Is a quiet political revolution getting under way?

As the old order with its class and gender hierarchies gave way, George Monbiot points out that the void filled with junk could have been occupied by a better society, built on mutual support and connectedness, without the stifling stratification of the old order.

The feast to which we were invited is only for the few’

foe logoInstead, as the developed world – saturated with advertising, the handmaiden of market fundamentalism – became reliant on rising consumption to avert economic collapse, he notes that Friends of the Earth has begun to explore how we might reconnect with each other and with the natural world. New models for urban living are based on sharing rather than competitive consumption:

  • the sharing of cars and appliances and tools,
  • of money (through credit unions and micro-finance) and power.
  • community-led decision-making, over transport, planning and, perhaps, rent levels, minimum and maximum wages,
  • municipal budgets and taxation.

Such initiatives, facilitated by the state can bring people together with a sense of shared purpose, ownership and mutual support that centralised decision-making can never provide. But in some areas, non-party political movements are achieving this without that elusive government facilitation

Independents

Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome
Peter Macfadyen, Kate Bielby and Mel Usher of Independents for Frome

Today, a neighbour gave the writer a cutting about Frome’s declaration of independence.

This Somerset market town has developed “flatpack democracy”, taking political power at a local level and enabling people to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.”

Independents for Frome took all 17 seats on Frome’s town council, with vote-shares as high as 70%, and support from people who cast their other votes for the main political parties.  

Localism in action

Though local Conservatives were convinced that austerity had to apply even at the most local level, the council has borrowed around £750,000 to invest in buildings and land:

  • green spaces have been spruced up
  • game-changing help has been given to the local credit union
  • he council is involved in a new renewable energy cooperative,
  • and has put money into the setting up of a new “share shop”

In Devon the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett says the town is ”a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” After fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents stood for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”. One of the catalysts, she says, was a box of 10 copies of the Flatpack Democracy booklet, which was brought in by one of her colleagues. On 7 May, they also took nine of 12 seats, and started running the show.

Flatpack Democracy ideas are being shared with other groups in Devon and Somerset and though people in Alderley Edge, Cheshire were not aware of developments in the West Country, their thinking is much the same: as one newly elected councillor, Mike Dudley-Jones, said: “our basic mantra is that there is no place for mainstream party politics at this level”.

On election day, Conservatives lost all nine of the parish council’s seats to this group – Alderley Edge First – which also took the village’s one seat on Cheshire East council.

A different economic model: 2 – a constant, stable,‘steady state’ economy

George Monbiot suggests that it is time for a government commission on post-growth economics which would invite contributions from those already investigating the possibility of moving towards a steady state economy: one that seeks distribution rather than blind expansion; that does not demand infinite growth on a finite planet.

Localise West Midlands is dedicated to advocating and building such an economy

Such a commission, Monbiot points out, should ask the questions that never get asked:

  • Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity?
  • Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all over outcomes?
  • Why, despite failures so great and so frequent, have we not changed the model?

The Constant EconomyAs MP Zac Goldsmith says, introducing his excellent book, the rainbow-titled Constant Economy: how to create a stable society:

“Since the industrial revolution, our economies have grown at the expense of the natural world. But as pressure mounts on the earth’s finite resources, we can no longer pretend that business-as-usual is a realistic option.

“One way or another we will have to change. The longer we delay, the more our societies will be at the mercy of events and the harsher the eventual adjustments.

“There is an alternative: a constant economy. The constant economy operates at the human scale and, above all, it recognises nature’s limits. In a constant economy:

  • resources are valued not wasted,
  • where food is grown sustainably,
  • goods are built to last,
  • energy security is based on the use of renewable sources,
  • and strong communities are valued as a country’s most effective hedge against social, economic and environmental instability”.

George Monbiot points out that, when the next crash comes, these questions will be inescapable.

See also: A different economic model: 1 – money creation, ‘a long-neglected question’

’New’ weather demands a new politics – and economics?

“Isn’t it time to rethink our international trade policies?” asks New Delhi agricultural scientist and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma today, just before a powerful summary of the crucial importance of a healthy environment to the global economy on Radio 4 this morning by Tony Juniper and complementing a recent article by George Monbiot.

Creating and popularising local markets: the alternative to WTO ‘madness’

Food_Miles_Report_coverSharma writes: “In 1994, I remember reading an excellent report, Food Miles, produced by Sustain – now updated and republished. It told us about the dangers of shipped food across the continents, processed and repacked elsewhere, and then shipped back to the same country from where it all started.

“There were several glaring examples, which should have woken up the policy makers and of course the economists who talk of everything but make little sense. Food on an average travels 3,000 miles before it reaches your plate. This itself was such a startling revelation that should have made consumers to rethink, but somehow it did not.

“Supermarkets excel in globe-trotting for food products, taking advantage of the cheap processing costs (and also taking advantage of the massive fuel subsidies), remaining unmindful of the carbon footprint they generate in the process . . .

Is aviation fuel cheaper than Coke?

himachal apples2“I have never understood the logic of allowing apples to be imported all the way from New Zealand and Chile into India while there are no takers for apples from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Similarly, what is the logic behind allowing Washington apples to be exported to India, while Chinese apples travel all the way to the US, controlling roughly 45% of the US market. The food globe-trotting is happening because the aviation fuel is damn cheap. Many have said that aviation fuel actually works to be cheaper than Coke! (Ed. See the Himachal Live News describing local markets as a boon for their apple growers.)

airport watchSharma cited the 2007 Airport Watch post, recording the Sunday Times’ finding that supermarket chain Sainsbury’s Traidcraft coffee is grown in Bukoba, Tanzania; the coffee beans then travel 656 kms to Dar-es-Salaam and are shipped to Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, 3,250 miles from Dar-es-Salaam. In Vijaywada the beans are packed and shipped to Southampton in UK – 5,000 miles. From there it goes to Leeds and is then redistributed to Sainsbury stores worldwide.

He expects that, with the approval granted recently to FDI in retail in India, Sainsbury will find it convenient to ship the packed coffee from Leeds to New Delhi.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) and climate negotiations work at cross-purposes

Going to the heart of the matter, Sharma points out that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Climate negotiations actually work at cross-purposes:

“While WTO will push for more of such trade, it doesn’t pay any heed to the resulting carbon footprint such trade generates and the impact it has on global warming. Similarly, Climate negotiators are not calling for restricting such unwanted trade as a precursor to climate control standards”.

His recommendation: creating and popularising local markets is perhaps the only viable alternative to the madness of making food travel across the globe.

Consumers have a very important role to play here. Try to avoid being lured by products which claim to have brought you the same processed stuff from far away which is grown in your neighbourhood. Keep a close watch.

apple juice urban harvest

Why go for processed orange drink from Chile or from US, when you have fresh and tasty juice available in your local market (eg. courtesy of Urban Harvest above)? By making such sensible choices you will have played your small but effective part in limiting the global carbon footprint.#

Read Sharma’s article at Ground Reality at 1/14/2013