Since the early summer I’ve been working on something rather challenging, a report on what a Steady State Economy would look like in Manchester and its region. We’ve known since 1972 that there are finite limits to growth. The scenarios, based on computer modelling by Donella Meadows and colleagues in Limits to Growth have been uncannily accurate for the most part, as evidenced by the texts that have revisited the question at 10 year intervals. I was aware of the issue as a student ecological activist back in 1971 (there had been previous work by writers like E. Mishan, and I heard Kenneth Boulding speak – it was he who coined the term ‘spaceship earth’ to distinguish it from the cowboy model (no he didn’t mention the fact of the USA being founded on genocide, but it was the ever expanding frontier that he was referring to).
We’ve wasted 40 years in not doing what should have been done then, and that means the world is very much on the ‘back foot’, playing catch-up, missing the boat…… we’ve now very likely missed the chance to avoid a 2 degree rise in global mean temperature so are at risk of catastrophic runaway warming in this century. And me too – why didn’t I devote all my energies to this agenda, if I was aware of it 40 years ago?
Meanwhile, the dominant assumption is that we have to have growth. Economic crisis has come to mean a lack of growth, or slow growth. It is very hard to break into that consensus, shared pretty much from left to right (there is the odd, rare, critical conservative voice and a lot more on the left – after all economic growth is the product of capital accumulation, the raison d’etre of capitalism). The group that became the Steady State Manchester collective had some dialogue with Manchester City Council about this – economic growth is the lynch pin for the city’s social and economic strategy, despite a carbon reduction plan that is well in advance of most cities. Although the door was left ajar for further discussion it was clear that we needed to both develop our thinking more and also to communicate these ideas more widely. So that is what we’ve done. Along the way we’ve discovered that despite the existence of a sound body of theory, ecological economics, and some promising initiatives, nowhere has there been a serious consideration of what Steady State would mean at a municipal or regional level, and as a result there has not been the development of a coherent set of practical and feasible policy and action proposals that could be adopted. I’m not going to repeat the arguments of our 70 page report here – instead why not read it and let me know what you think?
Doing the work has brought me into contact with a new network of people here and worldwide (that couldn’t have been done so easily in 1972), typically with a lot more solid credentials for tackling this than me. So why me? – because someone had to do it, and I hope that thereby we do move thinking on. Our report has a lot of proposals that can be accepted even if you’ve yet to be convinced by the idea of Steady State and Degrowth (two complementary conceptions, developed in North America and France, respectively, although with some shared roots). We cover equality and redistribution, re-localising the economy, better measurement of well-being, money – debt, savings and investment, the replacement economy, reducing consumption and building community. And we are alert to our global context and dependencies – so there is a section on campaigning to alter that context and SSM has also done a separate report that takes its title from the Andean conception of sumak kawsay – buen vivir/vivir bien which is being translated as Living Well – it covers the question of practical solidarity with the majority world.
We had our launch on Tuesday night – 80 odd people (and not some not so odd ones) came. The challenge now is to sustain the momentum and build a social movement that is hungry for a ‘Manchester where people can thrive without harming the planet’ and which helps us to develop and test the ideas through doing them.