America: six big shifts towards an economy that distributes economic benefits widely and minimizes damage to the environment

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sarah van gelderSarah van Gelder (right) is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine which feature powerful ideas and practical actions towards a more just and sustainable world. She has co-founded a cohousing community, organized tenants and built a produce cooperative, providing local, sustainably grown whole foods, at affordable prices, to residents who want local, sustainable food sourced within walking distance of their homes.

Sarah points out that, in America as in Britain, corporations and the wealthy are recovering well after the collapse of the global economy in 2008. This is confirmed by Nomi Prins, (left, a senior fellow at America’s Demos) who has worked as a managing director at Goldman-Sachs, a Senior Managing Director at Bear Stearns and senior strategist at Lehman Brothers.

nomi prinsShe records that corporate profits have jumped back to near-historical highs, and banks are hoarding an extra $1 trillion in reserve at the Fed. However, Ms Prins points out that over 90% of the population have “an overhang of debt, stagnant wages and inferior jobs, all exacerbating income inequality”.

Sarah asserts that many people are losing patience with the corporate economy—and turning to initiatives that build a new economy. Grassroots groups, local entrepreneurs and broad-based coalitions are building the foundations of an economy that distributes economic benefits widely and minimizes damage to the environment. She lists six big shifts (the links are very well worth following):

  1. Local food, once a tiny niche market, has gone mainstream. The growing, processing, and marketing of local foods is booming in many areas, including the eastern U.S., abandoned neighborhoods in Detroit, Michigan and towns and cities throughout the country. Via farmers markets and direct purchases from growers, the food travels quickly from farm to table, keeping it fresh and nutritious. Local food isn’t always greener, but a local diet does reduce emissions from food transportation, support local jobs, and connect people to their neighbors and local environment.
  1. More workers own their jobs. Worker-owned co-ops have been spreading, particularly since the recession. While they, like all businesses, can struggle, they also can help keep good jobs stable and keep money in the community. In the Bronx in New York City, the 2,300 employees who work at Cooperative Home Health Care Associates get better pay, more job security, and more training for career advancement than their counterparts at competing firms. In Chicago, workers at a manufacturing plant who were laid off when the plant was shut down bought out the factory and now operate it as New Era Window and Doors. The most famous example of worker ownership, however, is in the Basque region of Spain, which has more than 70,000 worker-owners in more than 200 enterprises. Labor unions and community activists in the United States are beginning to emulate the success of Spain’s Mondragon Cooperatives, especially in hard-hit rust belt regions.

karma kitchen

  1. The economy goes DIY. Making, DIY, and sharing culture: ethic of reuse and no waste, a bias for local and small-scale, and a preference for generosity is blossoming. Young people especially are building tiny houses and writing open source software. Online platforms like Couchsurfing let people share their homes with travelers. Others have started “pay-it-forward” restaurants where you pay not for your own meal, but for the person behind you in the line.
  1. Money grows more responsible. Campaigners in 22 states aim to open government-owned banks at the state, county or municipal level to finance local economies and keep profits nearby. The latest trend, in light of the threat of climate disruption, is to divest from holdings in coal, oil, and gas companies. To date, more than 800 global investors have pledged to divest over $50 billion. Redirecting assets from big corporations and Wall Street to sustainable local enterprises is providing investment capital needed to fuel the new economy.
  1. clt berkshiresSome homes stay affordable. A small percentage of people are living in community land trust homes – affordable by design – and foreclosure rates were one-tenth of the national level. This success is causing cities and advocates for the poor elsewhere to look at this as a model of permanently affordable housing. Keeping basic necessities, like our homes, out of the speculative market helps stabilize the economy and averts the disruption and impoverishment that results from predatory real estate and lending practices.
  1. Innovation emerges to protect our resources. The new economy draws on the wealth of common assets, including fresh water, the Internet, green spaces in our cities, and the storehouse of knowledge we inherit from previous generations.

It does so in a way that neither depletes them nor excludes others. That means protecting water quality, keeping the Internet open, protecting the stability of the climate, and ensuring access to a good education—for ourselves and for those not yet born.

The new economy is being built on grassroots-led, pragmatic actions that people around the U.S. and around the world are taking to create widely shared, sustainable prosperity.

Read Sarah’s article here: http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/six-ways-the-us-is-building-a-people-powered-economy

 

The social cost of our food supply chains – inefficient and unfairly traded

“Food supply chains in Europe are extraordinarily long and complex, involving multiple food business entities and opaque corporate structural engineering, which increases the difficulty for adequate inspection and regulation, and opens the door for fraud and criminal activity. It makes it difficult to work out who is responsible for what, and who’s to blame when things go wrong – see the lurid story in the Observer”.

alyn smith mepThese are the words of Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, SNP member of the Greens/European Free Alliance Group, in an article published on the website of the European Parliament’s Information Office in the United Kingdom.

He adds that a by-product of our system is that about 90 million tonnes of agricultural produce is wasted annually in Europe and about a third of the food for human consumption is wasted globally.

This happens at many points along the food supply chain, from harvesting losses to supermarket quality controls and – after sale – through poor purchasing decisions or food management by some consumers who only consider the sticker price.

The social costs – what kind of a world is it when:

  • those who till the soil to fill our dinner-plates can barely make enough to survive for another planting season,
  • milk and alcohol can retail at a lower price in the supermarkets than water,
  • disgusting slop can be served up to our children and our hospital patients on the grounds of “cost competitiveness”,
  • the number of malnourished people is roughly equivalent to the number of obese people
  • and when the fanatic search for lower prices amidst intense competition leads to the entry of the Mafia into our food chain?

 “We need nothing less than a food revolution”

Alyn Smith believes that this can be achieved through buying local produce and notes anecdotal evidence that sales at local butchers are up 20-25%:

“Short supply chains, farmers markets and quality labels cut out the middle men, enabling direct purchase by consumers and a guarantee for transparency and quality: it boosts the local economy as well, protects diversity in the retail sector and helps keep our farmers on the land. The Scottish Government have already invested £200,000 in farmers markets, and promoted education about healthy eating in schools.

A call for fair trade in Britain

“And we need to push harder for reforms to the EU’s competition rules, to ensure farmers can get the bargaining power they need for a fair price, and reduce the power of supermarkets to crush their smaller brethren”.

”Let’s seize the opportunity, not just to fix the immediate problems of fraud in food labelling and adequate inspections and controls, but to fix our food chain to make it fairer for producers and consumers alike”.

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