Envisioning Prosperity: A Series on Possibilities

Wendi Pickerel

“If you can’t discover what’s keeping you in, the will to get out soon becomes confused and ineffectual.” – Ishmael, D. Quinn

Maytagging

How do you reach for astonishing outcomes? You begin with imagination, a vision, or an abstract narrative that eventually helps you to manifest seemingly impossible goals: the Burj Khalifa – a 2,722 ft (829.8 m) tall sky scraper with 163 floors, Opportunity – a ten-year running mars exploration rover expected to last only 3 months, or a quarter-mile long container ship.

In 2014, war, poverty, environmental destruction, repression, disparity, racism, and economic havoc are all major characters in our social narrative.  Every day we consume stories about how these challenges predispose us to a dire future. So I’ve been wondering — are we consuming so many narratives of failure and fear that one of our key problem solving skills, imagination, is hampered? Is there a grand narrative of failure hobbling our personal and collective responses to these threats? Do we need more inspiring narratives in order to find our way to an astonishing, equitable, and sustainable future?

In the coming months I will post summaries of philosophies, solutions, alternative visions, and narratives of prosperity reimagined, prosperity based on more humane and sustainable systems and solutions than those we depend on now. I don’t believe blogging about possibilities will solve our big, complex problems but it might add something to the conversation on how we meet our challenges. Pete Seeger said, “…any one of us might be the grain of sand to make the scales go the right way, instead of the wrong way.”[1] So here’s to hopping over to one side of the scale rather than plunked down in the middle, dismayed.

 


[1] https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/oldspeak/when_will_they_ever_learn_an_interview_with_pete_seeger

Economic vision: What is a Steady State Economy?

Wendi Pickerel

“The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.” – Matthew Arnold (1827-1888)

Equilibrium

Equilibrium

Currently, our global economy is shaped by neoclassical economic theories. Economic growth is the principal macroeconomic policy goal of neoclassical economics.

The World Bank defines economic growth as:

“(The) quantitative change or expansion in a country’s economy. Economic growth is conventionally measured as the percentage increase in gross domestic product (GDP) or gross national product (GNP) during one year. Economic growth comes in two forms: an economy can either grow “extensively” by using more resources (such as physical, human, or natural capital) or “intensively” by using the same amount of resources more efficiently (productively). When economic growth is achieved by using more labor, it does not result in per capita income growth…. But when economic growth is achieved through more productive use of all resources, including labor, it results in higher per capita income and improvement in people’s average standard of living. Intensive economic growth requires economic development.”[1]

More simply defined, economic growth is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services.[2]

Where economic growth is the predominant macroeconomic policy goal identified in neoclassical economics, ecological economics has a different policy goal. Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of study. It addresses the relationships between ecosystems and economic systems. In their 1989 Introduction to Ecological Economics, Costanza, Daly and Bartholomew explain that:

“…ecological economics goes beyond our normal conceptions of scientific disciplines and tries to integrate and synthesize many different disciplinary perspectives. One way it does this is by focusing more directly on the problems, rather than the particular intellectual tools and models used to solve them, and by ignoring arbitrary intellectual turf boundaries. No discipline has intellectual precedence in an endeavor as important as achieving sustainability. While the intellectual tools we use in this quest are important, they are secondary to the goal of solving the critical problems of managing our use of the planet.”[3]

In addressing its concern for, “managing the use of our planet,” ecological economics has three primary goals: sustainability, equity, and efficiency. Therefore ecological economics considers economic growth and economic recession as unsustainable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPfUqEj5mok

Lester Brown of The Worldwatch Institute presents at The Smithsonian’s 2012 series, Perspectives on the Limits to Growth

Instead, ecological economics proposes an alternative macroeconomic policy goal: a steady state economy. In a steady state economy there is a state (as in a political unit) where a constant population of people (or “labor”), constant stocks of capital, and a constant rate of energy and materials used to produce goods and services (or “throughput”), is maintained. The Green Party of The United States, who advocate for a steady state economy, explains it as follows:

“Economic growth, as gauged by increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is a dangerous and anachronistic American goal. The most viable and sustainable alternative is a steady-state economy. A steady-state economy has a stable or mildly fluctuating product of population and per capita consumption, and is generally indicated by stable or mildly fluctuating GDP. The steady-state economy has become a more appropriate goal than economic growth in the United States and other large, wealthy economies. A steady-state economy precludes ever-expanding production and consumption of goods and services. However, a steady-state economy does not preclude economic development – a qualitative process not gauged by GDP growth and other measures that overlook ecological effects.”[4]

The Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economy (CASSE) simplifies the definition by stating that, “A steady state economy…aims for stable or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and materials. Birth rates equal death rates, and production rates equal depreciation rates.” Achieving a steady state economy would require adherence to four main rules:

  1. Maintain the health of ecosystems and the life-support services they provide.
  2. Extract renewable resources like fish and timber at a rate no faster than they can be regenerated.
  3. Consume non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and minerals at a rate no faster than they can be replaced by the discovery of renewable substitutes.
  4. Deposit wastes in the environment at a rate no faster than they can safely be assimilated.[5]

Like The Green Party of The United States, CASSE is dedicated to advocating for the implementation of a steady state economy and therefore is an excellent source to begin a deeper study of the philosophy, historic roots, advantages, and how it can be implemented.

CASSE explains for 13 economic areas how a steady state economy would express itself. For example, in their Jobs and Business sector, CASSE explain, “An end of growth at the national scale means greater economic control at the local scale.” Jobs would be more secure and local businesses would be primary contributors to healthy communities.

Re-localization of services and production would give local communities renewed opportunity to reclaim some of the production and distribution processes that had been managed elsewhere in the global economy. Citizens will become involved in local investing, local entrepreneurship, and local businesses, leading to an economy that CASSE says will be more neighborly, more resilient, and more secure. With a backbone of sustainable local businesses, the economy would be less susceptible to outside disturbances, such as falling stock prices, dwindling oil supplies, or aging power grids. By developing and supporting local cooperative business ventures, citizens will keep wealth circulating in their communities, which CASSE says, “…will be marked by an enhanced sense of place and vitality”. The outcome would be a solid supply of local jobs and an enhanced sense of connectivity resulting from participation in the local economy.

Furthermore, CASSE asserts a steady state economy would have a stabilized population and so not need constant job creation. Because a steady state economy prioritizes efficient and sustainable use of materials and energy, the economy will not seek to replace labor with automated processes unless it is sustainable. People will be able to select from a variety of jobs, and the jobs will not disappear because of too much competition or off-shoring practices.

Read a TED Conversations Debate on The Steady State Economy  

What do you think? Some simple questions to help you begin to consider alternative economic policy goals with less emphasis on growth than our current system:

  1. Is economic growth essential to a state’s prosperity? Is it essential to your prosperity?
  2. How would a state of equilibrium in the rate of production, consumption, and distribution look and feel compared to our current neoclassical state of economic growth? To fire-up your imagination, consider reading CASSE’s exploration of this question.
  3. Is it naïve to believe our economy could function in a state of equilibrium particularly with regards to complex personal and cultural decisions such as population growth?
  4. What topics should, or shouldn’t, fall within the scope of a state’s economic policy?

 


[1] http://www.worldbank.org/depweb/english/beyond/global/glossary.html

[2] http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156248/

[3] Costanza, Robert. “What is ecological economics?.” Ecological economics 1.1 (1989): 1-7.

[4] http://www.gp.org/platform/2004/economics.html

[5]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steady_state_economy#Policies_for_the_transition

What Do You Think Our Planet Will Look Like After Climate Change?

Arista Burwell-Chen

This past May, the Niels Bugge Cartoon Award created a contest called “Oceans are in our hands” in reference to the rising water levels due to climate change.

Artist Nickolay Lamm also created a montage of photo realistic interpretations showing how the rising tides will impact historical monuments across the nation. For each computer graphic he projects potential renderings for rising sea levels at five feet, twelve feet, and twenty-five feet. While sea level projections from the government are only at a 6.5 foot increase by 2100, the graphics are still astounding. 

Both the comic and computer generated renderings about global warming’s potential effect on our planet drive one point home: We need to take collective action to battle climate change before it is too late.

But how do we do this? Well, for starters, we need to become more informed. Check out Rising Tide, an international grassroots project dedicated to promoting community-based solutions to climate change. Their website addresses ways to battle climate inaction such as unmasking industry greenwash, confronting false solutions, resisting the expansion of the fossil fuel empire and more.

Check out the winning comics from the Bugge Cartoon Award below and Lamm’s sea level projections here.

1st Place: Andrei Popov (Russia)

Image

 

2nd Place: Bruce Mackinnon (Canada)Image

 

3rd Place: Pawel Kuczynski (Poland)Image

 

 

The Looming Paradox Nobody Wants to Address

The Looming Paradox Nobody Wants to Address

-Max Grinberg

In this day and age you can look at our current economic system in two different ways. You can either choose to ignore climate change, the collapse in biodiversity, or the exponential depletion of the Earth’s water, soil, minerals, or oils… or you don’t. Either way it creates a paradox of salvation: that to succeed we destroy ourselves, to fail we destroy ourselves. Meaning if we continue to deplete the Earth of it’s resources, we will eventually be extinct as a race. Or on the other hand say we do find alternative ways to sustain our energy and consumption needs, the sheer amount of “stuff” we will possess will eventually create a vast lack of space eventually killing ourselves off.

“WE MUST RANSACK THE HIDDEN CORNERS OF THE PLANET TO SUSTAIN OUR IMPOSSIBLE PROPOSITION.” -George Monbiot, The Guardian
(http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/27/if-we-cant-change-economic-system-our-number-is-up)

We are beginning to drill in untouched lushly diverse biospheres in our planet in order to sustain the type of demand driven by our over consumption and greed. Whether it be rain forests in South America, or national parks in Africa, or even ice sheets in Antarctica, the human footprint on planet Earth is becoming an issue we can ignore no longer. Unfortunately according to Monboit the tragedy of the stripping our planet has only just begun. Although it feels like the idea of limitting consumption is beginning to gain attention in the public’s eye, iron ore production has risen 180% in the last 10 years, global paper consumption is a a record high.

Because of the the exponential amount of population growth these problems will only get worse. Efficiency of production/consumption will solve nothing as growth continues. We are so consumed with creating a lavish life for ourselves we are killing the materials that we depend on for existence. Distractions to keep our attention off the biggest problem of all… protecting our environment. We need to be aware of problems such as this and not be afraid to bring them up in conversation. Strive for jobs that aim to take society in an alternative direction. And most of all open our eyes to what is really going on.

The One List the University of Washington Does Not Want to Be On

Arista Burwell-Chen 

This past May, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive think tank based in Washington D.C., released The One Percent at State U study. It examines rising debt for university students, part-time adjunct faculty hires, university administration spending and presidential salaries. The study focuses on the top 25 universities with the highest presidential pay, and unfortunately, the University of Washington made the cut.

Key Findings from the study:

  • The student debt crisis is worse at schools with the highest-paid presidents. The sharpest rise in student debt at the top 25 occurred when executive compensation soared the highest.
  • As students went deeper in debt, administrative spending outstripped scholarship spending by more than 2 to 1 at state schools with the highest-paid presidents.
  • At state schools with the highest-paid presidents, part-time adjunct faculty increased 22 percent faster than the national average at all universities.
  • At state schools with the highest-paid presidents, permanent faculty declined dramatically as a percentage of all faculty.
  • Average executive pay at the top 25 rose to nearly $1 million by 2012—increasing more than twice as fast as the national average at public research universities.

Read the original IPS report or check out the infographic below!Image.

Do Societies Evolve?

Patri Friedman proposes that just as flora and fauna evolve, so too do human societies.

Just as we evolved from sea to land, he postulates that societies will start to expand out and evolve on the oceans.

What do you think?

Greenhouse – Showing Where Politicians Get Their Money

David Cubine

Ever wondered where members of congress obtain their campaign funding? Now you can install a basic browser plugin that will tell you immediately.

High school student Nick Rubin recently finished development on a tool that allows users to simply hover their mouse over a member of congress’s name and see what industries their money comes from, along with how many small-dollar contributions they receive and their stance on campaign finance reform. This can make browsing the web an eye-opening experience on a daily basis.

You can download the plugin for free over at http://www.allaregreen.us

Thanks to Lawrence Lessig’s Mayday SuperPAC newsletter for showing us the plugin.

The Impact of Consumerism on Children

By Jeff Highbarger

Good Life

 

The Impact of Consumerism on Children

British psychotherapist Graham Music recently released a book that stresses how empathy in children has reached new lows. He pulls from hundreds of academic sources on child development and moral psychology, and decades of his own clinical practice, to explain some of the context for why children today have become meaner and more self-absorbed.

Not surprisingly, Graham argues that an increased focus on materialism and the prizing of possessions has produced narcissistic children who grow up to be adults who never learn the intrinsic rewards of social belonging and interdependence.

 From Music:

How does consumer culture breed narcissism?

The idea of consumer culture is to try to sell us things to make us feel better, and often better than other people. Research shows that people who care more about status symbols, what they look like or being famous, have more mental health problems, and if you are exposed to those values, you are more likely to become unhappy. People who place greater value on being with the people they care about and doing things they believe in, tend to be healthier, both physically and mentally. But consumerism is addictive … Once self-interest wins, it’s hard to get the other side back.

What are the most powerful things parents can do to counteract consumerism?

Live by example, making sure there’s time to help a neighbour, or get involved in community activities. Mindfulness activities can make a huge difference – they really do trigger different parts of our brains – and many can be done with kids, such as being still, concentrating and showing an interest in things such as bird songs. We can learn from our children instead of trying to force them into our pace.

So the next time you’re thinking about buying an ipad for kids just to keep them happy, maybe you should encourage them to engage in some actually valuable human interactions. Not only will you save a couple bucks, but you’ll probably be helping them become better people someday too. And considering all of the problems we need to start solving collectively, a little empathy will go a long way.

$15 minimum: Is it working?

David Cubine

Last year, workers in SeaTac, WA seemingly won a hard fought battle for a higher minimum wage. Passing by less than 1%, the lowest paid workers in SeaTac now make $15 an hour.

At least, that’s how it was supposed to work. The $15 wage currently only applies to travel and hospitality workers in SeaTac. To be fair, that’s a huge portion of the work force there considering the city is home to Washington’s largest airport. But there’s another catch: The wage increase doesn’t include small firms, union members or airlines. And there’s yet another catch: Right before the wage increase took effect, a Washington judge further narrowed the beneficiaries of the wage increase by decreeing that airport workers are also ineligible for the $15 per hour wage because the airport is operated by the Port of Seattle. That’s almost five thousand people cut out of the deal, leaving only sixteen hundred workers benefiting from the increase.

What originally looked like a huge change for the city of 27,000 is starting to seem less significant, but the fact remains that a significant portion of minimum wage workers in the city have received a huge income boost. Has this led to the death of business, riots in the streets, mass extinctions?

No. It’s still difficult to gauge the impact of the raise as it’s only been in effect for 5 months, but anecdotal evidence has so far indicated that the increased wages haven’t had a huge effect on the local economy beyond small additional charges for services like parking. Not enough time has passed to make grand statements about the new state of SeaTac’s economy, and the small scope of those receiving the increase makes it difficult to predict what could happen with a larger-scale minimum wage increase, but the consensus for now is that things are doing just fine.

Check out these articles for more information:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/28/us-usa-wage-seatac-idUSBRE9BR01J20131228

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022905775_seatacprop1xml.html

Samso Island – An Experiment in Sustainability

Kate Vavrousek

 

In 1997, the Danish government proposed a national contest as an experiment with 100% renewable energy efficiency, phased in over the course of ten years. Samso Island was chosen for this experiment, because as an island with limited available resources, it would be a controlled environment to gather data from. The 4,000 residents on the island agreed to join in on a wind farm commune, using wind power for electricity, which has now become the sole source of electricity on the island. This electricity comes from just ten wind turbines. The energy produced by these turbines exceeds the need of Samso, and the excess is sold back to the mainland for a profit. Samso residents have a neutral carbon footprint, excellent tax breaks, 100 percent renewable electricity, and collectively earn a profit from their 10-turbine wind farm (Thomas, 2014). The Samso Island case is an example of “Eco-Capitalism.”

Check out this Youtube video from Worldfocus for more information: 

Denmark is a world leader in wind energy production. Last year, in 2013, wind turbines provided Danes with 50% of their total energy usage for the month of December, and the Danish government plans on making wind power account for over 50% of its total energy usage by the year 2020. Denmark has the largest wind power capacity in proportion to their overall electricity consumption of any nation. (energinet.dk, 2014). Denmark began investing in wind technology in the 1970s, following the energy crises of that decade. But before the investment in wind power, Denmark invested in securing the energy sources it had: coal. Incentives were put in place that urged local oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and because coal was the most secure resource, power generation changed from mainly oil to coal for heat and power generation. Coal-fired energy production releases high amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus, the switch to coal created a surge of environmental concerns, as Global Warming became evident in the 1980s (Krohn , 2002). Since that time, Danish parliament has been in agreement on energy policy, and has created a strong tax system that relies on “green taxes”, even despite the resurgence of right wing political power that began in the early 2000s. The events that spurred green technology along with strong parliamentary support for “green taxes” have also resulted in strong norms of energy sustainability in Denmark. Green taxes are indirect taxes on energy use that serve to reduce energy use. Danish households pay about 200% taxes on energy, including natural gas, petroleum, and oil. On the other hand, Danish manufacturers pay very low taxes on electricity, encouraging economic productivity.

 

energinet.dk. (2014, Jan 15). 2013 was a record-setting year for danish wind power. Retrieved from http://energinet.dk/EN/El/Nyheder/Sider/2013-var-et-rekordaar-for-dansk-vindkraft.aspx

Krohn , S. (2002, Feb 22). Wind energy policy in denmark status 2002 . Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20070927011857/http://www.windpower.org/media(492,1033)/wind_energy_policy_in_denmark:_status_2002.pdf

Thomas, J. (2014). Danish island is energy self-sufficient. Retrieved from http://www.metaefficient.com/renewable-power/danish-island-is-energy-self-sufficient.html