Radical Abundance

Can Save Us.

Climate change requires changing society. 

An opportunity for such change is summarized here from Jason Hickel's article

Hickel's bottom line is:

"While austerity calls for scarcity in order to generate more growth, degrowth calls for abundance in order to render growth unnecessary.  Abundance, then, is the solution to our ecological crisis.  If we are to avert climate breakdown, the environmentalism of the 21st century must articulate a new demand: a demand for radical abundance.”

Lest one worry that “abundance” means waste, rest assured that the opposite is the case.  The abundance projected will be based on durability, efficiency and public reclamation of the heritage of Earth’s bounty.  As well, it would enable the satisfaction of having time.  Time to enjoy one’s family, friends, local experiences and whatever creativity you would like in your life.

For centuries, growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been hailed as the ultimate goal.  Degrowth sounds counterintuitive.  Nevertheless, it is clear to any thinking human that perpetual growth on a finite planet will bring disaster.  One need only do the math.

Almost daily now, Climate Change demonstrates what the math reveals.  We need to reduce human impacts on Earth.  Growing until we drop is disrespectful to all humans past and future.

Early in the Industrial Age, James Maitland identified the Lauderdale Paradox.  In his time, much growth was achieved by forcing the common folk off the land to make way for industrial wool production – the Clearances.  The ability for successive generations to support themselves from the land was a great non-monetized wealth.  When that wealth was transformed into wool for industry, it became monetized as the value moved from small farmers to land owners. 

No longer able to feed themselves from the land, the people had to seek work in factories to earn money for what they needed.  Their wages began to increase GDP, as did their creative output.  The output, however, was collected by factory owners, rather than accommodating their families.  Community wealth became private wealth.

Throughout the colonial era, dominating powers confiscated public wealth to enrich the elite of empires.  The British Salt Tax in India was a classic example.  Traditionally, people had gone to the sea to get salt for free.  By forbidding personal salt production and demanding money for it, public wealth was transferred into private hands.

In our own time, we can see this process continuing around water, health care, elder care, education and other activities which people or governments have provided directly in the past.  While the compulsion may not be physical, advertising and austerity measures subtly usher public wealth toward GDP in private hands.

Because most people require jobs for money to buy what they need, individuals and unions also tend to support the growth goal.  With general consensus on the goal, workers earn money to buy the products and services that they make, and owners make profits to invest in new industries to make more products, and so the system expands and CO2 accumulates.

Here is where the paradigm shifts
Some steps toward abundance with minimal environmental impacts are, in Hickel’s words:

". . . legislate extended warranties on products, so that goods like washing machines and refrigerators last for 30 years instead of ten. Another is to ban planned obsolescence, and to introduce a “right to repair” so that products can be fixed cheaply and without proprietary parts. We could legislate reductions in food waste (as South Korea, France and Italy are doing), tax red meat to promote a shift to less resource-intensive foods, ban single-use plastics and disposable coffee cups, and end advertising in public spaces to reduce pressures for material consumption . . . [and] reclaim our streets (and attention). . .”

Another big step would be to reverse the increasing cost of housing.  Housing prices rose rapidly as investors bought up shelters with the cheap money pumped into the system to keep it growing after the 2008 recession.  As rent and purchase prices increase, people have to spend more time earning money to pay for shelter.   By repatriating the government money that was handed out, housing prices could return to more manageable levels.  Imagine the reduction of environmental impacts, the wealth of time reclaimed, and by how much personal lives would be enriched.  

More durable goods, less need for jobs to earn money for unnecessary over-priced products, more time to help family and friends, more fun, less stuff and the like would provide a sense of abundance.

Degrowth, the reduction of human impacts, would be possible in a society with this kind of abundance.

Radical abundance would help resolve the population problem.

Though not mentioned in Hickel’s article, populations stabilize and often slowly decline when countries can provide people with adequate food, shelter, education and health care.

If powerful interests were to stop exploiting poor countries for their resources and cheap labour and, instead, let them use their creative efforts to provide their own basic needs, their populations would also stabilize.  

Radical abundance will incline the global population toward a level the Earth can sustain.

Help put radical abundance into the public mind for thought and discussion.

Some selected quotes from Jason’s Hickel’s article

His full article can is here.

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"This could be our revolution: 

To love what is plentiful 
as much as what is scarce."

Alice Walker

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