call Deep Place which they go on to explore through six case studies, four from South Wales (Tredegar, Pontypool, Llandovery and Lansbury Park), one from New South Wales (Muswellbrook, in the Hunter Valley), and one from Vanuatu (Freshwater, Port Vila).

Deep Place involves a series of steps, refined over the course of the case studies: socio-economic analysis, co-production and ‘think spaces’, horizon scanning, action points and setting up a ‘coalition for change’. This looks like a fairly standard approach – first understand the context, then identify needs, then action plan and evaluate. Of course the book gives more information about the content of each of the steps. Other approaches, such as Participative Action Researchi and Organisational Workshopii cover similar ground, as did the Reconomy projectsiii that arose from the Transition Network. Nevertheless it is useful to have the Deep Place approach as a model. An issue with all these approaches is that of “boundary judgements”. There are two types, firstly what is in scope for the analysis, and here the approach takes a broad view, with its dual local-global perspective. The second type is more difficult and concerns who sits at the table, with what legitimacy, and how the interests of those not represented are taken into consideration. Forty years ago Werner Ulrich devised a methodology for tackling these fundamental issues, and it has become part of critical systems practiceiv. There is insufficient detail in this small book to know how adequately the boundary issues of participation and representation were handled. The co-production work and the construction of the “coalition for change” could be problematic in these terms, making it difficult to arrive at interventions that have legitimacy in the community and backing from key resource gatekeepers.

I would also like to have had more detail about the projects and specifically the action plans and their fate. Not all the interventions really seem to match the aspirations of the authors, this was especially evident in the Australian case study where proposed projects included biofuels and household waste incineration. For other projects, for example in the care sector (a plank in the foundational economy), it was unclear what the funding and governance arrangements were to be and how feasiblev changes might be in the continuing neoliberal policy context. These are not criticisms of the authors but cautions as to the difficulties in meeting the ambitions for a truly Regenerative Social, Economic and Political Order – the theme of the final chapter which reprises the questions covered in the book.

The book is a helpful distillation of what elsewhere might be called a conjunctural approachvi, knitting together the local and global, the political, economic, social and ecological, in the context of intersecting and accelerating systemic crises, with Place as the uniting theme. It is of course far too expensive, and that is the reality of profit-seeking academic publishing, but it means that, sadly, the insights of the book, like that of so many others, will remain effectively locked up on the shelves of a few academic libraries.

Mark H Burton

iv Ulrich, W. (1983). Critical heuristics for Social Planning: A new approach to practical philosophy. Haupt.  Reprinted Chichester, Wiley, 1994.

Ulrich, W. (2005). A Brief Introduction to Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH). ECOSENSUS Project Website.

v The philosopher Enrique Dussel went so far as to propose feasibility as a fundamental principle of ethics.

vi The term comes from political analysis drawing on the theoretical contributions of Antonio Gramsci.

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We already have degrowth in Britain – really?

The Guardian’s economics editor has written an article on the impact of the economic impact of the preventative public health measures used in the first phase of the Covid 19 pandemic.  In passing he makes the rather surprising statement that “for the past three years the UK has been through a process of de-growth”.

I wrote a short letter in response.  The Guardian hasn’t published it, but some people who have seen it thought it worth sharing more widely. So here it is.

One might think that your economics editor, Larry Elliott would be better informed.  While his article ( ) was concerned with setting up and knocking down a straw man in respect of public health prevention measures in the first Covid wave, he also takes a sideswipe at degrowth, or as he, but nobody else, calls it, “de-growth”.  Degrowth is based on the established discipline of ecological economics.  One well known definition is “a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet”*.  It most emphatically is not the same thing as recession, nor even secular stagnation, which is what happens when a growth-seeking capitalist economy can no longer keep on expanding, due to its internal and external contradictions.  It implies a managed, intentional trajectory, not an accidental and chaotic one, which is what the combination of energy crunch, supply chain disruption and brexit have, together, superimposed on the longer term exhaustion of the capitalist accumulation regime.  Make no mistake, contraction of the economy is the future, and degrowth is the way in which it can be made equitable while minimising the ecological damage.

Mark Burton

Steady State Manchester Collective and co-cordinator Degrowth UK network.

* Source for the definition:

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