Uni­ver­sal ba­sic in­come and rewil­d­ing can meet An­thro­pocene de­mands

Are we doomed to so­ci­etal col­lapse? Not if we break the mould of ever-greater pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Enviroment -

E NOUGH con­crete has been pro­duced to cover the en­tire sur­face of the Earth in a layer two mil­lime­tres thick. Enough plas­tic has been man­u­fac­tured to cling­film it as well. We pro­duce 4.8bn tonnes of our top five crops, plus 4.8 bil­lion head of live­stock, an­nu­ally. There are 1.2bn mo­tor ve­hi­cles, 2bn per­sonal com­put­ers, and more mo­bile phones than the 7.5 bil­lion peo­ple on Earth.

The re­sult of all this pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion is a chronic, es­ca­lat­ing, many-sided en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis. From rapid cli­mate change to species ex­tinc­tions to mi­croplas­tics in ev­ery ocean, these im­pacts are now so large that many sci­en­tists have con­cluded that we have en­tered a new hu­man-dom­i­nated ge­o­log­i­cal pe­riod called the An­thro­pocene.

This dan­ger­ous new epoch ends the un­usu­ally sta­ble plan­e­tary con­di­tions over the past 10,000 years that al­lowed farm­ing and com­plex civil­i­sa­tions to emerge. With the spec­tre of rapid en­vi­ron­men­tal change lead­ing to so­ci­etal col­lapse loom­ing, what is to be done?

Us­ing mod­ern science to re­anal­yse hu­man his­tory can help us un­der­stand fu­ture prob­lems in more fun­da­men­tal ways. Our anal­y­sis shows that just five suc­ces­sive types of hu­man so­ci­ety have spread world­wide: hunter-gath­erer, agri­cul­tur­al­ist, mer­can­tile cap­i­tal­ist, in­dus­trial cap­i­tal­ist and, fol­low­ing the sec­ond world war, to­day’s con­sumer cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety.

Each sub­se­quent stage re­lies on greater en­ergy use and greater gen­er­a­tion and flows of in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge. These re­sult in a much larger pop­u­la­tion, ris­ing per capita pro­duc­tiv­ity and greater col­lec­tive agency. Seen in this light, a new sixth type of so­ci­ety will re­quire both greater en­ergy pro­vi­sion and im­proved sys­tems to com­mu­ni­cate knowl­edge and man­age in­for­ma­tion.

To usher in a new way of liv­ing, the core dy­namic of ever-greater pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion of goods and re­sources must be bro­ken, cou­pled with a so­ci­etal fo­cus on en­vi­ron­men­tal re­pair. Two in­creas­ingly dis­cussed ideas do just this.

Uni­ver­sal Ba­sic In­come (UBI) is a pol­icy whereby a fi­nan­cial pay­ment is made to ev­ery cit­i­zen, un­con­di­tion­ally, with­out any obli­ga­tion to work, at a level above their sub­sis­tence needs. Small-scale tri­als of UBI show most peo­ple would still work, but UBI could break the link be­tween work and con­sump­tion. We all do it, say­ing: “I work so hard, I de­serve that fancy meal, new gadget, or long-haul flight.” Con­sump­tion is the pay­back for be­ing ever-more pro­duc­tive at work. In­deed, it makes lit­tle sense to curb con­sump­tion when we know we will have to be ever-more pro­duc­tive at work re­gard­less of our choices.

UBI re­duces de­pen­dency, giv­ing peo­ple the agency to say no to un­de­sir­able work, and yes to op­por­tu­ni­ties that of­ten lie out of reach. With UBI we could all think long-term, well be­yond the next pay­day. We could care for our­selves, oth­ers, and the wider world, as liv­ing in the An­thro­pocene de­mands.

Another idea is Half-earth – the sim­ple but pro­found idea that en­vi­ron­men­tal re­pair could come fro­ma­l­lo­cat­ing half the Earth’s sur­face pri­mar­ily for the ben­e­fit of other species. Half-earth is less utopian than it first ap­pears, as we have be­come an ur­ban species. Mass-scale for­est restora­tion is al­ready un­der­way, with com­mit­ments across 43 coun­tries to re­store 292m hectares of de­graded land to for­est, 10 times the area of the UK.

And at a deeper level, our views on na­ture are forged by the so­ci­ety we live in. Ac­knowl­edg­ing the An­thro­pocene re-es­tab­lishes that hu­mans are part of na­ture, and so rewil­d­ing projects, where large ar­eas are man­aged to al­low nat­u­ral pro­cesses to run, are in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar. Slowly, a new na­ture aes­thetic is be­ing born.

But can we re­ally es­cape boom­ing pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion? The fate of species en­coun­ter­ing vast new re­sources is ex­po­nen­tial growth and then col­lapse, epit­o­mised by the rapid ex­pan­sion and even­tual death of bac­te­ria grow­ing in a Petri dish. While rarely recog­nised, we hu­mans have re­cently be­come the ex­cep­tion to this rule: birth rates on all con­ti­nents are de­clin­ing and the global pop­u­la­tion is on track to sta­bilise. More in­for­ma­tion, in the form of girls’ ed­u­ca­tion, has done some­thing truly ex­tra­or­di­nary in the con­text of 4bn years of life.

UBI would give peo­ple the right to choose when it comes to ful­fill­ing their own ba­sic needs, and rewil­d­ing Earth does the same of other species’ needs. This would be a le­gacy of a new chap­ter in Earth’s his­tory that we could be proud of. –The­guardian

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