Last week, I blogged about whether governments can solve the climate problem, and argued that we need a much more radical approach – system change, no less (i.e. system replacement, rather than trying to tweak this fundamentally damaging system).
Here, I want to talk more about how I came to this conclusion, and what the route to radical change might be.
Romania: how not to ‘develop’.
I’ve been working for an environmental organisation for the last 21 years, and had been looking into what was happening to the biosphere for more than 21 years before that. This is what I do, all the time, and I see the problems of biodiversity loss and global warming getting worse, with nothing in place that looks like it might slow them down.
I co-founded Lowimpact in 2001, after working for an organisation involved with ‘sustainable development’ in Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. I worked in Romania, and saw three main trends there that horrified me.
- Western corporations were moving into Romania and wiping out local businesses. I spoke with many bar and restaurant owners who showed me their brand new glass-fronted fridges, given to them for free by Coca-Cola, but with one condition – they were only to sell Coca-Cola products, and no drinks made by Romanian companies. Similar things were happening in other economic sectors, and Romanian business couldn’t compete with the deeper pockets of the corporate giants.
- People’s lives were becoming harder. Friends in NGOs were living in concrete blocks that were often without heat or lighting for long periods during the harsh Romanian winter – living in a cold, dark, concrete cave, with ice on the inside of the windows. A common joke was ‘we’re going to join the EU – will the last person out please turn off the lights’. Western corporations were getting a source of cheap labour and Romania was losing its most entrepreneurial people.
- International investors and logging companies were starting to buy up Romania’s forests and felling them for timber exports – a lot of it illegally. Much of the sawdust generated was acidic and leached into the river systems, killing wildlife in the Danube and the Black Sea. One of the biggest culprits is IKEA. The transition to capitalism was accompanied by the familiar growth in cars and motorways, and the wiping out of small family farms by industrial agriculture.
These trends represent economic, social and environmental disaster for Romania. We were talking with Romanian schools, NGOs and community organisers, but my organisation wouldn’t let me speak about the issues above (although of course I did, and Romanians were already well aware of them). As far as they were concerned, they were bringing the benefits of capitalism to Eastern Europe. I resigned, and launched Lowimpact in 2001, to promote ideas around sustainable behaviour change and to investigate ways to build a new kind of community-based, post-capitalist economy.
No-one can stop me writing about this now, of course, although this isn’t new to most people nowadays – these trends are expected by most people as capitalism spreads its tentacles into every nook of every country in the world. Capitalism is lethal to nature.
Romanians and other East Europeans, after the anti-communist revolutions of the early 90s, would tell you that the ‘what’ is most definitely not communism. They suffered for most of the 20th century under the centralised control of communist governments. People don’t like it. It breeds corruption, and its growth imperative is every bit as environmentally-destructive as capitalism’s. Marx was wrong. He was a genius in many ways, but his analysis of history and his proposed solutions, were very wrong.
Meanwhile, capitalists and wannabee capitalists are not going to stop trying to make more and more money from money, on the back of other people’s work – forever chasing profits, interest and rent. And states are not going to stop chasing perpetual GDP growth. To try to persuade capitalists or states to change their ways is a futile task.
I’ve been looking for over 40 years for the key to a transition to a post-capitalist world. Most leads have been false – amounting to nothing more than magical thinking, calls for altruism to a largely unresponsive public, or appeals to equally unresponsive governments to do something, while the situation deteriorates daily for biodiversity and climate. We have to do something radical, quickly. But what? We can only build infrastructure and tools that cut off extractive sources of income and stymie growth. And I believe that we now have the means to do that.
The answer, I (and many others) believe, lies in building the ‘commons’ economy. There have been some tools developed recently, by the Credit Commons Society, that will, I hope, allow the much-anticipated commons economy to be be built. These are:
- Use-credit obligations; here’s a new topic introduction that I’ve been promising for weeks, that provides the mechanism for building a commons in every sector of the economy, starting with housing and energy.
- Mutual credit is something we’ve been talking about for a while – a moneyless trading system that can help small businesses through times of crisis without banks or interest.
- Credit Commons – a protocol for federating local small business networks into a global mutual credit trading system.
A few questions for you
I’d like to ask for your advice. How best to spread these ideas:
- A book?
- Blog articles?
- Public meetings?
- Social media?
- Social interaction / word of mouth?
- Articles in the mainstream press?
- All of the above?
- Or forget it, and go to the pub? In which case, mine’s a pint of (local, non-corporate) bitter.
But whatever the medium, here are some questions for you:
1. Do you believe that:
- humans are on a very dangerous and stupid path;
- we need to change direction, quickly;
- which is impossible with capitalism;
- so we need a new economy?
If so, I’d like to help strengthen your position; to persuade you that the commons economy is that new economy; to show how it can be achieved, and how you can help.
2. Do you stand on the edge of these positions, thinking that they’re probably right, and you lean towards them, but you haven’t had enough time to look into them properly, and you’re still holding a bit of hope that governments or multi-billionaires might help us change direction?
If so, I’d like to persuade you that governments and multi-billionaires can only accelerate us on the wrong path; that building the commons economy is the way to change direction; to show how it can be achieved, and how you can help.
3. Do you believe that an army could be raised to win a war against capitalism, and centralised power generally?
If so, I don’t think there are many of you left, and so I guess I don’t have much to say to you, apart from ‘give it up – centralised power is way too strong, and even if it were possible for you to succeed, I wouldn’t want you to have centralised power any more than I want capitalists or the state to have it’.
4. Do you not believe (or maybe even care) that we’re heading in the wrong direction?
I’m guessing that this isn’t you, or it would be unlikely that you’d be on this site in the first place. But for this group, persuasion or appeals to altruism are pointless. We just have to provide the tools and infrastructure for them to obtain the things they need more cheaply, more conveniently or both – the ‘Holy Grail’. If this happens, you can be sure that they’ll tell friends and family, and things will start to grow exponentially. And it will need to – we don’t have much time.
I’ll be blogging about the outline of a proposed book over the coming weeks, as well as progress on building the commons in the north-west and south-west of England, London, India, Sweden and elsewhere.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Rebecca Stacey August 7th, 2022
I really like the questions here – I think asking people low-threat, but open-ended questions is vital to start a conversation. And it will be good to see how people respond.
So many people just don’t realise that there are any alternatives out there. (Me included until I found this!) Books, blogs and sharing ideas on social media are all good ways to get started. There are also some excellent blogs / books with suggestions for talking to people about climate change, and I think many of those principles would apply here. It is scary and it can seem like a huge undertaking.
Personally I think a new economy structure is needed; change – caused, I think my scarcity of resources and the realisation that climate change is real – is coming and we need to be in a position to shape how we want it. Education will be vital – local communities taking control is so importantant – and getting a wide variety of people involved in the conversation. ‘Sustainable’ town movements, book clubs for climate change, education and curriculum changes are all positive, but maybe too slow?! I even went to a meeting last month where we were looking at how we could make our local town into a ‘circular economy’ town – a new idea for so many people, and the conversation was fascinating – obviously not in the same league as the Credit Commons Society but a start, right?!
2Dave Darby August 7th, 2022
Yes, getting people together and talking in communities is an essential first step I think.
3Greg Dance October 5th, 2022
Great stuff all if it!!
Now the hardest bit.
For 2x decades I’ve been trying to persuade people that renewable energy is the only way ahead and energy utilisation needs to be curtailed to fit within a mostly renewables centred generating capacity.
Similarly consumption of every ‘affordable’ joy toy, trip, garment, needs to fit with the requirements of its full life cycle, not only its purchase & use.
But people (inc close people) seem unable to find the will to listen, let alone act in those ways, I think because they are captive within the self centred power mantras that rain on them daily through media & TV/film sources.
We were born as box dwelling stock animals and despite the BS of Hollywood et Al we so far haven’t shown much exploratory strength to not be wanting our safe but cramped pens to sleep in each night.
Working against our cultured captive victim state that appears generally to be preferred to anything else, may prove to be beyond any published media or group talk. Just see how the combination of XR, Greta Thunberg and Fridays for a Future have only made ripples that receded once the protagonists eventually had to slow down from exhaustion.
Even covid-19 and it’s ongoing variants and excess deaths have not changed peoples behaviours. I’m writing this in a university conference centre where no masks can be seen and to be heard at break, people stand close to each other and shout to be heard over everyone else doing the same!
Any hope? Not much short of a big crushing lesson like nuclear war or H1N1 going global.
We humans simply are too simple to understand the huge scale of that which we now are on, a finite planet that we are rapidly consuming to the detriment of all life.
Despite my rantings I actually haven’t given up but am acutely & painfully aware that changing attitudes is near impossible atm, and incentivising people with tales of “for the common good” doesn’t seem to appeal to many, perhaps because their inner voice tells them that it’s too good for them?
Dunno and wish I understood!
4Conor Desmond March 27th, 2023Love it Dave, I have an idea, it's all about switching to a commons owned cooperative supplier market, where suppliers compete to deliver sustainable solutions. This has always lacked enough support to go mainstream. Consumer support may virally grow if consumers can visibly grow and share their reputations. Just recently social media tech coupled with spend tracking makes this doable. Earth friendly types adopt this, everyone else then realises they're right and probably virally like tiktol sign in on it. Visible reputations put the wheels on the wheely bin, everyone behaves themselves and the world improves virally. I have an essay, needing tidying, about it. Happy to share, off to Tenerife on hols, for a week or two, something that future societal peer pressure can discourage. Will share the makings of my essay if you would like, thanks, Conor. Send me an email.
5Dave Darby March 27th, 2023Conor - happy to look at it - messages via the contact page come to me. But are you working in a team / with an organisation? That's the important thing I think - rather than trying to solve all problems alone. Also, we're getting a forum soon, and there are several topics (including new commons ones) under which this could be discussed.
(Tenerife though? Where do airlines and oil companies fit into the commons-owned co-operative supplier market? We gotta walk the walk.)