From a green point of view, the trouble with the economic system we’ve lived with for the past three centuries – capitalism – is that the better it works, the more it destroys the world, squandering non-renewable resources and pouring forth pollution. Since the early 1970s, critics of capitalism’s environmental profligacy have argued that ‘the material growth that brings us toward [environmental and ecological] limits cannot continue indefinitely … [We] will surpass several of these constraints within the next few generations if current growth continues. The growth must stop,’ as Jørgen Randers and Donella Meadows wrote as long ago as 1973.
The banking crisis has made the going harder for the advocates and representatives of greed, speculative cunning and profit-driven turbo-capitalism. It has strengthened the hand of interventionist, social-democratic government. Talk of a ‘Green New Deal’ is being heard outside the red/green circles where the phrase originated (see www.neweconomics.org); EU leaders were speaking in November of the need to re-engineer international financial institutions in ways that would help combat climate change and keep world food prices down.
Probably the outcome of all this will be ‘business as usual’, with a few big ‘green’ infrastructure projects planned as a means of pump-priming our way out of recession and back into the promised land of growth, full employment and consumer spending. But could we not seize this moment to be innovative in our thinking about economic health, more inventive about the quality of human well-being? May we not dare to imagine that the credit crisis will lead eventually to a non-capitalist economy, where security of employment and welfare provision would no longer be dependent (as they are now) on constantly expanding private profit? The institutional and technical basis of such a non-expansive economy has yet to be framed; but professional economists and treasury civil servants might set their minds to working seriously on it – if political pressure from below can push in the same direction as the fear of eco-catastrophe is pulling.
What would be the attractions of such a steady-state economy? What might there be less of, and what might there be more of? Greens and eco-socialists have been thinking and dreaming about this for a long time: here are some of their ideas.
Less traffic: In a non-expansive economy, we might finally break out of the car culture, and put motor vehicles back where they belong. With walkers, cyclists, and roller-bladers ruling the quiet streets, and motorists proceeding (if they must) at 15 miles an hour max, there would be a marvellous flowering of usable, convivial public space in every city, town and village. Children would come out to play again, people could safely amble and loiter, and we could all start looking after each other a little more.
Less stuff: Things would be made to last, and repairing them would become cheaper and easier than replacing them. Good citizens would no longer be expected to keep the wheels turning by buying and junking clothes and toys as if there were no tomorrow. Following fashion would give way to imaginative self-styling. Having old gear that still worked well would be a cause for respect; being mad for every latest gizmo would be seen as a sign that something was lacking in your life.
Less boring work: Instead of pretending that all work of any kind is fulfilling, we would agree to share out the necessary minimum of tedious or laborious work on which we all depend. Interesting, responsible and socially useful jobs, whether mental or manual (teaching, caring, growing, tending), would be opened up to everyone. Parents could work less and spend more time with their children.
More time: There would be much more free time for people to do what they enjoy. Enough said!
More equality: When people have embraced a less materially profligate way of life, and no longer expect that the future will make them richer, they are unlikely to enjoy watching the super-wealthy flaunting their maxi-yachts (and politicians queuing up to visit them there). Even the ‘modest’ riches of the two-house, two-car family are impossible to justify if we think everyone should have a reasonable share of scarce resources, and live within the planet’s means. A global republic of more or less equal citizens would be very hard to create, but it would be a safer and happier place to live. Human divisions would heal, the prisons begin to empty, and poverty would really have become history.
More space: The planet’s beauty is a very good reason for respecting and preserving it, even apart from its unique value as a life-support system. Less work, less hassle, less traffic – and more time to spend enjoying and enhancing where we live – could transform local environments, not least in and around cities. In a sustainable world, people wouldn’t fly off to distant (or even nearby) lands every summer. But it would get easier to walk out across the fields, to take bikes on trains, to put a tent up by a lake. What is on and near our doorsteps would be opened up to more people, and visited more appreciatively.
n The Politics and Pleasures of Consuming Differently, by Martin Ryle, Kate Soper and Lyn Thomas, will be published by Palgrave next year
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill