“Do these myriad stories add up to a viable alternative to the system that’s wrecking the place now? On their own, probably not. But for me, the most important unfolding transformation of all is the emergence, in many places at once, of a new understanding of our place in the world. .. This new story is, to put it mildly, a rather large ‘narrative adjustment.’ But it is neither utopian, nor fantastical. It speaks to our innate compulsion to change, progress, and create – indeed, to grow – but with new kinds of growth in mind: Soils, biodiversity and watersheds getting healthier; more cooperation and social connectivity; communities becoming more resilient.”
Excerpted from John Thackara:
“Since How To Thrive In the Next Economy was published in the autumn, my 29 conversations about the book have prompted all kinds of feedback. One question has cropped up repeatedly: In a world filled with melting ice caps, war, species extinctions, and economic peril, how can I possibly argue that the small-scale actions I write about can transform the bigger picture for the better?
My answer: It depends how you frame the picture.
Take, for example, COP21. For many people I met, the outcomes of the climate summit in Paris were grounds for anger: A reference to “environmentally and socially sound technologies”was stripped out; aviation and shipping were simply removed from the agenda; and, although a warming limit of 1.5°C degrees is mentioned as a desired destination, the actual outcomes in the text lead us on a 3°C of warming pathway.
What most worries many policy experts I met is that 1.5°C number; it opens the way, they say, for the the so-called ‘overshoot scenario’. This describes a moment a few years ahead when, as the impacts of climate change intensify, panicked governments will feel compelled to deploy geoengineering fixes and so-called negative emissions technologies. As explained by Fred Pearce in Yale e360, “the real game, many believe, is to unleash the forces of capitalism in the name of fighting climate change”.
Foxes mobilised to save the rabbit? Sure. Quite apart from their vast costs, and the fact that they are unlikely to work, post-overshoot techno-fixes would almost certainly entail land grabs, social injustice, and a massive loss of biodiversity – as is happening, right now, with biofuel production.
The thing is, COP21 is not the only game in town. Around the world, millions of grassroots projects tell a different story to business-as-usual – but they are scattered and, for the most part, unseen. In Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken estimates that there are a million such grassroots projects and rising – and their variety is dazzling: His appendix of project types, alone, is 100 pages long.
Some of these projects cluster, for the most part informally, in social solidarity movements such as Transition. When I started writing my book,Transition Towns had just just two groups; today there are more than 1,300 in 45 countries. And across the global south La Via Campesina, a coalition of 300 million small-scale farmers, is strengthening their agro-ecological approach to stewarding the land as well as defending their rights.
With their focus on social and ecological justice in everyday life, few of these social movements challenge mainstream political parties directly for power. Their impact is nonetheless political, but in a different way: As Transition founder Rob Hopkins puts it, “ultimately, you can get more done at the local level, and seeing real change happen rebuilds belief that it’s possible to shift power back.”
Belief in the possibility of change is a huge if intangible positive. So, too, is the proliferation of new social and economic models – from commoning, transition, and sharing, to local money, off-grid energy, and maker spaces. These are the infrastructure of the next economy – only they’re based on social energy, not concrete. For a taste of the scale and depth of what’s cooking check out the P2P Foundation website; hundreds of cases are also mapped on the Real Economy Lab website.
Technology plays an important if supporting role as a means for new social relationships to flourish. Using mobile devices, collaboration software and cooperation platforms, local groups don’t demand things like complementary currencies – they build them. Some new software also makes it easier to organise the governance of common goods, or manage trust in decentralised ways.
The most important technologies are more earthly, than virtual – those to do with the restoration of soils, watersheds and damaged land. The ClimateTECHwiki alone lists 260 promising techniques – from beach nourishment, t0 urban forestry.
But back to that first question: do these myriad stories add up to a viable alternative to the system that’s wrecking the place now? On their own, probably not. But for me, the most important unfolding transformation of all is the emergence, in many places at once, of a new understanding of our place in the world.”