Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The planetary dimension

A cold Wednesday morning, I go running for 10 km in the nearby woods, at a distance I can hear the workers and their machines in the port. This is where Sweden ends to the West.

Also this morning I finished a first draft design for the new CCS-Politics website, as often it was quite liberating to do something hands-on instead of just thinking in the abstract. Of course, there is no permanent escape, today Dagens Nyheter had yet another piece by Christer Sanne on “Living without growth”.

What to say? Maybe that, as much as I agree with some of his basic ideas (for instance the need to shift consumption from the private to the public), the essay obviously fails to understand the global dynamics at stake. Despite its explicit concern with the “poor countries”, it does not at all ask what the responsibilities of the rich world are, except than maybe to simply stop consuming. Instead we should ask ourselves what we productively could contribute with that would fundamentally redefine the “sustainability equation”. Sensible as the language of “one-planet-living” may sound at first, it clearly points in the wrong direction: instead of returning to a romanticized idea of “nature” we should try to de-couple ourselves from that nature and seek to restore the integrity of the natural world. Instead of reducing working hours, we need to intensify our effort in the decades ahead. Maybe in a hundred years we will indeed be the Keynesian grandchildren that Sanne talks about in his book, but for now we certainly have our work cut out for us.

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2 Comments:

Blogger meditations71 said...

I really didn't know what to make of that article in DN. It can hardly be correct to focus on the fact that resource consumption in OECD countries stands at unsustainable levels: it is in the BRIC's and other developing countries that such consumption is really taking off. And the throwaway comments about "generosity towards banks and large corporations" also seem terrbily oversimplified.

Moreover, scholars like Serge Latouche with "degrowth" economics, etc. have been working on similar ideas for quite some time, although I suppose they are even more heterodox than is Jackson.

Lastly, what do you mean by: "instead of returning to a romanticized idea of “nature” we should try to de-couple ourselves from that nature and seek to restore the integrity of the natural world." Restoring the "integrity of the natural world" while at the same time "de-coupling ourselves" from it (nature)?

1:22 am  
Blogger Rasmus said...

Thanks for commenting!

I agree that there has been a lot of confusion about what a “zero growth” or “steady state” economy would actually mean in real-world terms. Given how unsustainable our current trajectory seems to be it is also strange why precisely zero growth would be any better than for instance -40% or for that matter +40%, assuming that the growth would be of the “right” kind...

As for the de-coupling from nature argument, I think much boils down to the impossibilities of going the other way. With a world population approaching seven billions, any attempt to revert to “self-sufficiency” through ruralization and de-modernization would probably be outright devastating for the natural environment. With reduced functional differentiation, each of us would be force to carry out a lot of different tasks (such as farming) that we inevitably would do very ineffectively, leaving us unable to feed even a fraction of the world’s current population.
In practical terms, de-coupling could mean everything from producing artificial meat in bioreactors to, ultimately, space-based hydroponic farming.

5:04 pm  

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