The wisdom of Robert Owen

Robert Owen, pioneer socialist and co-operator (and ethical entrepreneur):

Nature requires its own time to mature all things, whether mineral, vegetable, animal or mind and spirit.

– topical as we zoom past the safe operating margins for life on this planet.  It expresses three key rules of ecological economics:
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 be safely assimilated.
(number 1 is : Maintain the health of ecosystems and the life-support services they provide.)

and Owen again:-

The ever changing scenes of nature afford not only the most economical, but also the most innocent pleasures that man can enjoy.

– which recalls the buen vivir, or good living principles of the Andean indigenous movement.

Thanks to “Scottish Nature Boy” whose blog has photos of plaques with these quotations there: )

Steady State Manchester

“Together we have to prepare for the post-growth economy. We’re already in it, it’s just we don’t know it yet.
We – together – will produce a report on local prosperity, justice and climate safety and Manchester. We will do this by the end of October 2012.Doing that will be fun, it will be challenging and it offers fantastic opportunities for learning and for connection. And after that, the real work starts…

The next public gathering is on Thursday 19th July, from 6.30pm to 9pm (drop-in) at Madlab, 36 Edge St, Northern Quarter.”

Bolivia on the Green Economy

Spot on Solón!
New York, April 20th, 2011

For the Green Economy, capitalism’s mistake is not having fully incorporated nature as part of capital. That is why its central proposal is to create “environmentally friendly” business and green jobs and in that way limit environmental degradation by bringing the laws of capitalism to bear on nature.

In other words, the transfusion of the rules of market will save nature. This requirement of the Green Economy is absolutely wrong


Read the whole statement.

Also see Bolivia’s input to the UN Rio+20 document (in English -after the first page)  (in Spanish – I’m looking for a translation) president Evo Morales comments and  Bolivia’s reservations re the final Rio+20 statement.

Traditional coca production in La Yungas, Bolivia: “coca sí, coacina no!”.

The right sort of market – agrobiodiversity in La Paz

More on the rebound effect

The denialism of progressive environmentalists, – article by Bill Blackwater.

This is very relevant to the last post.  It examines in some technical but readable detail the nature of the rebound (or Jevons) effect, which means that even if absolute emissions reductions were achievable through technological innovation associated with economic growth, the result would be a rebound  in energy use that would wipe out these improvements.  It also makes the important point that improved energy efficiency is only relevant to one of the planetary limits (global warming / climate change) and not to the others (such as nitrogen pollution, fresh water availability, etc etc etc).
It appears in the Marxist journal, Monthly Review, but (if you’ve yet to be convinced by the power of neomarxist analysis) don’t let that put you off.   The article clearly summarises a report by two authors ( Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger) associated with the ‘clean growth’ tendency who amass evidence (and a taxonomy) for the rebound effect but then conclude that growth is still possible.  The article offers a critique of this inconsistency but is perhaps of most value in offering a very clear summary of the rebound  / Jevons argument.
Read the article.

Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics.

Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics.

(read this as a Word document (with appendices): Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics

Manchester City Council’s Economic Scrutiny Committee has commissioned a report on Steady State Economics.  This is potentially a very positive move- few councils and government bodies are taking the need question of ‘limits to growth’ seriously despite the overwhelming evidence of these limits (from the early 1970s onwards) and the clear evidence that the planet has passed and/or is passing several of the planetary ecosystem limits after which irreversible and damaging change is probably inevitable.

Unfortunately, the report which is now available, is disappointing.

1)  The report appears to dismiss the concept of steady state economics from the outset and therefore does not review the growing body of work available (see the Appendix 1  for some of these sources).

2)  The report fails to address the critical question about mitigating the effects of growth.  As the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission (disbanded by the current government) showed convincingly in its report Prosperity Without Growth, improved efficiency of resource use comes about with growth (because of innovation in technology) but these improvements are only relative.  That is to say the proportion of emissions in relation to GDP reduces, but the problem is that while GDP is increasing, the absolute level of emissions (and resource use) also increases, although it is falling relatively.  The net effect of growth then is continued increasing ecosystem damage.  The report discusses these relative reductions but fails to consider the critical issue of absolute emissions.  Nor does it consider the Jevons paradox – that increases in efficiency do not produce reductions in resource use, but further stimulate resource consumption.

3) The report makes reference (in a rather obscurantist way) to endogenous growth theory.   This is contrasted to neoclassical economic theory.  But all this is really saying is that government intervention can promote growth.  The argument is not relevant to the question of a closed loop or steady state economy.

However, the idea of endogenous development is an interesting one since if taken seriously the idea of economic development (rather than growth) from within the region is relevant to the strategy of (relative) de-linking of the local economy from the global economy.   There is some discussion of these topics in the GreenDealManchester paper ‘Getting Started on the Economy”.  Not surprisingly this is incomplete work – this is difficult stuff, trying to construct alternative approaches in the face of an economic orthodoxy that is the lifeblood of the current system.  De-linking is implicitly ruled out by the report

4)  The council report is clear that there would be very tricky issues were it to promote a steady state economy (SSE):

“…even it were desirable there are no realistic prospects of developing an SSE in Manchester – as international and national policy is not geared to this goal, making any meaningful impact minimal, and seriously disadvantaging the city’s economic performance, to the detriment of its residents.”

But we need to counter this by asking “Is growth a realistic prospect anyway?” (see Appendix 2).  There has been very little growth since 2007 and there seems little prospect of the healthy (sic) 3% growth rate returning.  The city therefore needs an alternative strategy which as has been argued elsewhere would emphasise ‘good living rather than continued consumption’, increased equality, and changes in the way we live in Manchester.   Of course this cannot be done unilaterally and in isolation, but isn’t Manchester meant t be a leader, an innovator, a tail-blazer, a pathfinder – a place where tomorrow happens today?


The challenges of a Steady State Economy are considerable, but the council report does not provide a basis for a serious consideration of the limits to growth, nor of the strategies that would need to be adopted to manage an economy with closed-loop and steady state features in these very challenging times of zero growth.

Earth at tipping point – official

Yesterday the UNEP again warned that the earth is at tipping point.    The report reiterates what we already know, that several planetary boundaries have been crossed and others are at the point of being crossed.  That means disaster of course.  It is good to have this reminder from a highly respected body, but will the governments it addresses take any notice (other than the few like Tuvalu and Bolivia that have taken the question of ecological justice seriously)?

See: Morning Star short article.   UNEP pess release and link to the report. Background on Rockstrom’s concept of planetary boundaries: Wikipedia  Nature. Ecology and Society Rockstrom video and transcript.

Click to see diagram to illustrate where we are in terms of current limits.

See this Oxfam paper that combines Planetary Boundaries with foundations for adequate human development – really useful framework.

Living Well in Manchester.

A new short pamphlet from the Irwell Group looks at the zero-growth option for Manchester’s economy in the light of economic recession and the spectre of runaway climate change.  The old approach of trying to get 3.5% growth for ever is not going to work, and if it did the results would be increased inequality and climate suicide.

Go to the Irwell Group site:

Urban plants’ role as carbon sinks ‘underestimated’

This is an interesting study that seems to show that plants growing in urban areas (Leicester in fact) can make a significant contribution to carbon sequestration.  The example is similar to what Permaculture originator Bill Mollison was saying 30 years ago – lawns are deserts (that also use a large amount of petrochemicals) – growing more trees makes a difference and also provides useful products for a local economy.

However, the research calculates the static carbon sink – the amount locked away, not the annual sequestration rate – it would probably be salutary to compare that to the rate of CO2e produced in urban areas (and in their ecological footprint).

BBC summary of the study:



Rescued – a landmark in bioregional thinking

Creating the Second Great Wood of Caledon:  A Rural Manifesto for the Highlands – Scottish Green Party, 1989

“Rather than being a poor follower of the south in its development, the Highlands has the opportunity to adopt an ecological strategy and be at the forefront of modern political endeavors: to live off the resources of the planet without destroying them and to share them justly amongst a population”.

In the scale of its imagination this document is still worth reading 22 years on.  Although in a different place and in somewhat different times (but not very different really) the Green deal for the Manchester-Mersey Bioregion was also trying to imaging a similar scale of sustainable economic and social development.  This kind of thinking and policy is still needed as it becomes plainer and plainer to see the bankruptcy of the dominant economic model with its emphasis on economic (Capital) growth with its inevitable breaking of the planetary support system’s limits.

Worst ever carbon emissions mean 2C target almost out of reach

Today’s Guardian has this exclusive story based on unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.
This is profoundly depressing – not only is there systemic failure to ‘scale up’ sustainable practice, but the policies of government are woefully inadequate to the scale of the problem.  Indeed this is not altogether surprising – the governments at Cancun committed the world to a suicidal 4C rise in temperature.
I have recently made some rough comparisons of proposals from various sources at .  Few of them have any emphasis on reduction of energy use and with the exception of Zero Carbon Britain’s excellent work, there is no recognition of the need to exceed international targets here because of our historical and outsourced emissions.
But what is sadly missing from all this is any coherent praxis: how do we get this stuff more squarely on government and party agendas? How do we rapidly build a social movement underpinned by a vision of a better way of living with the strength and capacity to secure real change?  How do we do this in solidarity with people in the global south who are already experiencing the worst of the climate emergency (see the Bolivian government’s work on this)?