Some of you may have noticed the recent dialogue on Twitter, where I took Scott to task for never mentioning the ecological necessity of a universal Basic Citizens’ Income (UBI).
I regret that due to my inability with technicalities (I think I should have taken screen shots or something) his replies are from memory, but I have tried to express the gist fairly.
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Me: Scott, when we met at the BIEN conference in Lisbon last September, I asked you about this, and you said you would Tweet about the eco-connection at some point, but if so I haven’t seen it.
Scott: I’ve read some of your stuff, but I don’t agree with all of it. I agree that we need not to exceed eco-limits, but some forms of growth are desirable, even essential. Think solar panels.
[Scott then itemizes some of the positive effects of a UBI that we both agree on]
Once we have a UBI in place, people will be able to start thinking of the wisdom of not abusing ecological limits. They obviously have more urgent priorities right now. We have to get the UBI in place first, with no distractions.
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Scott is practical, and hugely successful at publicising the consequences of a UBI. Both of us regard these consequences as simpIe logic, On the other hand I am hopeless with practicalities (such as screen shots), but due, I believe, to my Asperger’s predisposition, I think I can see a problem easily missed by more ‘normal’ minds. I have to try to explain.
It is certainly true that the UBI will make it possible for many to think of eco-problems where they have more immediate concerns. They need something which guarantees security without economic growth. But a UBI is unlikely to actually have that effect unless people are at least reminded of the looming ecological crisis.
Scott Santens’ reluctance to touch on eco-issues worries me, but Guy Standing terrifies me. Guy is perhaps less of a publicist than Scott, but he is a foremost advocate of the UBI. In Chapter 5 of his book Basic Income: And how we can make it happen, he says:
Although in [my] view, the primary justifications for basic income are social justice, freedom and security, [it] would also have economic advantages [including] higher, more sustainable economic growth.
This is all too realistic, but If all the UBI achieves is redistribution from the better off to the deprived, its initial effect would indeed be a surge in economic activity, with foreseeably dire consequences for the ecosphere.
If this discussion between Scott and me had taken place in 1973, when I first mooted it as a way of doing what Kate Raworth has now suggested – allowing a planned’ soft landing’ instead of the assumption of perpetual economic growth – that surge in activity could have been accommodated, welcomed even. But not now. It is too late.
Climate change is the most serious problem. Global warming sounds cosy, but what is actually happening is that steadily increasing CO2 – and methane (due to fracking) – levels are allowing ever more energy to build up in the atmosphere. Only a small proportion of this energy raises the global temperature. The rest increases the violence and extremes of weather systems, including lifting huge volumes of water. A series of dramatic reductions in reinsurance profits ought to be a warning of how close we are, globally, to the limits of what the ecosphere can cope with.
Plastic in the oceans has just become news. Serious as it is, it is, or should be overshadowed by the phenomenon of coral bleaching. This is partly due to globally higher temperatures, but also to rising level of acidity (CO2). Unless current increases in economic activity are not halted fairly quickly, vast areas of ocean will die. Do I have to apologize for seeming alarmist?
Habitat loss in many areas is due to rising population levels rather than increasing economic activity, but it is more pressure on the ecosphere.
The basic problem is that we extremely clever humans have, since we evolved not quite 200 millennia ago enjoyed exploiting new opportunities which our hominid ancestors could not. But the strategies best suited to exploiting new opportunities, or resources, are the worst possible strategies as limits to expansion are reached. Such strategies will normally be individualist and aggressive. As long as expansion is possible, such individuals will be able to gain, and at worst the rest of the community will derive some benefit.
One of the more encouraging signs is the increasing number of hits on my Blog Page ‘The Tragedy of the Commons, which explores the situation when limits to growth are reached. But in the real world growth remains the taken for granted norm.
Fracking? As long as there are profits to be made, someone will make them. Warnings are ignored (denied) that fossil fuels must remain in the ground if we are to have a hope in Hell of keeping CO2 (and methane) levels down.
China hasdeveloped an extensive steel industry, leading to gross over-production. Cleary some steel production somewhere will have to close. But where?
Fishing. The entire Pacific Ocean is treated as a limitless resource. Ineffectual attempts are made to maintain sustainability. Of course, once we have a World Basic Income, there might be some prospect of curbing this particular abuse.
Meanwhile, Pacific islanders continue to watch the sea level rise, and the Sami find their traditional way of life destroyed by climate change. Crop falures in Syria and Nigeria are due to abnormal weather patterns. New Orleans and New York have experienced their ‘once every 500 years’ hurricanes.
But even without the global ecosphere being at risk, the aggressive methods used to further economic growth were already devastating for example the Ogoni in Nigeria. All these examples flow from the unquestioned assumption that growth is the natural order.
Scott, you are absolutely right about more solar panels, but what we need is a new global mind-set, urgently. Social justice in tandem with sustainability. The UBI might just do it.