Money Makes the World Go Down – part 3 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 3rd in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  Having looked at taxation and market reform in the last part, here I turn to that even sexier topic of monetary reform and currency innovation, and how to transform the operating codes of our economy that to alter behaviours in fair ways.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. The introductory Part 1 provides context.

Banking Transformation

Most people, including politicians, still do not understand that in advanced economies well over 90 percent of all our monetary transactions are not in government issued currency. Our electronic payments and the bank transfers use the private ledgers of private banks and the systems that they have established to transact between themselves. What we are paying and receiving are units of the bank’s commitment to us. The “money” that sits in our private bank accounts was not created by government but by the banks themselves when they issued loans, or (much less by comparison) took in physical cash deposits. The problem with our money supply being created by private banks is that they decide how much new credit money is created and what for. Therefore, in most countries they lend most of it for property, which warps the price of property and therefore creates a debt-enslaved ‘house owning’ group and others renting precariously month by month. In addition, because they charge interest, there is more debt in the world than money to pay it off, which means that the money must be earned, paid to service debts, then spent by the bank or its shareholders so to be earned again, in a cycle which is never perfect, especially when high levels of inequality mean that some people remove the money from circulation (by neither lending or spending it into the real economy). That means an expanding amount of loans are needed to keep the system running smoothly and avoid a scarcity of money leading to job losses, bankruptcies, loan foreclosures and house repossessions. Banks will only issue more loans for activities that they assess will generate the necessary profits to pay interest. Therefore, the economy must expand whether a government or population wishes it to, or chooses to focus on measures other than increasing GDP (gross domestic product). This compulsion to growth the money supply or risk economic instability is called a Monetary Growth Imperative.

That imperative to grow is especially problematic because a decoupling of natural resource consumption and carbon emissions on the one hand, and GDP on the other, has not occurred significantly at an international level, with some countries decoupling only by importing products from abroad. Overall efficiencies that lead to reduction of resources or pollution per item produced has not reduced overall consumption of natural resources and pollution. Therefore, the Monetary Growth Imperative that arises from the nature of our banking and monetary systems means that a society will be prevented from effective climate change mitigation and regeneration without monetary reform. The current monetary system does not allow a steady-state economy that stays the same size with the same level of transactions. That compulsion to grow the economy also compromises the ability for us to adapt to disruptions, as there is a requirement for GDP to keep increasing to avoid the negative effects of the money becoming scarce. Unfortunately, the ‘degrowth movement’ has largely ignored or downplayed this aspect of the monetary system, and instead preferred to argue that all societies need is for our leaders to deprioritise their attention to GDP and the problem will go away. That could be an easier position to take for scholars and activists who imagine themselves as the educators of people, rather than recognise how we are engaged in a struggle against anti-democratic forces. A realisation of the latter, implies very different tactics than more nice conferences and books – tactics more in the realm of organising counter-veiling power to the banks, and preparing for the backlash.  

Another problem from the current monetary system is the anti-democratic power of the bond markets. Currently the way governments create the money that they need additional to taxes is by selling bonds, which are bought by banks that actually create the money in the process. That provides a ridiculously powerful position to those banks, as their views on government policies affect whether the government can access the money. That creates a situation where a government is always concerned about a crisis in confidence in the bond markets. That is not democratic and restricts the degrees of freedom for a government to pursue a bold #ClimatePlus agenda (described in my first part of this essay). One answer to the two problems I have described is a dual approach of scaling back the amount of money being created by private banks, and increasing the amount of money being created by central banks and governments. Therefore, governments would no longer sell bonds, but create digital cash and sell or lend this to banks and other financial intermediaries, and businesses, that would in turn then lend it out further or spend it. Some of the money would be spent into circulation directly by the government. An independent group would oversee the amount of money created by the government to avoid election cycle manipulation. This approach has been dubbed “sovereign money”. Not liking the potential to reduce their power and profits, the public relations firms working for private banks have set out to demonise central bank digital currencies (CBDC) through conspiracy theories that it would curtail freedom. That is despite how CBDCs could be designed to provide complete privacy for daily transaction amounts within national borders, and at least more than the current systems of electronic payments that are monitored by multiple companies (a subject I return to below, when discussing Basic Services Vouchers). Without these monetary reforms, trying to mitigate, adapt, restore, regenerate and make reparations will be as impossible as swimming against a riptide. Therefore monetary reform has to be central to a #RealGreenRevolution.

In addition to monetary reform, another type of banking reform is necessary to harness the massive power of banks to support a ClimatePlus agenda. This is the role of credit guidance. Banks would be required to curtail lending to carbon intensive projects unless securing a specific exemption, and also to maintain a significant percentage of their lending to enterprises that register with the government as working on mitigation, drawdown, adaptation or regeneration activities. The individual loan decisions would be made by the banks, as well as the terms and costs of the loans, but a certain percentage of all lending would have to go to such activities, and so if the bank wanted to expand its lending for other activities, it would have to expand its lending to ClimatePlus related business activities by the same proportion. The ideas for useful business activities that relate to the necessary transition of economies would come from local entrepreneurs, based on their local knowledge, but suddenly those people and projects that respond to the needs to our predicament would have better access to credit than ever before. The use of credit guidance in this way has been a tool used around the world by governments that have sought to shape the trajectory of their economic development.

In addition to reprogramming the money system to make it help – not hinder – the ClimatePlus agenda, it is also important to pluralise the means of exchange in ways that help people cooperate. The main way to do that is a massive investment in the establishing and growth of community-owned and not-for-profit ‘collaborative credit’ networks. These networks use their own currency, which is merely a unit that measures transactions between participants, and can only be used within the network. Such networks can enable local collaboration and trade, in ways that are not dependent on people earning money from the market economy, or on the ongoing stability of national or international monetary systems. That is important for adapting communities to increased risk of global financial volatility, as well as encouraging re-localisation of production and consumption. Local governments should become key organisers and/or participants in such collaborative credit systems. Some of the systems could focus on small business, while others can focus on individuals, or both. Technological dependence would need to be avoided through the use of open source software systems and physical means of transaction as well as digital.

To benefit from major government support, for-profit business barter networks (also known as trade exchanges) would need to sign up to various standards for their professional performance. Then regulations could be upgraded to make it easier for them to operate in all countries. Digital tokens which derive their value from speculation (e.g. crypto currencies) are entirely different from collaborative credit networks and business barter networks. Such currencies should not be outlawed but require targeted regulations to reduce their carbon footprint. A global carbon energy tax should be set at a level that would mean certain crypto currencies would be less favourable. However, as that will take time to implement, and there are unprecedented energy demands from ‘proof-of-work’ cryptocurrencies, they should all be given a deadline to move to far more energy-efficient code, or be banned from interaction with the financial system or mention in legal contracts. (NB: as a libertarian socialist I do not agree with the counter-factual argument that Bitcoin is not a problem due to its carbon footprint, and notice that – despite years of critique and huge financial capacity – the crypto industry has done nothing significant on this issue voluntarily, just some PR; so it is sensible to recommend regulation of speculation and greed when it is particularly counterproductive).

Basic Services Vouchers

Very few of us live in ways where we produce the food, water, fuel and other items that we consume. Therefore, the current economic model requires all of us to either sell our time within the market or to a government agency for a wage, or if we have assets, lease access to them or successfully speculate with them, in order to generate an income to cover our costs of living. With the levels of automation displacing employment, the need for a full time job to cover costs of living has been recognised as problematic. A situation where countries consider creating more jobs of any kind to keep people earning to pay for their costs reflects both a peculiar approach to life and drives consumption. In response, some people have argued for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to be paid to every person, whether they are employed or not, or need it or not. I am against this idea for a number of reasons. I do not believe in public money being given to people (or companies) that are already relatively well off in society. Neither do I believe that governments can afford it if using the current monetary system, and therefore a UBI would involve major cuts to welfare that targets the most in need. If UBI existed, governments would argue there is no need for free provision of basic services of health and education, as everything could occur through the market. Then if inflation rose, suddenly the income poor could be a lot worse off if they were not able to find work to supplement their UBI.

Instead of the UBI, I believe that Basic Services Vouchers (BSV) should be provided to anyone who self-declares their personal assets to be below a certain threshold (assets including all kinds of savings, investments and properties). These vouchers could be in physical or digital form, and accepted by any person or organisation. However, only registered cooperatives (of any size), small-to-medium sized companies (SMEs) and government-owned companies (local or national) could open accounts to receive the vouchers, and have the facility to exchange them for national currency through a clearing house (owned either by a central bank or the financial ministry of the government). Individual users could also exchange them with each other but not have the facility to cash out into national fiat currency. The vouchers would be issued by an agency working with a central bank, which would provide the backing for the vouchers in the form of a proportion of central bank fiat currency (not necessarily a full 1-2-1 backing, as the backing also comes in the form of the legal requirement for the government to accept the vouchers as payment). Any payment services provider could provide voucher accounts to the end users (i.e. not just banks). Loans of vouchers would not be allowed and neither could these payment providers enable transfers of vouchers into national currency, unless by the registered organisations mentioned above. The users could spend their BSVs on whatever they wanted that was offered by those registered organisations as available for BSVs. The payment service providers would be required to operate in ways where information of transactions under a certain size would be private, either in the instance of transaction or very soon after (i.e. to mimic the anonymity of cash transactions). There would be no requirements on the users of BSVs apart from to register their identity and self-declare their assets being under a certain level in order to receive the regular BSV stipend. All users of the BSVs could use them to pay government taxes and/or fees, both national and local. It would be illegal for any company to require staff to accept the BSVs for payment, although people could accept them if they chose. Creating the system this way would mean that the new money in the vouchers would not quickly leak out of the economically-deprived areas where the BSVs would be required the most, and instead help encourage local trade amongst smaller and more locally owned organisations, as well as remunerated forms of cooperation between local people. The restrictions on transactions into the national fiat currency system would moderate any potential effect on inflation. The BSVs would not be at risk from financial collapse within the global banking system, as they would be using a parallel payment infrastructure. Once the BSVs grew in usage, so the sovereign money policy I described above could be increased and the share of monetary transactions done through private banking systems would gradually diminish. In addition, the fact that BSVs would be a parallel system to national fiat also means that governments would not face the same concerns over budget deficits for funding them, as they would not be created through bond sales of their national currency, and 1-2-1 backing of the vouchers with the national currency would not be necessary.

This BSV system would help with climate mitigation, regeneration and adaptation, by supporting the relocalisation of economies and providing alternatives to a monetary system that requires growth and systematises the extraction and centralisation of wealth. If you understand how current banking works then you may have guessed already that the current banking system would initially organise aggressively and comprehensively against such proposals. That is because it would break the monopolistic position of banks in providing the means of daily transactions. One tactic would be to fund the promotion of conspiracy theories that such a voucher system would involve surveillance, social control and affect the ability to work. Unfortunately, most people fall for such conspiracy lies for two reasons. First, they don’t realise how they are currently surveilled by multiple companies and governments with their current monetary transactions, that their ability to transact can be curtailed by those companies already, and that the control of the money supply by those banks means that the availability of money for someone to pay their wages is already not in their, or their governments power. Second, they don’t realise that a BSV can be designed to provide privacy, prevent government interference, and could provide new forms of liquidity so the job market would not be affected by downturns in the supply of credit to an economy by banks. Unfortunately, because of almost a decade of lobbying against digital cash innovation by governments in the west, the country that has moved ahead with such a system is China, which is introducing it in ways that do not uphold the basic principles of privacy and freedoms as I’ve outlined above. That is then fodder for the conspiracy theorists who do the bidding of the bankers by demonising new forms of government-issued digital currency and the provision of free forms of money to people in need.

Unfortunately, this BSV system also has a new major opponent in the form of Big Tech. They regard themselves as the next providers or partners in the provision of the future currencies. The crypto currencies are not used for everyday transactions and most are unlikely to be because of their technical features. Large platforms that have billions of users are highly suited to becoming transaction systems that use their own units of account, or digital currency. With the BSV system I have outlined, they would only be able to make transaction fees, rather than the larger incomes that come from either interest on loans or the right of seigniorage i.e. creating the units for themselves. Because both Big Tech and the banking systems would likely be so against a country leading on this BSV system, they could attempt disciplining a country through the bond markets and other nefarious approaches. Therefore, a BSV system would need to be developed at an international level, and with some backing from organisations that represent the real economy, rather than Big Tech and banking. Unfortunately, I have not seen that kind of principled and systemic thought, let alone leadership, anywhere in any part of the intergovernmental system in my decades working with it since 1997. Which brings us onto governance reform, the subject of the next part of this essay on a #RealGreenRevolution.  

To receive each part of this essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. The introductory Part 1 provides context.

This is what a #RealGreenRevolution would include

This is the first in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. It provides a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force. This introduction provides context and a #ClimatePlus framework, with the policy proposals coming in the subsequent parts.

Introduction

As humanity faces catastrophic climate change, we hear calls for ‘systemic change’, or ‘transformation’. However, the familiar policy ideas shared by politicians, business leaders, climatologists and campaigners fail to be systemic. That includes the new announcements coming from governments during COP26, on matters like forest conservation and financing coal. But it also includes many of the bolder ideas from environmental campaigners, as some uncomfortable examples will illustrate… No, banks divesting from fossil fuels is not systemic, because if it works enough to lower the share-price of international oil companies, then competitors, rich families, or sovereign wealth funds from around the world will take them over and keep the oil pumping to supply ongoing demand. That doesn’t mean that banks and pension funds are doing the right thing to invest in oil companies – they are not. But trying to change that is not a systemic aim because it won’t change humanity’s impacts at scale. Neither is calling for governments to stop focusing on GDP growth a systemic idea, if the monetary system that requires their economies to grow in order to achieve economic stability remains enthroned. Condemning the UN processes as failures as a way of calling for multi-stakeholder alliances on climate is not a transformative stance, when it ignores how corporate influence over decades destroyed the potential of those UN processes and will likewise distort the initiatives coming out of any new alliance.

So am I just being defeatist? No – otherwise I would not bother writing this 7-part essay on radical and transformative policy responses to our environmental predicament. There are many systemic policy innovations that could help humanity right now, but you won’t hear them from the professionals engaged in climate policy this month. That is because the professional classes, who are people with time to engage in the policy jamborees, have been schooled within the ideology of our time, which defers to existing power in a global capitalist system. I know because I am one of them. I lied to myself for decades as I tried to encourage significant reform through voluntary corporate sustainability initiatives. What’s worse, we professionals working on public challenges are surrounded by people with an unacknowledged narcissism, where the motivation to feel ethical, smart, and contemporary, trumps any depth of inquiry into what might be going on and might be possible. It is a strange but silver lining of the terrifying climate news that more of us are being forced out of such patterns through a dark night of the soul. It means we can consider again what might work, rather than what has been just easy stuff to tell ourselves – or our professional admirers, clients or donors.

Released as a series of blogs over the next 7 days, in this essay I aim to help you explore how you might engage in larger social change beyond your household and neighbourhood, as you anticipate increasing societal disruption from the direct and indirect effects of environmental breakdown. If you want to be part of a political movement that has relevant goals, either through your professional work or as a volunteer, I hope this essay will stimulate some new ideas and drive. I consider this an outline of ideas for a “real green revolution,” by which I mean a fundamental change in the power relations which have caused the interrelated social and environmental chaos of our era. I will touch on controversial topics including monetary reform, geoengineering, ecocide, nuclear power, family planning, and assisted dying, amongst others. Consequently, I don’t anticipate widespread agreement, but hope the essay will illustrate the breadth of policy ideas that can arise from a more holistic and systemic approach than the one on display this month as the world talks about climate.

I will focus on what might be the most important public policy areas to work on, in light of the unfolding disruptions to our way of life and the difficulties to come. What I mean by ‘important’ is those changes in policies which could affect the greatest number of people through changes in the incentives and disincentives we experience directly. Given the disruptiveness of the pandemic era, as well as the forthcoming disruptiveness of climate panic, I think some of these policy ideas will have a chance to be implemented, even if they are then swamped by subsequent disruptions as the climate changes further. Nevertheless, writing this essay has felt somewhat futile. Because my proposals go against the powerful tide of mainstream policy that is reflected by COP26 as well as its critics. That sense of futility meant I kept quiet for a while. But then I realised that if people like me don’t share our ideas on what we think is needed, then we will not discover if there are like-minds to collaborate with. If we keep quiet then neither would we have offered a contrasting agenda that could help people understand the ideological limits of what they are currently being offered. Silence would mean we would not know if something positive could have happened – we would have accepted defeat without utterance. I remain a positive pessimist: I anticipate a very difficult future but continue to hunger for new ideas for how to reduce harm and find joy in the process. Even the contrast that is offered may help some not to participate in counterproductive policy responses. Therefore, even while I expect that the ideas outlined in this essay will not be enacted, I share them with a desire to be fully present to the situation, to uphold truth and dialogue, and honour our unending capacities to do what’s right, whatever the circumstances.

Over these last 3 years since the Deep Adaptation paper on societal collapse went viral with a million-plus downloads, I did not share many ideas on policies. Not because I did not have any, but because I preferred to encourage ways of relating and discussing where people from all walks of life would develop new ideas about what to do once they woke up to our predicament. That enacted my perspective on social change, where key to engagement are the common questions, better ways of exploring them and experimenting with multiple possible answers. The same aim of promoting a multiplicity of ideas underpins the Deep Adaptation book which I edited with Rupert Read. In its pages, many experts share their ideas on diverse topics – from education, to business, to psychotherapy, to local economics. That approach also reflects a painful realisation that the complexity of the processes of societal disruption and breakdown means that advancing wide-ranging recommendations on policy responses can become delusional. That complexity is a challenge to the growing ‘climate adaptation’ policy arena that I will explore further in this essay.  

Some people who anticipate collapse, and some people who observe us, have the impression that the ‘deep adaptation’ framework and community are not about policies that might help reduce harm and create better possibilities during societal breakdown. It is true that some people who are very active in the Deep Adaptation Forum are not interested in any efforts at creating a wider influence on people through public policies. They rationalize that in various ways, including by regarding the current governance apparatus of the market and governments as of limited lifespan. Some people see any work on influencing policy as rather dry and painful and do not wish to spend their remaining years engaged in such activities. I appreciate those views – and feel them – but do not think that helpful if it becomes the dominant response amongst those of us who anticipate – or consider we are witnessing – societal breakdown. Instead, if I share some tasty but half-baked ideas on policy innovations in response to imminent or unfolding societal breakdown, perhaps you will bite on them, or spit them out and serve some of your own! That process might be a bit awkward along the way, but some good new ideas might emerge in the process.  

Getting Systemic Also Means Getting Personal

Before diving into specific policy ideas, it is important to note where, philosophically, I am coming from. Key, therefore, is one’s perspective on human nature and the role of governance in related to that. In my exploration of systemic approaches to problems, I discovered that people are assuming a range of ideas about the nature of reality and the nature of the human. Such ideas underpin how people imagine the need for – and nature of – governance. That touches on the oldest debates in political philosophy, which stretch further back than, say, Hobbes, to the various ideas of Plato, Lao Tsu and other totems of thought on both human nature and good governance. Therefore, before jumping into the specific policy ideas, I wish to begin with some reflections on human nature and what may have gone wrong so far.

If we look at the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the last 40 years as well as the levels of habitat and biodiversity loss, the trends are near exponential in a terrible direction (unless you are a cockroach awaiting the destiny of your offspring to rule the planet in the late-Anthropocene era). The raw data on human impact on the planet is irrefutable evidence that our collective efforts to sustain our living environment have failed. Looking at those exponential curves of doom, one climatologist remarked to me that it appears as if humans are behaving like an unintelligent bacteria colony in a petri dish. When such organisms find themselves in a yummy petri dish, they reproduce themselves until they exhaust their nutrient supply and create too many waste products for their own survival, thereby wiping themselves out. As I self-identify as a human, I might be biased on this matter. With that caveat, I think we are far more intelligent than bacteria. So what might be the other options for making sense of humanity’s overshoot of the resources of our planetary home and resulting self-harm? One idea is that we are smart but suicidal. Another option is that we are smart but insane. Perhaps we went insane due to our anxiety at our awareness of our own mortality, and thus became subconsciously destructive of all life including our own. Putting aside such existential rumination on the collective unconscious for a moment, to return to the realm of normal chit chat, neither suicide nor insanity seem intelligent from a normal understanding of intelligence. That’s not to say that suicide might seem to be a way out for some individuals in situations of intense and irreducible suffering (which is something I will return to later). But I believe there’s a much better explanation for why we’re acting like bacteria in a planetary petri dish. And there is good scholarship to back up my idea. So, without further ado…

Humanity is oppressed by the systems that were built and maintained by people amongst us who have been expressing their lowest states of consciousness. Those states of consciousness are filled with fear, greed, and antipathy towards fellow humans. They lead people to seek to acquire more control over resources and other people. They create and develop systems that reduce the need to trust and be trusted, like and be liked, care and be cared for. The history of the theft of common lands and common resources, the creation of currencies and banks, profit maximising corporations, and financial speculation all relate to that form of consciousness. A lot of effort then goes into woke-washing this systematised separation and selfishness, by people who had careers like mine. A lot of us don’t realise that is what we are doing because we have not experienced life outside this economic system. It has trained us since birth to experience each other and the world in ways that involve separation, scarcity, acquisition and competition. Throughout our lives we are rewarded and punished in ways so it is easier to compete to acquire stuff, status and experiences, while externalizing risks and costs onto other people, the natural world and future generations.

Unless we wake up to these systems of oppression and how they are the reason for why humanity has got itself into this terrible situation, we will not identify how to reduce future harm. It is in overlooking this matter of assumptions about human nature in relation to the cause of our predicament that I believe the environmental movement in advanced economies has been flawed. Ignoring or downplaying systemic oppressions and instead promoting further managerial control of people serves to denigrate us all, rather than honour our suppressed yet resilient inclinations for solidarity and collective contribution. To not recognise these processes of oppression is to implicitly assume that human nature is bad, stupid, suicidal or insane. All of those assumptions are misanthropic. Unless we become aware of that thread of misanthropy within current policy discussions on public issues, then, in a state of anxiety at disruptive changes and risks, many of us could support greater oppression of each other. This is what I have identified in the mainstream narrative about how to respond effectively to the pandemic, and my encouragement of a more citizen-based response in future, which recognises our capabilities and desires to make responsible decisions for ourselves and each other.

What are the policy innovations that might have the deepest and widest effects on the whole of an economy in society without creating a cumbersome bureaucratic burden or meddling in people’s lives unnecessarily? That was the question I asked myself as I reflected on all the ideas I have discussed or developed with people in the field of ‘sustainable development’ over the past 30 years. We know there are numerous important things to work on. For example, the world of fashion is quite ridiculous in its premises on constant change and superficial matters of appearance, while involving negative impacts on the environment and sometimes on the workforce down through the supply chains. It is something I’ve worked on in the past. However it’s not one of the main areas to focus on if we seek policy ideas that could have the widest impacts. For that, we need to identify what has the most implications for the rest of economy and society – we need to identify and change the operating code for our economy and society.

That focus has inevitably led me to focus on matters of economic governance. Such topics can be complicated, dry, full of technical language and attract serious people who like it that way. The topics can seem far outside the fields of expertise of people who work on environmental concerns. Topics of economic governance are also less easy to explain to a friend, colleague or supporter of an environmental cause. Therefore, few of us are prepared to engage fully. Many people who have engaged have then left their activism behind and ended up working within the economic system, as consultants, bureaucrats or investment advisors, animated by a story of incremental change, which fades into the background as the rest of life becomes more important than their prior activist intentions. Another impediment to activist engagement with economic governance is a misguided story of pragmatism. I meet many environmentalists who say that there is not time to work on economic transformation. They feel rightly frightened by the pace of climate change and its current impacts on societies. The desire for urgent impact is understandable. But in arguing to work with the economic powers as they are, in ways that therefore do not seek to transform power relations, they have to ignore how environmentalists and social justice campaigners have tried for decades to redirect the power of corporation and banks towards more socially and environmentally beneficial outcomes. They ignore the experience of that effort, which has demonstrated only incremental improvements while the trajectory of the global economy has been otherwise, and the data on environmental health demonstrates the existing strategies have not worked. They also ignore how the last 5 years has witnessed political activists being successful in many countries with an explicitly rebellious message in relation to incumbent power. With that appetite for radicalism in mind, I invite you to consider the policy ideas that I will share in this 7-part essay.

ClimatePlus and the Delicate Policy Primacy of Climate Change

Our rapidly changing climate and disturbed weather must be a central organising principle for all governmental policies going forward. That is because our changing climate affects everything about our societies, either directly or indirectly, through impacts on food, water, disease, disasters, economics, psychology and more. The centring of climate does not mean that all other considerations become secondary. We are responding to climate change because we care about each other and nature. Some philosophers, backed heavily by billionaires, appear to be fine with the idea there be only a small population of humans left on Earth in return for a stable climate, because they surmise that would make it more likely for billions of future humans to enjoy life. Their philosophy of “longtermism” helps them to put the imagined future lives of humans above consideration of us alive right now. That means that elites have a new story to justify themselves changing the way they relate to the rest of us alive today. They imagine themselves unaccountable to us and serving a higher purpose of their imaginations. Like many people I am not keen on the idea of people with the power of enabling genocides to justify themselves with novel ethics and unproven hypotheses for climate restoration. Instead, many of us want to maintain and even grow our values, connection and consciousness, as we respond to the predicament. We realise we might not succeed in preventing global catastrophe, and prefer to uphold human dignity in the process of trying. Therefore, there is a balancing to seek, where we centre climate change responses, while respecting human dignity. In addition there is a deepening to seek, where we look into why humanity, or bits of it, caused this terrible predicament, and thus try to learn how not to make matters worse by efforts coming from the same place that caused the mess.

To refer to this balancing and deepening of approaches to the climate situation, I will call it a #ClimatePlus agenda. It is an agenda that does not develop a tunnel vision simply on carbon cuts and drawdown, but keeps the climate situation in mind across all issues faced in society. As I explored how such an agenda might inform policy innovation, I kept five key aims in mind.  

  • Mitigation of climate change in significant ways, including both emissions cuts and drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Adaptation to rapid and inevitably severe climate change, including measures that are accountable to affected persons, carbon-neutral and including anticipation of worst-case scenarios and even societal collapse.
  • Restoration of the climate, including Arctic repair, with safe and regulated methods.
  • Regeneration of ecosystems and the societies that depend on them, including assisted migration of ecosystems. 
  • Reparation by richer nations and the international financial system paid to people experiencing loss and damage from climate chaos; recognising the history of contributions to those current difficulties.

When I looked as what could be the most systemic interventions for each of the five areas of a #ClimatePlus agenda I realised that any one intervention could have implications for a number of the areas. I also realised that success would depend on an intervention not creating problems within the other areas. Therefore, my proposals address deeper structural issues than most of the current policy discussion around environmental problems. The resultant policy ideas are not fully formed. However, they emerge from my work on sustainable development since 1995 on all continents (bar Antarctica!), within business, investment, civil society, academia, political parties and the intergovernmental sector. So I’m not inexperienced, and still young enough for it to be premature to put me in the category of nutty old professor 😊 I hope that by sharing these ideas I will contribute to an opening of discussion on a more radical green agenda that responds to the latest science on biospheric collapse.

Each day for the next 7 days I will publish groups of ideas for policy innovation. To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter.