Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gifting economies and climate change timeline

Arena, an Australian magazine of left political, social and cultural commentary has just published a great review article of Life Without Money: 'Gifting economies: Modelling alternative economies at the grass roots'.

Patrick Jones, who has practiced self-sufficiency and collective sufficiency for a long time in Central Victoria, has written a cogent article ranging over recent international literature and developments to contextualise our collection. He explains how at one time he would have considered life without money as 'a flaky ideal' and 'utopian wishfulness' but now, having lived a simple lifestyle and striving to achieve sustainable practices, he regards the scenario as:
manageable, achievable and critically necessary in preparing for the unavoidable and ensuing crises: economic contraction, climate change, energy descent, greater social division and aggregating ecological 'overshoot' and estrangement: in short, the results of hypertechnocivility, or progress-capitalism, peaking.
In this vein, I suggest following — and contributing to — the World Resources Institute's timeline of 'natural' disasters, i.e. extreme weather and climate events, for 2012.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Natural capital

There are few phrases that trigger more irritation in me than 'natural capital'. From a Marxist point of view, 'social capital' is simply absurd; all capital is materially made from social work (work for money) and nature. On the one hand, we are part of nature, so you might reduce all capital to nature. On the other hand, capital is wholly social so we get back to relationships, meaning and power.

The point is 'natural capital' is shorthand for a strategy of capitalisation of more and more of our planet. The most disappointing aspect of the rise of the natural capital concept is that many environmentalists have supported its growth, say, in the form of carbon trading and carbon credits. The Corner House, however, is one the research centres that continues to reveal the dangers of this trend — well worth a browse and read.

The Corner House crew also provide useful analyses of the global financial crisis, its 'management' and consequences. And in the Power Point, 'What news on the Rialto with notes', Nicholas Hildyard shows the fallacy of treating the difficulties in the financial sphere as simply technical in the all-too-common 'finance-as-car-' perspective.

The analysis ends like this: 
I like to contrast the 'finance-as-car' approach to that of the hero of Richmal Compton’s Just William tales. For those who do not know the books, William is a 1930s school boy growing up in a suburban English village. His sole object in life is to enjoy as much time with his gang as possible, without the interference of grown ups.
William is daily preoccupied with resisting his parent’s well meaning, but deeply intrusive, plans for him. He does not organise his resistance around tactics but around strategic goals.
He knows what he wants. And he does not compromise his overarching aim to achieve short term gains. His actions always serve his longer-term strategy. If he plucks low hanging fruit, it is from the right tree.
He knows adults have different and conflicting interest to his. They are there to be circumvented. He never confuses sympathy from adults for his cause with a convergence of goals.
He knows that simply confronting adults is always likely to end in defeat. So he organises to undermine their power, to erode and discredit it. And then to act.
William knows his own powers and their limitations. And he acts to expand those powers by looking for small openings, which he can exploit to his own ends. He is forever on the lookout for the vulnerabilities of the adult world.
Were William to be confronted by the new Rialto that is financialised capitalism, I suspect his first instincts would be to seek allies that shared the same political outlook and analysis, not just discontented fellow travellers; to probe for vulnerabilities; and to search out sites of resistance where campaigns can best be used to promote longer term strategic ends rather than achieve short term but easily reversed gains.

Go William!

BTW, 'Richmal Compton' was a woman ...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Alternative Indicators for Well-being for Melanesia: Vanuatu pilot study

Alternative Indicators for Well-being for Melanesia: A Vanuatu Pilot Study has revealed that: 79 per cent of Vanuatu citizens (ni-Vanuatu), including 92 per cent for rural dwellers, can access their customary lands; 90 per cent of ni-Vanuatu have knowledge of the boundaries of their customary land; 88 per cent believe that this land is sufficient to meet their needs; 95 per cent of those with access grow their own food to eat and build their own homes.

How many of us in the rest of the world can point to the sources of our livelihood with such a direct and profound sense of right and responsibility?

Jamie Tanguay co-ordinated the study seeking indicators for well-being in Melanesia. While Vanuatu is a Least Developed Country (LDC) according to the World Bank, which focuses on the potential labour force, training, and vulnerability to natural disasters, it has little of the environmental, social and political problems endemic to many LDCs.
This study was released by the Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs, Vanuatu National Statistics Office, and Vanuatu Kaljarol Senta (VKS) supported by the Christensen Fund and Secretariat of the Pacific Community and endorsed by leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). It sought to follow the lead of the New Economics Foundation and Lonely Planet definitions of Vanuatu as the ‘Happiest Country in the World’ to produce non-monetary indicators of well-being. In a recent press release drawn on for an article by Bob Makin, 5 September 2012, in the Vanuatu Daily Post — which informed this post — Tanguay said:
Vanuatu still has a vibrant traditional economy that has served it well for thousands of years. It has supported a population several times larger than the present one with enough healthy organic food for all men, women, and children, and continues to do so for most ni-Vanuatu today. It supported living conditions for extended family units — with housing, cooking and sanitation facilities — supported community organizations by providing places for congregation and interaction, and continues to do so for most ni-Vanuatu today. The traditional economy is culture. It is how society organizes itself to provide for the livelihoods of its members.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding from this study on ni-Vanuatu well-being is that of TORBA Province, the northern most province in the country with the lowest GDP per capita and least access to markets ... in effect the most 'economically handicapped' and, coincidentally, the Province with the highest subjective well-being (or, happiness) of any other province by a significant amount. It is also the province with the highest perceived equality, highest levels of trust in neighbors, most positive assessment of traditional leaders, highest rates of community interaction, and the list goes on.
I have coupled this item with a photo (below) of a talk I gave last weekend (Saturday 8 September) at the sustainability Footlight Festival at North Katoomba Primary School in the Blue Mountains NSW (Australia). The talk was about the non-monetary and food-focused Blue Mountains Fruit and Nut Tree Network. Living as we do in the disadvantaged group of Western, so-called developed, nations we have a long way to catch up with our neighbours in Vanuatu, but our network promotes local fruit and nut plant growing, local simple processing and sharing of the surplus. Earlier this year, after some years coordinating the network, I handed on the task to Kat Szuminska. All the real work is done by the over 200 local community members who share their skills and knowledge through the network's sharing economy activities.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Neo-environmentalism, money and growth

Last month there was a great article by Paul Kingsnorth in The Guardian: 'The New environmentalism'. Here are some extracts to encourage you to read the whole piece (it's not long):
Neo-environmentalism is a progressive, business-friendly, postmodern take on the environmental dilemma. It dismisses traditional green thinking, with its emphasis on limits and transforming societal values, as naive. New technologies, global capitalism and western-style development are not the problem but the solution...

According to the neogreens, growth has no limits ... Wilderness does not exist, "nature" is a human construct, and everything that matters can be measured by science and priced by markets. Only "romantics" think otherwise.

... The neo-environmentalists are growing in numbers at present not because their ideas are new, but because they offer a business-friendly worldview which, unlike the tiresome old green message, is designed to make people feel comfortable ... Optimism is permitted again. Indeed, it is almost mandatory.

But maybe the green movement was asking for it. For some time, mainstream environmentalism has demonstrated a single-minded obsession with climate change and technological solutions to it, to the exclusion of other concerns. Its language and its focus have grown increasingly technocratic and scientistic...

Global campaigning for an abstract "environment" does not appear to work. What does work is engaging with nature on a human scale. Perhaps the best rejoinder to those who believe the world is a giant spreadsheet is an engagement with its messy, everyday complexity. A kind of vernacular environmentalism; an engagement not with "the environment", but with environments as we experience them in lived reality. Perhaps it's time to go back to basics.

So we might learn what grows wild in our local area and whether we can eat it. We might build up a bank of practical skills, from horticulture to land management. We might go out at night and plant seeds in vacant flowerbeds near where we live. We might work on small-scale engineering projects, from water purification technologies to micro-solar panels. We might work to save bees or butterflies or water meadows or woodlands or playing fields that we know and have a relationship with. We might walk in the hills, or on the canal bank, or in the local waste ground; get to know our place and how it works...