How much trouble are humans really in, and what can we do about it?
I’m inviting you to come on a journey with me. In an attempt to answer the question above, I’m going to research and write a series of blog articles (including interviews with key people), from which I’ll produce a book (see below), and re-structure the Lowimpact website, including our message. I’ve been blogging for a long time, but now I want to organise my thoughts and answer some crucial questions in a logical order. There are so many demands on our attention these days, but these particular questions remain at the front of my mind, in the same way that certain thoughts would remain central if you were in a vehicle headed at speed towards the edge of a precipice. You’d stay focused, regardless of any distractions that might arise. This applies even more when the danger is shared by the whole of our species.
I’ll be looking at the work of people I currently support, but also their detractors, and weighing up their positions – fairly I hope; but you can judge. I also want to highlight some very interesting ideas that have emerged recently as to how we might do things differently – the kind of ideas that I’ve been looking for for decades.
I’m not (100%) sure where this will take me, and so I’m inviting you to come with me – to read and comment on these upcoming articles, in order to guide my reading and research, or to point out holes in my conclusions. I promise to engage, and to acknowledge the most useful contributors in the book. I want to access your wisdom in pointing out if you think I’ve gone wrong somewhere or missed something important – i.e. specifics, rather than general comments like ‘this is rubbish’ or ‘you’re an idiot’, which, even if true, aren’t so helpful.
I’ll be posting these articles on Sunday mornings. Not all Sunday mornings – but a lot of them, for several months, and maybe up to a year. So please sign up to our blog, or check on Sundays. I’ll probably post around 5 or 6 blog articles per chapter (see chapter list below).
Last year, I obtained a book deal with Chelsea Green. The focus was on how to build local mutual credit networks – moneyless trading schemes – that can be linked together in a global ‘Credit Commons’ that removes the need for banks or interest. They liked the proposal, chapter descriptions and sample chapter – but after delivering 80k words, they changed their minds, and told me that it was too complicated for a general audience, but probably not complicated enough for a technical audience. They suggested that I focus on one of those audiences, and amend the text accordingly. I read the entire manuscript through again, and could see that they were absolutely right.
Since then, colleagues in the mutual credit world have developed a range of ideas that mean we’re now talking about building a ‘commons’ economy, including housing commons, energy commons, land commons, care commons and more – around a moneyless trading core that includes an entire family of mutual-credit-like ideas. These ideas are so good, that I’m going to approach Chelsea Green again, with a new proposal. Chelsea Green are an employee-owned publishing company, and so I really want to work with them – but if they don’t think it’s for them, I’ll talk with other publishers, with the fall-back of publishing via Lowimpact. I’m going for the general audience, of course.
Unless I have a great epiphany during the research for this book, below is the list of chapters, with the key question posed in each chapter (controversial questions that are generating fierce debate), topics covered, and where I stand right now, based on my current understanding. I’ll look at the work of key authors supporting and opposing those positions, and hopefully interview many of them for our blog.
The key question for each chapter follows from my conclusions from the previous chapter (and so I’m aware that if my conclusions change, then so must the chapter list). These are the questions that I want to know the answers to. I’m guessing (and hoping) that if that’s the case for me, it will be the case for you too. You could of course also suggest that these are not the most pertinent questions to be asking (although I want these questions answered for my own satisfaction, so I might suggest you write your own book – politely, of course).
1. The Nature Problem
Key question: how badly is nature being damaged, and what does that mean for humans?
Topics covered: biodiversity loss and climate change; whose opinions we can trust; the implications for humans; potential societal collapse, and what that would actually look like.
My position: people like Jem Bendell, George Monbiot and even David Attenborough are giving us warnings in no uncertain terms, and John Michael Greer, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Darren Allen and others are asking us to question the notion of ‘progress’ that got us to this point. I might disagree in some of the detail about what to do about it, but I think they’re right that the damage done to nature already means that humans are going to have a very rocky time over the next generation or two, and how we’ll come out the other side is far from clear. And as we don’t seem to be doing very much to stop climate change or biodiversity loss – both of which are getting worse – and global population and GDP are still growing, I think we need to prepare for something quite nasty. I think it’s the great task of our era, in fact.
2. The Growth Problem
Key question: can the nature problem be solved as long as we’re chasing perpetual global GDP growth?
Topics covered: definition of GDP growth; immaterial vs material growth; efforts to decouple growth from biodiversity loss and climate change.
My position: this one is an easy question for me. I agree with Julia Steinberger, Jason Hickel and the good people at CASSE and Steady-state Manchester – GDP growth is the great killer of nature, because it can’t ultimately be immaterial; and that attempts to solve the nature problem with technology won’t work in a context of perpetual growth.
3. The Capitalism Problem
Key question: does the current global economy require perpetual GDP growth?
Topics covered: defining capitalism; the ‘growth imperative’; the possibility of reforming capitalism to remove the growth imperative.
My position: This is a tricky one. I tend to agree with people like Matthew Slater and Jem Bendell (or even John Bellamy Foster, from a different perspective) that capitalism has a growth imperative. It seems self-evident that that’s the case, as capitalism is based on ever-increasing returns. But I’ll look at people like Georgos Kallis, who argue that capitalism can be stabilised – although it wouldn’t be pretty. I’ll also look at what definitions of capitalism people are using, and at the likelihood that capitalism can be stabilised, rather than just the possibility. Unless my mind is changed, I’ll argue that unless we replace capitalism with a different system, we can’t prevent perpetual GDP growth from destroying nature, and we can’t prevent wealth concentration from destroying democracy (as capitalism has a wealth-concentration imperative too).
4. The Democracy Problem
Key question: can we move to a post-growth economy via the state?
Topics covered: the history of the relationship between the state and concentrated wealth; the relationship between the state and corporate sector; land titles; the inefficiencies of large corporations.
My position: I’m firmly with Kevin Carson, Gary Chartier, Charles Johnson and the folks at c4ss, who argue that giant corporations are inefficient, and that states prevent a free market by intervening in it on behalf of (not accidentally to the benefit of) the corporate sector – and in doing so artificially inflate the size of companies. I’ll argue that wealth concentration is the great killer of democracy, and that capitalism has its own momentum that voting won’t and can’t change. I think the state will hinder rather than help when it comes to moving to a post-growth economy. I’m an anarchist, but a very polite one, who’s happy to debate with progressives, conservatives, the communist left and the libertarian right, with all of whom I have at least one or two things in common.
5. The Communism Problem
Key question: can we replace capitalism via violent overthrow?
Topics covered: centralisation of power; the effects of centralised power throughout history; communism and growth.
My position: The easiest question. I’m with James C Scott, Kevin Carson (again – he’s brilliant) and the late, great David Graeber, in their opposition to the use of force, and to centralised power. I’ll argue that violent revolution is neither possible (because of wealth concentration) nor desirable, and attempting it will increase human suffering and the destruction of nature; and that centralisation of power is unwise and dangerous. I’m not suggesting that we switch from capitalism to some other pre-designed system or utopian vision, just that we build tools and infrastructure that work, and grow to form the basis of something different, to which we could transcend. But only if it works – if it brings benefits to enough people. That will be the key to its growth.
6. The Money Problem
Key question: can we prevent wealth concentration with the current money system?
Topics covered: brief history of money; where money comes from; problems caused by the money system; alternative forms of money (and whether they prevent wealth concentration).
My position: I side with people like Brett Scott and the people at Positive Money and the New Economics Foundation about the parlous state of the current money system. I’ll argue that we can’t prevent wealth concentration with the current money system; and that to do so, our means of exchanging goods and services must not be the same thing that we use to save, hoard and accumulate. Those functions of money must be kept separate.
7. The Low-impact Solution
Key question: can we move to a post-growth, post-capitalist economy at all?
Topics covered: principles – decentralisation (aka anarchism) and political neutrality; co-operative and mutual models; transcendence; the transition from feudalism to capitalism; individual behaviour change (low-impact living).
My position: I’m with the hundreds of businesses and thousands of people in the Lowimpact Network. I think we need to re-skill for what’s coming – both to survive it and to mitigate its effects. I’ll argue that change has to be bottom-up rather than top-down, and that individual low-impact living is essential but not enough, because not enough people will be able to do it in a system that’s entirely hostile to it. We have to change the money system and the economic system too.
8. Low-impact Money
Key question: how will we buy and sell things in the new economy?
Topics covered: credit clearing; history of mutual credit; trade credit clubs; multilateral obligation setoffs; Credit Commons.
My position: I agree with Tom Greco and others about how we might move to a world in which trade is via local, trust-based, mutual credit or mutual credit-like networks that can be connected globally. I’ll argue that we now have a range of tools that allow small businesses to clear their debts between each other without using bank money, and to trade using mutual credit, and that the Credit Commons protocol will allow trading networks all over the world to unite into a new global exchange system.
9. Low-impact Economy
Key question: who will own what in the new economy?
Topics covered: how to set up co-operative and community-owned infrastructure; how the co-operative movement has to incur debt to obtain essential infrastructure; how use-credit obligations solve this problem in a new ‘commons’ economy; savings and investments in the new economy; how to develop housing commons, energy commons, everything commons; what communities could look like in the low-impact economy; circular trade; incubating small businesses; prices; the importance of involving working-class communities.
My position: I want to bring to your attention the work of people who are building co-operative and mutually-owned infrastructure in every sector of the economy, from community energy and community-supported agriculture schemes to community land trusts, free & open-source software, co-ops of all kinds, including cycle couriers, fishing boats, grocery stores, social care, smallholdings and more. More than that, they’re building step-by-step guides for others to do the same in their communities. I’ll argue that ‘solutions’ that are either techno-fixes or appeals to governments to do something are not going to work; and that providing useful tools for ordinary people is much more important than winning ideological arguments. I also want to highlight the work of Chris Cook and Dil Green, who are building models that allow infrastructure to be brought into community ownership without incurring debt, which has never been possible before; I believe that this is achievable everywhere in the world, with or without state support, so that we can make those great killers of nature and democracy, GDP growth and wealth concentration, history.
I want to tell you about my job. I’m a messenger – trying to reach people interested in system change. I’ve been looking for the key to system change for 40 years. There have been some recent developments – a cluster of new ideas from specialists on how to build the commons economy – that could provide the breakthrough we’ve been looking for I think, but are quite difficult to understand. My job is to translate them for a general, but interested audience, via the Lowimpact website, blog articles, talking with people, interviewing people for Youtube, and of course this proposed book. I’m asking you to join the commons. Let’s own everything in common. These new ideas allow us to build commons infrastructure without debt. I’d like you to have a crack at understanding them and to give them some time, to help see if they can be implemented where you live. I’ve helped bring several key people into the commons movement. I wonder if I can tempt you in. How am I doing?
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Sue Laverack September 25th, 2022
You are asking interesting questions, questions I have been asking myself. You have a better idea of where to start to find answers, who to ask (and they are more likely to talk to you!) and I will be interested to see where your jouney goes. I am not entirely sure how open your mind is and I may not agree with your conclusions but I will try to read your posts and engage with what you write.
2Anthony Hay September 25th, 2022
This sounds really interesting. I hope it gets published and I’d like to read it.
I quite often read about how things could be better if our society was differently organised, and a lot of the ideas are pretty simple and obvious. But I don’t see people explain how to get there from here. People enjoy having power over others. Those with power now will not give it up willingly. People with power lie and manipulate with impunity. For various reasons people do things against their own best interests, e.g. in how they do or don’t vote. Collectively, ordinary people have the power to make profound changes to our society, but they choose not to.
Perhaps you will cover some of these areas.
3Matthew Slater September 25th, 2022
This is a great post in its own right.
I’m with you on this journey!
You’ll want to be aware of the book Why civil resistance works. https://www.worldcat.org/title/660804982
4Mark Dyson September 25th, 2022
There are two questions which you dont ask directly. They may be implicit in those you do ask but for me they need to be up front.
The first question is “how many people are going to die?”. Obviously that will need some refinement but it seems unlikely that CC will kill us all (if it will then all bets are off) The scale of change we are looking at as a species is measured in the change in the earth’s capacity to sustain our life form. Off the back of that it’s possible to look at displacement figures and thus social upheaval. It is that upheaval which will fuel change (either good or bad).
The second question is the extent to which system change is possible without individual change. Capitalism’s claim is that it is the best system (in deed it is the natural system) given the way that humans actually are. The history of the labour party in the 20th century can be seen as an implied acknowledgement of that idea as it has moved away from socialism and reduced itself to tinkering with capitalism.
My fear is that the deaths will be in the millions and that the displacement will be huge also. The response will be authoritarian (Rawanda will look like a liberal measure) and as long as the centre holds real change from a hierarchical system will not happen. In a sense I hope that the centre cannot hold though that gets me to my second fear namely that when we have the power we find that in fact we are no better than those who have oppressed us. Taking a simple case what do we (locally and collectively) do with the displaced who are here and need what we have got?
5Dil Green September 25th, 2022
Absolutely brilliant, Dave. The early questions are one that billions of people want answers to, and the idea of following on from these to more specific questions looks like a winner (and a page turner).
6Dave "Hedger" Hogan September 25th, 2022
That was an interesting read. I have being asking myself similar questions all my life and I am approaching 70.
There were some people you mentioned I have never heard of and will have to seek out their work. Just by writing that alone you have make a difference, so do not underestimate you potential to change things. I will follow your journey with deep interest. Bon voyage!
7Annie Leymarie September 25th, 2022
Last time I had a conversation here I got banned from the website. It was about the collapse of nature (clearly happening at a frightening speed) and the urgent need to change our diets. Since then, the IPCC has confirmed (in AR6, Mitigation, 2022) that shifting to plant-based diets is the demand-side action with the biggest potential to address the climate crisis (8GtCO2eq of emissions reduction – thus a lot more than can be achieved through transport or energy demand-side changes).
Prof Julia Steinberger tweets in November 2021: “I don’t know why people make a huge fuss about whether 1.5 degrees is still within reach or not. It makes zero difference to what we need to do, which is cancel fossil fuels and animal-based agriculture ASAP. The faster and more effectively we act, the lower the heating, the more ecosystems are saved. The slower we act, the higher the heating, the more catastrophic the impacts. But to avoid full on cataclysm the actions are exactly the same. It’s just a question of speed.”
Climate scientist Peter Kalmus tweets on September 2022: “Planting trees can’t save us. Only ending the fossil fuel industry, the animal agriculture industry and extractive capitalism can do that.” Then: “Too many people misinterpreted this. This isn’t an anti-tree tweet. It’s a call to stay focused on the biggest systemic things needed to halt Earth breakdown”.
George Monbiot, July 2022: “I didn’t choose this fight, it chose me. For years, I resisted the obvious conclusion. But once I got to grips with the science, I couldn’t avoid seeing that ending animal farming is as crucial to preventing the collapse of Earth systems as leaving fossil fuels in the ground”.
Yet vested interests, the weight of obsolete traditions and the reluctance to make inconvenient changes are stopping us taking one of the easiest actions, with more environmental as well as health and financial cobenefits than any other.
8Judy Seymour September 25th, 2022
I’d be happy to look at feedback. I probably agree pretty much wih your conclusions though, so I might not be very insightful!
However, in your first para you say..”certain thoughts would remain central if you were in a vehicle headed at speed towards the edge of a precipice. You’d stay focused, regardless of any distractions that might arise”.
Well you might. On the other hand, you might freeze and stop having any thoughts at all. This is often the body’s response to imminent death or catastrophe and is designed to protect you from the pain. Or so I read. Or you might press the accelerator in your panic and skid off the edge. Or faint. Or wrestle with the door. Or go numb and mindlessly sail into eternity. Think climate catastrophe and our current behaviour towards it. I’m thinking about this a lot at the moment and just come from a chat with a friend about how psychology is the discipline of the moment, favoured by many young people and no doubt a correction to the over-dominance of assumptions that we are led by our rational minds. Or science. Or facts. Ha!
9Dave Darby September 25th, 2022
‘I am not entirely sure how open your mind is’ – yeah, me neither. If someone opines that: we can have perpetual growth on a finite planet / technology will save us / we can solve our problems within a capitalist system, I’m going to take a lot of persuading. However, I used to live on an intentional community, and was also a member of a ‘philosophy club’ in London. I’ve been known to change my mind completely about something, if presented with good evidence. I was told that this is unusual, but if you’re honest with yourself, and the evidence is good, you have to, don’t you?
‘But I don’t see people explain how to get there from here.’ – exactly. I often pick up a book offering a ‘solution’, skip to the last chapter, to find that the solution is in fact a petition for the government to do something – that they’re clearly not going to do, because they’re busy trying to maximise GDP.
Matthew, Dil, Dave – thank you.
“how many people are going to die?”. Yeah, that’s definitely going to be covered in Chapter 1.
‘the extent to which system change is possible without individual change.’ – yes, I think neither is possible without the other. But at the moment, system change doesn’t seem to be on too many people’s radar. It’s all about lifestyle change and reform of capitalism.
‘given the way that humans actually are’ – I think a) humans are not all the same, and b) humans behave differently under different systems.
‘reduced itself to tinkering with capitalism’ – agreed.
‘we are no better than those who have oppressed us’ – in a commons economy, the ‘we’ is all of us, which has to be better than a minority of oppressors, surely?
But I do take your point about sharing the earth’s resources fairly. People don’t tend to want to give up what they’ve got for others. I think it’s about building the commons economy in the poor world as well as the ‘developed’ world (https://www.lowimpact.org/posts/how-chamas-mutual-credit-changing-africa). If resources can’t be extracted from the poor, and concentrated, then there won’t be a need for redistribution. ‘Predistribution’ rather than redistribution, in other words.
10Dave Darby September 25th, 2022
Judy – I guess you’ve read some of Jem Bendell’s recent stuff on this? If not, have a look. I think you’ll find it interesting https://jembendell.com/
Annie – you’re not banned, or you wouldn’t have been able to post above. I know what you mean though – I cut you off last time because you were killing the discussion. If I talked about keeping a few free-range chickens, catching a mackerel with a rod and line, hunting pigeons or rabbits for the pot, or culling certain deer species that have no natural predators, for meat – every single time, you brought the subject back to the destructive nature of the corporate meat industry, accompanied by multiple links to research papers (19 was your personal best I think). I absolutely agree with you on that – but it wasn’t what I was talking about. It seemed clear that you’re against the killing of even one animal for food (but only by humans), and I don’t agree with that position, philosophically. Let’s not get into that here though – but I’ll talk about it again, and we can debate, if you (pretty please) don’t keep killing the discussion. I haven’t read Monbiot’s new book yet, but I will. I get the impression he’s a little bit anti-farming of any kind – and that he sees a future of mainly synthetic foods produced in corporate factories. Doesn’t appeal to me, but I’m not in a position to comment until I’ve read his book.
11Phil Hunt September 25th, 2022
Dave – in a nutshell, what’s your intended outcome for this work?
12Kris September 25th, 2022
I’m glad to see a kindred spirit asking these questions and seeking answers, and I look forward to your interviews and explorations. One aspect of living sustainably that I am often stumped at is how to move from the ironclad property laws we currently have to ones where more flexibility in land use and land sharing is possible, but it is not just land, if course, but the entire system of ownership and wealth. There were some interesting examples of different arrangements in “Farming for the Long Haul”. And of course we can do much much more with far less, as Kris De Decker is always showing at Low Tech Magazine.
13Dave Darby September 25th, 2022
Good question. Several outcomes.
1. I genuinely want to find answers to these questions myself.
2. I thought that if I did, others would too, and so by blogging about them, I hope to bring more people to Lowimpact, and to learn about practical things that they can do as individuals.
3. Most importantly I guess, to highlight these new ‘commons’ ideas that are emerging. They’ve given me hope that we might actually transition beyond capitalism to a new economy. I want to bring them to the attention of as many people as possible, via the website, blog, Youtube, book, and any other way I can.
4. To hear critiques of these ideas, and to evaluate and find responses to those critiques.
Yes, these new commons ideas, as far as I understand them, directly address your points.
Absolutely love Kris’s work at Low-tech magazine, btw (er, ‘Kris’ – is that you?)
14Jacqueline Teggin September 25th, 2022
I’m so pleased to find others talking about radical system changes. Here’s an open letter I composed a couple of weeks ago with a dear friend, who sadly passed away suddenly last week.
I happened to get chatting to a UK Government climate advisor a couple of weeks ago and asked him what the current thinking was on the environmental crisis. His response ‘decarbonisation and electric cars’ has prompted me to write this open letter at the dawning realisation that there really is nobody at the helm. We are governed by people who don’t seem to have the imagination to visualise the future as anything more than a barely tweaked continuation of the present.
As I see it, we are all in a ship accelerating towards a whirlpool and almost everyone is still arguing about when to cut the engine and put up the sails, when instead what we should be doing is paddling with all our might in a different direction.
I read the increasingly alarming reports of advancing desertification, more frequent flooding and droughts, mass biodiversity loss, extensive crop failure and predictions of the mass migration and starvation that will ensue and yet we are still talking about decarbonisation targets as if they were the primary solution, and then not even implementing what has been agreed.
Charles Eisenstein suggests in his 2018 book, ‘Climate, A New Story’, that we need to protect what few pristine ecosystems there are left as our number one priority. Priority number two would be to begin restoring what has been damaged using ‘natural techniques’ such as biomimicry, priority number three would be to address the pollution problem – both the causes and the effects – and only then should we begin to address carbon emissions as a, still important, fourth priority.
I don’t think I need to point out the increasing frequency of natural disasters and the increasing humanitarian aid that is, consequently, required, and this does not even take into consideration any aid to non-human life. Even here, in the UK, we are seeing our systems starting to collapse. Our economic and political systems are serving fewer and fewer people, our health and social care system, agricultural system, transport system, education system, energy systems, legal systems and law enforcement systems are on their knees. Our food and water supplies are very vulnerable, our soil and water health is deteriorating rapidly and we are experiencing the worst cost of living crisis in decades. Do you really believe that we will be able to uphold these increasingly complex supply chains and systems through drought, floods, migration and starvation?
We only need to look to Sri Lanka to see what an over dependence on food imports and exports and intensive farming, with all the fuel dependent machinery and artificial fertilisers it requires, to see what can happen. Perhaps we should also look to Sri Lanka for one solution as they begin to focus on local food growing.
During the Great Fire of London in 1666 Samuel Pepys advised the King to tear down all the buildings around the fire to halt its progress. Perhaps now we also ought to look to destroying some of what we have built in order to address the ecological crisis. There is no more time for rhetoric and theory without action. We need to focus all to do as much as we can as soon as we can. We need a planned global reset.
We have seen, through Covid, that this is possible. The distinction being that this would be a shutdown, rather than a lockdown, so we would not lose the physical connection with each other.
We need a commitment from all governments to support their citizens’ basic needs of food, shelter, warmth and security, something that more and more governments are having to deal with anyway as natural disasters increase in severity and magnitude – Pakistan being just the most recent example.
In every bioregion we need all but key workers to focus on ethically and regeneratively growing, protecting, healing, caring, repairing and feeding local populations. In addition to ensuring that we can access and empower all those with appropriate knowledge in these fields to be able to teach it to those without.
A global reset will do four things.
1. It will greatly reduce extraction/consumption and emissions/pollution. During the Covid lockdown, we saw Earth Overshoot Day pushed back four weeks from 29th July to 22nd August. This gives us the most tangible indication yet of the magnitude of change necessary to even live within our planetary means.
2. It will begin to turn the tide on loss of biodiversity and biomass, something covered in the recent Environment Agency report [Click on link for relevant press release – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-agency-report-sets-out-urgent-need-to-work-with-nature ]. This would increase the earth’s capacity to hold fresh water, regulate climate and temperature, filter pollution and provide us with food, as the report suggests.
3. It will bring humanity together in a single common aim, giving us all a sense of purpose, it will strengthen local communities, bringing a sense of belonging and it will bring us all out of our heads and back into our bodies, putting our theories into practice, reconnecting us with the physical/natural world thus also addressing the current mental health crisis.
4. It will provide time and space to enable emerging, regenerative systems like permaculture, off grid living and the ‘doughnut’ economy (to name but a few) to take hold.
Ask yourself, if it was your garden that was dying, what would you do? Would you continue to dig up the ground, cut up the plants and burn them in order to create and uphold a virtual world to hide in, or would you do everything you could to protect what was left, sow seeds, nurture growth and care for the real physical environment?
You may be thinking that there is absolutely no way we could afford to have a global shutdown whilst retaining the life we have become accustomed to. I would ask you to take a serious look at what socially constructed systems we are trying to uphold, whether they are worth it and, more importantly, whether, given the existential risk posed by the ecological crisis, we can afford not to do this.
15Daniel Scharf September 25th, 2022
I look forward to the writing process and outcome – even if it is damage limitation. I would like to see a very brief nod to the “nature will survive even if homo sapiens don’t” – just a shame about the millions of species that we take down with us. A look abroad might be another book, two or three, but there are impacts in other countries for which we are responsible and need to mitigate and remove.
I would like to see as much if not more emphasis on the “how” rather than the “what”, and take it that money or system of exchange might be the key lever or agent of change? If that is so then again, the transition from here to there is key. I am not familiar with your impressive list of writers but those addressing and explaining theories of change could be important. I would be interested in the debate flowing from Roger Hallam and Rupert Read and their predecessors. I would also be interested in reading about the futurologists working with scenarios and backcasting.
16Dave Darby September 25th, 2022
‘We are governed by people who don’t seem to have the imagination to visualise the future as anything more than a barely tweaked continuation of the present.’ – completely agree. And even if they did have the imagination, what could they do? If they adopted policies that had any chance of getting us off the disastrous path we’re on, they wouldn’t achieve high office in their party, and they’d be ripped to pieces by the corporate press – which is (part of) why I’m convinced that the party political route to change is completely hopeless.
Which leads me to the question: who do you suggest implements a global reset, and how? There has to be an implementation plan.
I don’t think a ‘brief nod’ to “nature will survive even if homo sapiens don’t” is possible. It’s such a huge philosophical debate (and humans are the only species capable of that). In the age of the dinosaur, there were precisely zero species capable of philosophical debate – but every species of dinosaour that ever existed is now extinct. Does that matter now? Did it ever matter? And so would the extinction of every non-philosophical species on the planet now matter, in 60 million years time? Or 60 years? Plus we’re the only species capable of building the technology that could a) cause the extinction of the species that built it – ending philosophical thought on this planet; or b) take the baton of evolution from the species that built it, in that now-famous, potential ‘singularity’. Whether either of those outcomes matters or not, I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. God might do, if such a thing exists, but humans certainly don’t.
17Lee Renouf-Miller September 26th, 2022
Good luck with your book Dave. I’m literally on the same page with your thoughts. There are a great number of wise thinkers some of whom you’ve quoted and including your good self but one problem I see is audience reach. How do you engage with and motivate the general public and not just to ‘the already converted’. I’m in the latter category but like many, I feel a sense of helplessness and lack of power. I’ve signed petitions and written to MSPs and MPs. I’ve read extensively and acted locally in my own community. But I don’t see the long-lasting changes that I believe we need. One answer is for people to be ‘hit where it hurts’. Where it affects them personally and financially. Unfortunately that often only happens when Mother Nature retaliates – when natural disasters occur, storms, floods, droughts etc. As we know, it’s usually those who contributed least to the problem that suffer the most.
Increasingly I imagine the way forward is for mass protest and for people to unite and say, “Enough is enough”, yet in the UK we have a government that aims to inhibit our freedom to protest. That same government that believes economic growth is the answer. But they’re trying to answer the wrong questions! They don’t understand root causes, lack empathy, and are by influenced, indeed, incentivised by money.
Looking at what just happened in Russia where, for reasons we know it seemed the general publick were relatively content to plod on with their lives. Then ‘partial mobilisation’ was announced and it directly affected their lives. It came through their front doors and hit home to their senses. Then, we saw the largest demonstrations since the invasion of Ukraine. Ok we know it’s different under such a dictatorship but we saw people finally saying ‘Enough is enough’.
I have more questions than answers. I am exposed to what internet algorithms want me to see. I am convinced the planet is in trouble and so is the world.
So as not to get depressed, I try to concentrate on the closest things that matter to me; family, being involved in nature, doing small things in the community even if it’s only litter-picking, looking after my mental and physical health.
I act on a micro basis, when I know we need macro changes, because I know how to do it and feel it’s within my power.
Sorry for rambling on. I see your book is really well structured unlike my comment.
All the best.
Lee (#Lee Loves Nature)
18Dave Darby September 26th, 2022
The vast majority won’t be swayed by any arguments because they won’t read them. The crucial thing is to build tools and infrastructure that bring immediate benefits to ordinary people everywhere. That’s the holy grail. The kind of tools / infrastructure I’m talking about in chapters 8 and 9. There’s a lot on the site about this already, but I’ll be adding a lot more. But we need switched-on people to step up and build those tools / bring infrastructure into the commons. Those are the people this book is aimed at. I’ll give you a few examples.
I know that Emma Back, of the Equal Care Co-op, who I interviewed here – https://www.lowimpact.org/posts/co-operative-social-care-with-sociocracy-and-mutual-credit-emma-back-of-the-equal-care-co-op, got into new money / new economy ideas from reading articles on Lowimpact (because she told me). Also, Tom Woodroof, a nuclear physicist who is now working with Dil Green at Mutual Credit Services – https://www.mutualcredit.services/ – also came to this world via one of my articles. I interviewed him recently – it will be live on the site soon.
Plus Shaila Agha, who I interviewed here – https://www.lowimpact.org/posts/how-chamas-mutual-credit-changing-africa – was living around the corner from Will Ruddick’s office, and discovered him by accident, and she’s now director of Grassroots Economics in Kenya. These things happen. Good people make connections, and before you know it, they’re changing the world!
These are excellent folks – and they’re young!
I’ll cover why I don’t think petitioning or pleading with politicians will help in chapter 4 (and here – https://www.lowimpact.org/posts/can-governments-solve-the-climate-problem). And mass demos? More than the millions who demonstrated against the Iraq war? It makes no difference (the poll tax resistance worked – but that was because there was leverage – refusal to pay!).
‘in the UK we have a government that aims to inhibit our freedom to protest. That same government that believes economic growth is the answer. But they’re trying to answer the wrong questions! They don’t understand root causes, lack empathy, and are by influenced, indeed, incentivised by money.’ – completely agree.
‘I try to concentrate on the closest things that matter to me; family, being involved in nature, doing small things in the community’ – all absolutely crucial. But you’re right, not enough to get us off the path we’re on. I genuinely believe the new ‘commons’ ideas I mentioned are what’s needed to do that – but we need enough switched-on people to step up to implement them. I believe that will happen.
19Jan O'Brien September 26th, 2022
I’m very much looking forward to seeing how your ideas develop on these hugely important topics. One thing I’m curious about is how can we instill behaviour change on the vast scale required to make meaningful societal change? I have seen many consumer surveys that show there is a disconnect between stated ideals and actions e.g. people will say: “I care about the environment and am concerned about climate change” but will continue to take as many plane journeys as they like, and continue to buy stuff with built in obsolescence that needs replacing every few years, such as the latest iPhone. Primark – representing the very worst of fast fashion – were recently voted in the top 3 best retailers for sustainability in a UK survey. The reason given was because they use brown paper bags – this was enough for their consumers to feel good about buying disposable fashion, despite it’s well-documented destruction of the environment. This is a disconnect that is seen in all age groups, including teenagers who are very vocal on topics such as the climate crisis and plastic pollution, where concern on these topics does not translate into personal action. There is an expectation that someone else will drive change – a corporation or an NGO, for example. How do we bridge that gap?
20mark dyson September 26th, 2022
You are right Dave about the need for buy in if any sort of change is going to happen. I also agree that the best sort of buy in would result from systems which offered “immediate benefits to ordinary people everywhere”. The problem is that when people have allowed themsleves to be told what they want they simply don’t see the benifits of alternatives. Isn’t that the key problem with Capitalism? It is objectively a system which extracts value from things and funnels it elsewhere to the detriment of those it leaves behind but yet it florishes. So actually the problem is that change only happens when a system fails to deliver what people think they want and does so for long enough that they question either their own desire for those things or the systems ability to deliver them.
That is why change always lags behind the need for it and while with most things there is time to play catch up (say Health and Safety catching up with Industrialisation) with Climate Change there is not. We need to get ahead of the curve but we cant because buy in is too limited to create real change now.
Personally I cant believe that governments can’t model what 1.5 degrees (or 2 degrees or whatever) turns into in terms of deaths and displacement. What western governments lack is the will to do so. In part that is because they have calculated that the deaths will happen elsewhere and the displacement problem will be managable (just in ways that it wouldn’t yet be acceptable to talk about). This matters because the alternative to buy in through benefit is buy in through fear. While not to be favoured it is surely more likely that fear will be the motivator of change than benefit (which will come later in people’s perceptions)? Fear now while orderly transition/adaptation remains a possibilty is better than fear later when there will be even fewer options and those that do remain are likely to be more authoritarian. Thus “Buy in now. How?” is a key question? It then raises the next question ie “Buy in to what?”. That in turn leads into your later questions since it seems to me that alternative organisational and monetary structures etc make most sense in the context of changed societal organisation. Thus eg if we need greater control of food supply by growing more for ourselves how do we organise that? How do we distribute it? It is discussion of those types of issues that leads naturally on to discussion about how better to make decisions (democracy) Social cohesion (community) how you exchange value (money sytems) etc? In short the “horse” is the actual change we need to make while the “cart” is the changes in systems which that change implies? We’ve got to get people to buy the horse before there is any point in thinking about that cart?
21Dave Darby September 26th, 2022
I think that perhaps that gap isn’t bridgeable. But the system in which people get their clothes from corporate giants, made in sweatshops on the other side of the world, partly from fossil fuels, or from plants grown using fertilisers made from fossil fuels, transported in container ships using fossil fuels, then throw them away after wearing them a couple of times, and who fly around the world on holiday, requiring more fossil fuels, all of which is to the benefit of corporate giants that extract wealth from all of us to concentrate it and use it to corrupt our decision-maing processes, is going to fall over – to crash, for a whole host of reasons I’ll look into. They’ll try to hang on to it as long as they possibly can, but it will damage nature even more critically than it already is, and it will damage us. If we can build the kinds of alternatives I’m talking about above, in chapters 8 and 9, we can have some lifeboats in place, and although I’m not optimistic, if those tools can bring enough benefits to enough people quickly enough, we might be able to mitigate the effects of the crash. Not enough to continue on the capitalist, perpetual-growth path of course (and why would we want to?), but enough to provide reasonable livelihoods for some. I don’t know how many, because there will be wild cards that no-one can predict, like plummeting human sperm count, antibiotic resistance and rampant warlordism. It’s already way beyond the power of consumer preferences to limit the damage anyway, but I’m absolutely sure that relying on the altruism of the majority is a mistake. This is my position at the moment, but it might change.
22Dave Darby September 26th, 2022
Mark and Jan:
I’m not really talking about any kind of ‘buy-in’ (that people have to be persuaded of) – I’m talking about ways to bring infrastructure around food, energy, housing, care, credit and eventually everything else into common ownership, in ways that provide those things to ordinary people at lower prices and higher quality. Just self-interest, but without extraction of wealth from communities. UCOs issued at a discount for example (https://www.lowimpact.org/categories/use-credit-obligations). And how useful would a moneyless trading network be for people with no (or very little) money (https://creditcommonssociety.org/mutual-credit/). Or networks that if not moneyless, reduce the need for money via credit clearing (https://www.mutualcredit.services/).
It might not work of course, but attempting to stay on the capitalist / growth path we’re on might cause a crash that will remove a lot of the trappings of modern civilisation, including law and order.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
And I agree that governance can be brought into the commons, in the same kinds of recursive ways that the essentials of life, ultimately embedded in real, physical communities (rather than digital ones). And I think that system change will ultimately follow from those kinds of changes (or not, but that doesn’t bear thinking about).
23Paul Jennings September 26th, 2022
A great opening post, Dave.
What interests me most about these ideas are how readily they can be adopted by new and established communities to change daily life in the short term. If we are talking about a set of tools which are adaptable, readily extendable and which can be shown to facilitate community building and strengthening then I’m in.
It seems to me that at this stage of the unfolding social and ecological catastrophes community-building is really the only good work. That might look like gardening, building homes, or indeed almost any activity under a mutualistic, or indeed libertarian communist umbrella.
I have questions about praxis; how you might reach out beyond the obvious circles, what you think would happen if this began to take off somewhere and actually threaten the capitalist economy, what you’d propose, or find ethically acceptable for those new communities to do in their own defence. I have questions about urgency, climate change, and 460 nuclear reactors…..
Have a look at Tomos Ibanez, Anarchism is Movement, for an argument about what we can do and how we might do it. I found it a very good antidote to one’s dreams of changing the world, when I should really be thinking about changing my street…. I should probably be living in a street instead of in the middle of bloody nowhere!
24Dave Darby September 26th, 2022
‘If we are talking about a set of tools which are adaptable, readily extendable and which can be shown to facilitate community building and strengthening’ – I think we definitely are, yes.
‘what you think would happen if this began to take off somewhere and actually threaten the capitalist economy, what you’d propose, or find ethically acceptable for those new communities to do in their own defence.’ – I think preventing extraction is the first step, rather than continuing to fund (with both work and consumption) the forces that we might have to defend against. Then we’ll see. The feudal kings seemed invincible once.
Ibanez is on the list, thanks.
25Bert September 27th, 2022
Ive read the article. I think its a very interesting topic ( of course ; ), but in my honest opinion: I would rather see a book that explains the last points (7,8,9) more easily. Taking the reader with you on a LowImpact journey, and what Mutual Credit means etc., would – in my opinion – be a lot more inviting instead of trying to go for such ‘huge topics’ as you want to address now (1-6).
You probably also scare a lot of readers away with trying to tackle these big issues, and it seems to me the proposition ‘your community’ has deserves a big(ger) audience. This story/book could then even be accompanied by small examples from interesting view-points of what would have been the 1-6 chapters.
Hope you can appreciate my perspective. 🙂
26Dave Darby September 28th, 2022
I’m talking to an agent about publishing each chapter as its own ‘pamphlet’ – which might be an idea. But I don’t think 7, 8 and 9 stand on their own, unless you’re already on the page that says: we’re in the shit, we can’t get out of it with perpetual GDP growth, you can’t take GDP growth out of capitalism, so we need a new system, the state isn’t going to do that, the workers aren’t going to ‘rise up and throw off their chains’, and it can’t happen with the current money system – and not many people are at that point! So I need to tell that story to make it clear why we need 7, 8 and 9.
27Richard October 1st, 2022
Just like almost everybody here, I strongly agree with your position on all the questions. I’m in my 60s and have been pondering questions like these since I was a young teenager listening to a discussion on the news about growing the economy each year. I didn’t really understand the implications at the time but somehow felt uneasy with the idea. Now I understand why. For the last 20 years my wife and I have been using the tools of Permaculture to try to live sustainably. We’ll let you know when we get there 😀
I’ve just finished a recently published book that brings together a lot of these questions in a very easy to understand way. I highly recommended it:
AN INCONVENIENT APOCALYPSE – Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity by WES JACKSON AND ROBERT JENSEN
Thanks for initiating this project Dave. I’m looking forward to the blog posts and the book, and hope to join in the dicscussion.
28Kris November 15th, 2022
I’m looking forward to following this. Clearly we have to retrofit the new world onto the old one, and live/survive (we hope) in the interstices meanwhile.