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Degrowth in the Suburbs - A Radical Urban Imaginary by S. Alexander and B. Gleeson

- explores the prospects of turning the current energy-economic crisis into an opportunity by unpacking a vision of 'degrowth in the suburbs'.

- develops a new understanding of the relationship between urban (or suburban) form and political economy.

- offers fresh contributions to current debates about degrowth, which up to now have had very little to say about cities, and even less about suburbs.



"This book addresses a central dilemma of the urban age: how to make the vast suburban landscapes that ring the globe safe and sustainable in the face of planetary ecological crisis.  The authors argue that degrowth, a planned contraction of economic overshoot, is the only feasible principle for suburban renewal. They depart from the anti-suburban sentiment of much environmentalism to show that existing suburbia can be the centre-ground of transition to a new social dispensation based on the principle of self-limitation. The book offers a radical new urban imaginary, that of degrowth suburbia, which can arise Phoenix like from the increasingly stressed cities of the affluent Global North and guide urbanisation in a world at risk. This means dispensing with much contemporary green thinking, including blind faith in electric vehicles and high-density urbanism, and accepting the inevitability and the benefits of planned energy descent. A radical but necessary vision for the times."


"Some hard-nosed political economists will be quick to dismiss such lifestyle changes as being of little consequence, not recognising that the structural changes that are certainly needed will never arrive until there is culture that demands them. Practising energy descent at the householdlevel is an indispensable part of that cultural r/evolution, representing a prefigurative politics that is necessary to any post-carbon or post-growth transition. The rest of the householdactions reviewed in this chapter should be judged in that light also — not as direct, consumption -based solutions to the problems of overproduction, but as necessary groundwork for creating the new culture of sufficiency that will need to precede any new politics or macroeconomics of sufficiency."


Beyond direct and indirect energy considerations, the emergence of a contracting degrowth economy ‘from below’ would obviously require a revaluation of values and practices in other domains of life too. Any consumerist culture is going to require a growth economy to meet its demands for ever-rising material living standards. The flip side of that coin is that a degrowth economy will depend on and require a material culture of sufficiency that embraces a post-consumerist existence of relative energy and resource scarcity. The dual value of embracing this strategy is that it both moves the culture of consumption in a more sustainable direction, but it also prepares the household for disruptive and unstable economic times in which reduced consumption is enforced rather than voluntarily chosen. That is, downshifting prepares the household for times of crisis or unplanned economic contraction, and thus increases resilience, even if the primary or initial motivating goal is sustainability. By voluntary simplicity we are certainly not just talking about shorter showers, turning the lights off, and recycling. A degrowth culture of consumption must assume a far more radical form of downshifting.


According to the ecological footprint analysis, humanity would need four or five planets if the Australian way of life were globalised. If the growing global population by 2050 had attained Australian living standards then humanity would need 10 planets — even more if Australians expect rising material living standards. (Trainer 2010)


Few analysts of the global predicament seem to appreciate the magnitude of this challenge: it requires a 75–90% reduction in ecological impacts compared to living standards in the wealthiest regions of the world, even if sustainable living will always be a context-dependent practice. Given that efficiency, technology and the decoupling strategy are failing to bring the global economy within sustainable bounds, it follows by force of logic and evidence that globalising Western-style material living standards is a recipe for catastrophe — both ecological and humanitarian. A just and sustainable world necessarily involves some radically transfigured practices of consumption and production compared to the ecocidal forms which have emerged in the West, and that means, amongst other things, embracing the all but forgotten wisdom of frugality, moderation, and sufficiency. (Princen 2005; Westacott 2016)


The reader is justified in being sceptical here, but it is no good critics dismissing this call for simpler living in the suburbs as 'wishful thinking'. We are neither oblivious to the obstacles nor so deluded as to think the revolution in consciousness this cultural transformation implies will be easily achieved. But when the full magnitude of ecological overshoot is recognised on a full to overflowing planet, there is absolutely no alternative but to abandon high-impact suburban affluence as we know it today and radically downshift average energy and resource demands in wealthy nations. (Fleming 2016)


"This is both an ecological and a social justice imperative. Thus, it is not wishful thinking but clear thinking that informs our suburban economics of sufficiency, and any theorists who dismiss the logic of sufficiency are themselves fantasising by ignoring this necessary dimension of any coherent sustainability transition. As the slogan from Paris ’68 goes: Be realistic — demand the impossible!"



Samuel Alexander is Research Fellow with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne, Australia. His books include Prosperous Descent: Crisis as Opportunity in an Age of Limits (2015) and Wild Democracy: Degrowth, Permaculture, and the Simpler Way (2017).

Brendan Gleeson is Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne, Australia. His books include The Urban Condition (2014) and Australian Heartlands: Making Space for Hope in the Suburbs (2006)


Sustainable City Living on 1/10th of an Acre - Degrowth in the Suburbs 

Support: Happen Films | Living the Change 






More? GREEN | STUFF by Irie Zen



Crap? Grow something. MANURE! (*.PDF)


by Irie/Bat

Discussion 14 Comments

  • Irie Zen 26th Oct 2018

    • Bat Chainpuller 28th Oct 2018

      The Anthropocene Belongs to Earth System Science x Clive Hamilton 23 AUGUST 2016

      The idea of the Anthropocene was conceived by Earth System scientists to capture the very recent rupture in Earth history arising from the impact of human activity on the Earth System as a whole. (1,2)

      Stop. Read that again. Take special note of the phrases “very recent rupture” and “the Earth System as a whole”. Understanding the Anthropocene, and what humanity now confronts, depends on a firm grasp of these concepts arising out of the very new discipline of Earth System science. (3)

      Much of the literature on the Anthropocene – its essential idea, its causes, its starting date – is bedeviled by readings of the new concept through old disciplinary lenses, readings that fail to understand the revolutionary implications of humankind taking the Earth into a new geological epoch. (4)

      In the canonical statement of the Anthropocene, the proposed new division in the Geological Time Scale is defined by the observation that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. (5)

      The Anthropocene is not defined by the broadening impact of humans on “the environment”, “ecosystems” or “the landscape”, that is, as an extension of what humans have been doing for centuries or millennia. It is defined by human interference, over recent decades, in the functioning of the Earth System, that is, the planet as a whole understood as a unified, complex, evolving system beyond the sum of its parts. (6)

      The components of the Earth System are integrated so that climate change, for example, affects not just the atmosphere but also the functioning of the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the biosphere and even the lithosphere. (Arguably, anthropogenic climate change is more of an oceanic than an atmospheric phenomenon.) Only in recent decades, or at most the last two centuries, have humans begun to change the way the Earth System operates.

      The starting date

      Most of scientific misinterpretation of the Anthropocene has emerged in claims about its starting date. Crutzen and Stoemer initially nominated the end of the 18th century, with the European industrial revolution’s large-scale coal-burning triggering rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. (7) More recently, members of the Anthropocene Working Group have proposed 1945 as an unambiguous beginning of the shift in the Earth System’s functioning. (8)
      Peering through the lenses of landscape ecology, some have interpreted the new geological epoch as another name for the continued impact of humans on the landscape or ecosystems. Ellis claims that since humans ‘have been reshaping the terrestrial biosphere’ for millennia “the entire past 11,000 years of the Holocene might simply be renamed the Anthropocene”, (9) despite the fact that for Earth System scientists the new epoch is presented in contrast to the Holocene.

      Ellis recruits to his cause the work of palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman who argued that the Holocene-Anthropocene shift occurred 5,000-8,000 years ago with the onset of forest clearing and farming, which led to enhanced levels of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere. (10) However, human impact on the Earth System (as opposed to the landscape) 5,000 to 8,000 years ago is not discernible, and certainly was not large enough to upset the stability of the Holocene Earth. (11,12)

      None of the leading exponents of Earth System science believes that changes in the terrestrial biosphere alone can bring about a new geological epoch, and even less so if we are thinking of vegetation and landscape ecology;
      the terrestrial biosphere, in isolation, is not the right place to be looking for a planetary-scale tipping point; one must consider the coupled dynamics of the Earth system as a whole … (13)

      Looking through the lenses of archaeology, two analysts misconstrue the question from the outset when they write that the Anthropocene’s starting date depends on “when human societies first began to play a significant role in shaping the earth’s ecosystems.” (14) The very last letter, the “s” in ecosystems, gives it away. The Anthropocene did not begin when humans first play “a significant role in shaping the earth’s ecosystems”; it began when humans first changed the functioning of the Earth System.

      Yet the misconstrual is necessary if they are to insert archaeology into the debate, so that “the beginning of the Anthropocene can be usefully defined in terms of when evidence of significant human capacity for ecosystem engineering or niche construction behaviours first appear in the archeological record on a global scale”. These behaviours are then traced to the domestication of plants and animals beginning 10,000 years ago.
      In another misreading two other archaeologists see the Anthropocene as no more than a part of a “single complex continuum” over 50,000 years due to “human geographic expansion”. (15)

      Not geography or pedology either

      Looking through the lenses of social geography, two analysts have come up with the “pre-Columbian Anthropocene hypothesis”, locating the start of the new epoch in 1610 based on a complex narrative covering the colonization of South America, introduced diseases, depopulation, forest regrowth, trans-continental trade, species exchange and pollen counts, all of which are said to be associated with a small dip in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in that year. (16)

      However, the analysis failed to show numerically that the dip (sic) in CO2 changed the functioning of the Earth System or was caused by human activity. Earth System scientists pointed out that in the pre-industrial Holocene there were many comparable dips in atmospheric CO2 concentration and that a change of 10 parts per million is well within the range of natural variability in the Holocene and pales into triviality beside the jump in concentrations from 280 ppm in 1800 to 400 ppm today. (17,18)

      Finally, soil scientists have viewed the Anthropocene through the lenses of pedology to claim that evidence of anthropogenic modification of soils going back 2,000 years defines the start of the Anthropocene. (19) This too begins from a total misconception. The Anthropocene is decidedly not “the period when human activity acts as a major driving factor, if not the dominant process, in modifying the landscape and the environment”. The new geological epoch does not concern soils, the landscape or the environment, except insofar as they are changed as part of a change in the functioning of the Earth System as a whole.

      A common feature of each of these misreadings of the Anthropocene through the lenses of landscape ecology, social geography, archaeological and pedology – that is, the treatment of the new epoch as reflecting the same kind of landscape or ecosystem change that has been occurring for centuries or millennia – is that they divorce it from modern industrialisation and the burning of fossil fuels. In this way the Anthropocene no longer represents a rupture in Earth history but a continuation of the kind of impact humans have had for millennia. It is thereby rendered benign.

      That so many scientists, often publishing in prestigious journals, can misconstrue the basic definition of the Anthropocene as nothing more than a measure of the human footprint on the landscape is a sign of how far Earth System science has to go in changing the way many scientists still think about the Earth.
      This is a longer version, with references, of a comment piece published in Nature today. With thanks to Jacques Grinevald for stimulating many of the ideas here.
      1 Crutzen, P. J. Geology of mankind, Nature, 413: 23, 3 (2002)
      2 Crutzen, P. J. The ‘Anthropocene’, in Ehlers E. & Krafft, T. (eds) Earth System Science in the Anthropocene: Emerging Issues and Problems, Berlin, Springer 13-18 (2006)
      3 Hamilton C. & Grinevald J. Was the Anthropocene Anticipated? The Anthropocene Review 2(1), 59-72 (2015)
      4 Hamilton C. The Anthropocene as Rupture, The Anthropocne Review, 3, 93-106 (2016)
      5 Steffen, W., Grinevald, J., Crutzen, P. & McNeil, J., The Anthropocene: Conceptual and historical perspectives, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369, 842–67 (2011)
      6 Hamilton C. and Grinevald J., Was the Anthropocene Anticipated? The Anthropocene Review 2(1), 59-72 (2015)
      7 Crutzen, P. J. & Stoermer, E. P., The ‘Anthropocene’, Global Change. IGBP NewsLetter 4 17-18 (2000)
      8 Zalasiewicz J. et al., When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal, Quaternary International 383 196–203 (2014)
      9 Ellis, E., Using the Planet, Global Change 81 (2013)
      10 Ruddiman, W., The anthropogenic greenhouse era began thousands of years ago, Climatic Change 61 261–93 (2003)
      11 Crutzen P. and Steffen W., How long have we been in the Anthropocene era? An editorial comment. Climatic Change 61 253 (2003)
      12 Ciais P. et al., Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles, in Stocker, T. F. et al. (eds) Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 483-5 & Fig. 6.6 (2013)
      13 Lenton, T. & Williams, H., On the origin of planetary scale tipping points, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28(7) 382 (2013)
      14 Smith, B. & Zeder, M., The onset of the Anthropocene, Anthropocene 4 8–13 (2013)
      15 Braje, T. & Erlandson, J., Human acceleration of animal and plant extinction: A Late Pleistocene, Holocene, and Anthropocene continuum, Anthropocene 4 14-23 (2013)
      16 Lewis, S. & Maslin, M., Defining the Anthropocene, Nature 51 171–180 (2015)
      17 Zalasiewicz, J. et al., Colonization of the Americas, ‘Little Ice Age’ climate, and bomb-produced carbon: Their role in defining the Anthropocene, The Anthropocene Review 2 117-127 (2015)
      18 Hamilton C., Getting the Anthropocene So Wrong, The Anthropocene Review 2 102-107 (2015)
      19 Certini, G. & Scalenghe, R., Anthropogenic soils and the golden spikes for the Anthropocene, The Holocene 21(8) 1269-1274 (2011)

    • Bat Chainpuller 28th Oct 2018

      “If humans have been transforming the Earth System for many thousands of years, then it is in our nature to do so. The Anthropocene is therefore a “natural” event rather than the result of certain forms of social organization coupled with techno-industrial hubris. It does not reflect any kind of human failure.” Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene - Clive Hamilton

      One could say that we not only entered the Anthropocene post WW2 but fairly soon afterwards we noticed we had done so. We may be a natural failure, a horrible species that kills many others off and reeks havoc far and wide, but we also learn and learning takes time, as does noticing...as does thinking about shit and working shit out. To some time for most to figure how fucked up slavery is. It was s not as if humans have just gone about their business without others pointing out the bullshit and fucked up things that need changing.

      But it is clear we are at a crossroad. Some humans in the world aren’t that concerned or think techno fixes will work while many others think otherwise.

      What’s it to be then John, the brunetta or the bleeding blonde...

      That’s where we all are now...

      Perhaps our last big fight...

    • Bat Chainpuller 28th Oct 2018

      “None of the leading exponents of Earth System science believes that changes in the terrestrial biosphere alone can bring about a new epoch, and even less so if we are thinking of vegetation and landscape ecology. After considering differing conceptions of the biosphere, two Earth System scientists conclude that “the terrestrial biosphere, in isolation, is not the right place to be looking for a planetary-scale tipping point; one must consider the coupled dynamics of the Earth system as a whole, including evolution.” 23” (Defiant Earth - Clive Hamilton)

    • Bat Chainpuller 29th Oct 2018

      “This argument has been taken apart by two other soil scientists. Yet they too reproduce its essential flaw when they interpret the Anthropocene as the initiation of “significant human environmental impact … on the Earth’s surface.” 29 To repeat: it’s not “the landscape,” it’s not “the environment,” and it’s not “the Earth’s surface.” It’s the system as a totality.”(Defiant Earth)

      Labouring the point, because if we don’t get it we cannot fix the earth that we have fucked. It’s the total earth system that has been affected, everything, not bits of it, the whole thing.

      So therefore...

    • Bat Chainpuller 29th Oct 2018

      “A common feature of these misreadings of the Anthropocene through the lenses of ecology, social geography, archaeology, and pedology –that is, by treating the new epoch as a continuation of landscape or ecosystem change going back centuries or millennia –is that they divorce it from modern industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels. In this way they deny that the Anthropocene represents a rupture in Earth history, and deprive it of its dangerous quality. It is rendered benign.” (Defiant Earth)

      Surely it’s not a rupture in earth’s history...how do you rupture history...it s what it is surely...it’s a rupture to the system, yeah, I get that, so if Hamilton is going to get all pedantic and everything, I reckon I can. There can be ruptures to things throughout history but not to history itself unless there are s a rupture to time of some sort...I reckon.

  • Irie Zen 26th Oct 2018

  • Bat Chainpuller 26th Oct 2018

    The book is expensive...even the ebook cost like 65 bucks...

    • Bat Chainpuller 26th Oct 2018


    • Bat Chainpuller 26th Oct 2018

      New Economics for a Full Planet

      If once our species
      lived on a planet relatively empty of human beings, today we live on a planet that is evidently full to overflowing. The human population
      has grown exponentially to reach seven-and-a-half billion people, increasing by more than 200,000 people every day, and trending to exceed eleven billion by the end of the century. As this expanding population
      continues to urbanise and seek ever-rising material living standards by way of sustained economic growth
      , the global economy is being driven into gross ecological overshoot
      , dangerously crossing or threatening to cross a range of planetary boundaries with dire consequences that are already unfolding. Indeed, the metaphor of ‘Earth as a Petri dish’ has become worryingly apt, given that the dominant colony seems to be consuming all the available resources and is at risk of poisoning itself from its own wastes, raising questions about whether homo urbanis can muster the intelligence to avoid the fate of common bacteria. Techno-optimists
      and free marketeers promise ecological salvation via continuous ‘green growth

      ’, all the while capitalism
      expands ravenously to every corner of the globe, leaving an increasingly brutalised planet in capital’s wake. Lifting the poorest billions out of destitution is likely to place further burdens on global and local ecosystems. This confluence of ecological and social justice
      imperatives further delegitimises ongoing economic expansion in the already high-impact, consumerist
      societies of the world, and the prospect of an energy descent
      future makes such ongoing growth increasingly non-viable as well as unjust. What is most troubling of all, perhaps, is that even those sectors of society that have achieved the so-called consumerist ideal—the house in the right suburb, the nice car, the latest gadgets, the stylish clothes, the exotic travel, etc.—all too often find themselves discontented, overworked, and alienated despite their unprecedented material abundance. In recent decades this cultural malaise has been established consistently and independently by a litany of sociological and psychological studies (see Lane 2000; Kasser 2002; Hamilton and Denniss 2005), indicating that growth capitalism
      ’s defining goal is deeply misconceived. This is arguably the strongest case for degrowth
      : that present structural
      arrangements fail on their own terms. There seems to be an emptiness to consumer affluence that is never acknowledged in slick advertisements, let alone discussed in schools or around the dinner table. It is perhaps the dominant culture’s final, unspeakable taboo. For whom, then, do we destroy the planet? Or for what? Unthinkable in mainstream economic and political discourse, the only coherent response to this context of ecological overshoot
      , inequality, and cultural malaise is planned economic contraction of the energy and resource demands of the most ‘developed’ regions of the world, as well as a reconceptualisation of sustainable development
      in the Global South
      , beyond the conventional path of growth-dependent industrialisation
      . This ‘limits to growth
      ’ position signifies an extremely complex, challenging, but ultimately necessary paradigm shift in the dominant conception of human progress
      , one that we have been developing in this book in the context of suburban theory and praxis. Although the degrowth
      movement is diverse and defies singular definition, we have argued that it will involve initiating a transition
      beyond the existing order of globalised growth capitalism
      and in its place building a constellation of highly localised economies of sufficiency

      , based on (limited) renewable
      energy supply, convivial technology
      , participatory democracy
      , increased social control of the economy, and non-affluent but sufficient material cultures of voluntary simplicity
      . Once more, we contend that this new suburban degrowth
      economy will need to be driven into existence from the grassroots
      up, with top down
      change being more of an outcome than a driving force of this transformation. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, we also contend that a degrowth
      can maintain or even increase quality of life, by reshaping cultures and societal structures
      to promote non-materialistic forms of meaning and wellbeing beyond consumerist
      conceptions of ‘the good life’. We do not argue that degrowth
      is likely, only that it is the most coherent response to the global predicament, and thus deserves critical attention. And even if, as is likely, the degrowth
      movement fails to create the just and sustainable society which is its goal, we argue that the attempt to prefigure a new self-limiting economy within the decaying shell of capitalism
      remains the most promising strategy for preparing individuals, households and communities for increased energy and resource scarcity, thus increasing societal resilience
      in the face of destabilised climatic conditions and forthcoming economic, financial, and/or environmental crises. (Degrowth in the Suburbs, Alexander and Gleeson)

    • Bat Chainpuller 26th Oct 2018

      Well, how does something like Parecon fit in?

      It doesn’t.

      Why the fuck not?

      Coz it’s crap.

      Get fucked. It’s not crap. It’s well thought out and coherent. Sounds like these simple folk are just makin’ shut up as they go. Ok for music but not so sure about that approach for society and everything.

      It’s still crap.

      Bullshit. They could at least acknowledge how it may help develop a future economy beyond makin shit up. I mean, there are a lot of presumptions in chapter six that they make about how the future will unfold...

      Yeah, well, that’s it...that’s what’s gonna happen dude if we don’t start growin our own stuff, going simpler and shit...

      Yeah, I know, sort of...I’m not a complete idiot, but fuck...why don’t they, instead of ignoring Parecon completely, because that’s exactly what they do, even though Albert’s book was cited a couple of times in Alexander’s book, use it in constructive ways in conjunction or whatever the right word is, with degrowth simplicity ideas...they don’t do that at all...there’s no real attempt to outline an actual fucking economy that may foster better economic/social relations, in a coherent global way, in conjunction or whatever the right word is, with a new structured polity, something they also do not outline how to construct, they just talk about participatory democracy, and a new cultural and kinship sphere...I hate that phrase, kinship sphere...no reason...kinship sphere just sounds dickie...why don’t they do that...they kind of just say, we could do this or that and we have to do this or that when there is so fucking much they leave out...

      Like what?

      Like what! Who the fuck are you? Like what! You know like what...heaps of shit...like what is the actual economy as opposed to people sharing shot or gifting shit or presuming that so much shit can be just made locally or whatever in old garages revisited into workshops...I mean fuck...as Inread this stuff I am thinking, who’s making all the medical equipment, the modern shit...who’s mining all the stuff and with what and who’s making all the stuff needed to mine all the stuff and...

      Fuckin’ hell mate, shit, of course that stuff is going on and being sorted but within the context of simplicity, degrowth and decarbonising and shit...fuck, what you want a whole plan...

      Get fucked, I just think, well yeah, they haven’t really thought through so much because of their own focus on avoiding catastrophe or the aftermath...yeah, and they should do that fucking work by collaborating with people like Albert and Hahnel and others, who have tried to think through much fucking else...

      Why fucking a Parecon anyway...I don’t fucking like it much with those IFBs and their balanced job complexes and their effort rating shit in workplaces...sounds like some sort of workplace Stasi org...oooh, Dave’s not pulling his weight, we should dock him or discipline him...

      Your full of shit man. You fucking know it diesn’t Work like that and besides, by fuck, people always know whether you like it if or fucking not whether you’re pulling your weight in a workplace or even a household...people notice man, they fucking know who’s doing the dishes regularly and who isn’t...who’s putting in real effort and who isn’t...don’t shit me with that crap...and BJCs are just an idea to deal with empowerment and disempowerment that can exacerbate class divisions and stuff...for fucksake, you really think, and I DO get this vibe from the simplicity folk, that’s why they’re always going on about kinda meditation shit or spiritual stuff, younreally think people will all just get along out there in their backyards and communal gardens, living peacefully together...what about policing...militias...do it yourself defence and security shit...or will that crap just disappear...

      You’re over thinking it all...

      Bullshit, I read about all this crap dude...it’s everywhere...Jesus...

      To be continued...

    • Bat Chainpuller 26th Oct 2018

      I reckon your stuck mate in some old way of thinking about economies dude. You can’t get out of it or you can’t be bothered tryin’...like this,

      “If we are to enact new economies, we need to imagine “the economy” differently—as something that is created in specific geographical contexts and in historically path-dependent ways, but this is not an easy or straightforward project. As Timothy Mitchell argues, we are up against an already existing eco- nomic object materialized in socio-technical networks of calculation that have, since the 1930s, produced the economy as a “singular and self-evident totali- ty” (forthcoming).2 The economic landscape has been molded according to the imaginary functionings of a “self-contained and dynamic mechanism” known as “the economy,” and this representation is difficult to dislodge. The advent of glo- balization and the failure of socialist economies have further compounded the identification of capitalism with this obdurate object.” (Post-Capitalist Politics, J.K. Gibson-Graham)

      Yeah, maybe, who knows, I’m just readin’ shit and trying to understand the incompatibility or compatibility of two seeming approaches...or is that seemingly two approaches...the kind of pluralist, commoning, coop, community, degrowth simplicity solidarity diverse many economies approach and one like Parecon...that’s all, nothing much else...got know fucking idea whether one is right or both are right or anything really...and to tell you the truth, I reckon neither does anyone fucking else, including you dude...so you can say I’m stuck and I’ll just say no more than you dude...

      So you do think there may be some truth to th3 idea of diverse economies and shot...

      Maybe, but to tell you the truth, that ‘maybe’ is precariously resting on the idea Ineven know what people mean when they say different economies...I mean, I can talk about the state economy, or the economy of Geelong, or some specific area or country, but essentially it’s all the fucking samecreally, market capitalism...not neofuckingliberal, that’s not an economy, that’s just a description of the bunch of cunts, who have since the post WW2 Utopia, the golden age of economics, which ended in the seventies because they decided they could do x, y, and z to fuck over the bewildered herd and make a lot of money and power for themselves...and in the 80s the fucking Labour Party here bought into it...bought being the operative fucking word...neoliberal don’t mean shit...but market capitalism means a lot and that is the general set of institutions through which the economy, or economies of countries, states and regions run...if not, then it’s either some kind of isolated very local specific thing or a kind of planned economy or a mixture of both. So I don’t even know what it really means to say a diversity of economies let alone make the claim that such a diversity is preferable to say something like fucking Parecon.

      Geez you sweat a lot...

      Fuck off...

  • Bat Chainpuller 26th Oct 2018


    Other Versions VIDEO
    Remarks by David Bollier, Director of the Reinventing the Commons Program at Schumacher Center for a New Economics, at the Prairie Festival hosted by The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas on September 29, 2018.
    Thank you, Fred [Iutzi] and The Land Institute for inviting me to this wonderful festival! It’s a great honor to be speaking at an event at which so many illustrious thinkers, innovators, and activists have attended in the past. I want to thank the Land Institute for its pathbreaking research and leadership over the years – and give a special thanks to Wes Jackson for his vision, courage, and sheer persistence over so many years.
    I’m not a farmer or seed-sharer, and I don’t have a specific role in the farm-to-table world except as a grateful eater. However, I do live in a small, somewhat rural town, Amherst, Massachusetts, a place of maple trees and CSA farms, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost, and a town common.
    It is in that capacity that I come before you today, as a commoner. Much more about that shortly, but suffice it to say that the commons, to me, is a vehicle for social and political emancipation. My new book, written with my German colleague Silke Helfrich and due out next year, captures three touchstones of commoning in its title – Free, Fair & Alive. It’s all about lived experience, not ideology, and more about living systems that emerge from the bottom up than about policies imposed from above.
    I want to start with a blunt and perhaps jarring statement, that we are embroiled in a deep and serious war – a war against the imagination. This phrase comes from Beat poet Diane di Prima, who wrote:
    The war that matters is the war against the imagination
    all other wars are subsumed in it….
    the war is the war for the human imagination
    and no one can fight it but you/ & no one can fight it for you
    The imagination is not only holy, it is precise
    it is not only fierce, it is practical
    men die everyday for the lack of it,
    it is vast & elegant.
    “The ultimate famine,” di Prima warns, “is the starvation of the imagination.”
    When an artist-friend shared these lines with me, I realized how profoundly they speak to our times. In today’s world, there seems to be very little room in respectable circles for wide-open dreaming and experimentation, or for stepping off in new directions to explore the unknown. But the realm of the unknown is precisely where we really start to see and live.
    In today’s world there are certain presumptions that serious people aren’t supposed to question, such as the necessity of economic growth and capital accumulation, and the importance of strong consumer demand and expansive private property rights. The more of these we have, the better, we are told.
    These dogmas have sucked all the air out of our public life and politics. Which is one reason that I have come to see the commons as a precious patch of ground – an important staging area for thinking and living our way past the prevailing orthodoxies. The commons is a space from which an insurgency might be launched – indeed, it IS being launched, if you train your eyes to see it.
    In the next few minutes, I’d like to suggest how the commons paradigm can help us develop a new social and cultural vision, and new strategies for practical change. Paradoxically enough, redirecting our attention away from conventional politics and policy may offer the most promising possibilities for developing a transformational vision.
    We’re surely reaching a point of diminishing returns within the existing system. Real change and regeneration are going to require that we jump the tracks somehow. We need to start imagining different ways of being, doing, and knowing – and we need to invent new institutional structures to support such a paradigm shift.
    Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons
    Let me first clarify what I mean by the commons – a term that is greatly misunderstood and misused. For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention the word “commons” is tragedy – as in the “tragedy of the commons.”
    That idea was put into circulation by biologist Garrett Hardin in a now-famous essay published by the journal Science in 1968. Hardin said, Imagine a pasture on which farmers can put as many sheep as they want. The result, he said, would inevitably be the over-exploitation of the pasture. No individual farmer would have a “rational” incentive to hold back, and so the sheep would over-graze and ruin the pasture, resulting in the tragedy of the commons.
    What a tenacious little smear this has been! Over the past two generations, economists and conservative ideologues have embraced the “tragedy parable” as a powerful way to denigrate the collective management of resources, especially by government. Hardin’s just-so story has also proved useful for celebrating private property rights and, by implication, free markets and government deregulation.
    The problem is, Hardin was spinning out a fantasy. It has no empirical basis. He was not describing any actual commons. He was describing an open-access regime – a free-for-all – in which there is no community, no rules for managing resources, no boundaries around them, no penalties for overuse or free-riding, etc. That’s not a commons. A commons consists of a community plus a shared resource and a set of social agreements, practices, traditions, etc., for governing it.
    The scenario Hardin was describing more accurately describes market economics in which everyone is a disconnected individual defined by their “utility-maximizing rationality” and competitiveness, which makes you a sucker to restrain yourself. You might say that Hardin was really describing the tragedy of the market – “Grab what you want and forget about the mess you leave behind.”
    The late Professor Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University powerfully rebutted the whole “tragedy of the commons” fable in her landmark 1990 book, Governing the Commons. She won the Nobel Prize in Economics for this work in 2009 – the first woman to win the award. Ostrom and hundreds of scholars explained how countless communities around the world have self-organized themselves to manage natural resources without over-exploiting them – all of this outside of the market and state power.
    Why, then, are these systems generally ignored by economists? Because when you’re studying market transactions as the main event of life, anything that doesn’t involve cash and market exchange isn’t all that interesting.
    And yet commons are everywhere. They are the ancient heritage of the human species. The International Land Coalition has estimated that there are over 2.5 billion people in the world whose daily lives today depend upon forests, fisheries, farmland, irrigation water, and wild game managed as commons. It’s the default mode of provisioning through nature! Yet to we moderns, commons remain mostly invisible – or misrepresented as ineffective and marginal. Doomed to failure.
    The huge achievement of Ostrom and her academic colleagues was to provide scholarly validation for the commons as a system of governance and provisioning. Ostrom showed that cooperation is actually economically consequential, something that her colleagues, most of them males, scoffed at. 
    A Movement of Commoners Arises
    Meanwhile, outside of academia, a related story was developing on a parallel track over the past twenty years. A self-replicating movement of commoners was arising to build an empire of their own – an insurgent, diversified network based on the ideas of commoning. Yes, the commons is not so much a noun as a verb.
    Commoning is the social process by which people come together, figure out the terms of their peer governance, learn how to devise fair systems, how to deal with rule-breakers, how build a cohesive culture, and so forth. Who are these commoners? They include:
    * Farmers, villagers, pastoralists, and fishers who use community systems to manage crops, pastures, irrigation water, trees, wild game, fish…
    * “Localists” who want to restore the self-determination of their communities through community land trusts, CSA farms, alternative currencies and time-banking systems, among other commons.
    * There are Croatians fighting enclosures of their public spaces and coastal lands, and Greeks developing mutual aid systems to fight the neoliberal economic policies that have decimated that nation.
    * There is a rich Francophone network of commoners, and others in Spain, Italy, the UK, and India.
    * A new “municipalism” of urban commons is arising in cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Seoul, and Bologna to establish commons-based Wi-Fi systems, public spaces, social projects, limits on development, and more.
    * Indigenous peoples are arguably the oldest commoners, fighting to defend their ethnobotanical knowledge and biocultural practices.
    * A vast network of digital commoners are creating free and open source software…building open-access publishing systems…“platform cooperatives” as alternatives to Uber and Airbnb…wikis and makerspaces and Fab Labs.
    Through some form of spontaneous convergence – or rising of a collective unconscious – these various groups are discovering the commons and using it as a lingua franca. While they all traffic in very different resources and in very different circumstances, most of them have a least one thing in common – a victimization by global markets and capital.
    Enclosure and the War Against Imagination
    This brings us to the word “enclosure.” It is a word that helps commoners fight the war against the imagination. Enclosure names the great harms that occur when the market/state system privatizes and encloses our common wealth. Enclosure happens when something managed by a social cohort or rooted in an ecosystem is redefined as a market commodity. It is ripped from its context, converted into private property, and sold. Its price becomes its value.
    This is an act of radical dispossession – the kind that defined the English enclosure movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which millions of commoners were evicted from their forests and pastures, and forced to migrate to cities and England’s dark satanic mills.
    We are now in the midst of a second major enclosure movement. This time, it is using less violent but even more effective weapons of dispossession. These include intellectual property law, digital technologies, Big Data and algorithms, and, as needed, raw state coercion and market power. As in the past, the mission is to seize the common wealth for private profitmaking.
    Enclosure happens when the Hunt brothers buy up vast tracts of groundwater in the Midwest, turning priceless repositories of life into speculative commodities to be sold to the highest bidders.
    Enclosure happens when biotech and pharmaceutical companies patent genetic information about plants and seeds, and medicines and diseases. One fifth of the human genome is now owned by companies as patents. The German company BASF owns more than 6,000 patents derived from genetic sequences in 862 marine organisms.
    Enclosure happens when industrial agriculture converts a living landscape into a vast, quasi-dead vessel of soil to grow monoculture crops. It occurs when the traditional sharing and cultivating of seeds are criminalized – which is happening today.
    Enclosure is happening today in Africa and Asia, as sovereign investment funds and hedge funds collude with governments to buy land that have been used for generations by subsistence communities and indigenous tribes. It’s a huge land grab that is displacing millions of people and triggering new migrations to urban shantytowns and future famines: the English enclosure movement revisited.
    Amazingly, American politics and economics don’t have a name for the idea of enclosure. Instead it’s usually called “innovation,” “wealth creation,” and “progress.” The language of the commons helps us debunk these modern-day fairy tales.
    The Commons and Place-Based Stewardship
    What does all of this talk of the commons have to do with rural America and farming, ecosystems and human well-being?
    I’d like to propose that the commons discourse can help us break out of the claustrophobic mindset of contemporary politics and economics, especially as they apply to rural America. The concepts and language of the commons – and scores of real-life projects – can open up new ways of thinking that go beyond the traditional “progress narratives” of growth and “development.”
    As the era of climate change descends upon us – as we begin to recognize the fragility and costs of global supply chains for food, energy, and water; as we learn how giant corporations work with government to consolidate market power and squeeze out small players; as we discover how markets tend to flatten the distinctiveness of place and identity, and propagate inequality and division – we are learning what pre-moderns have known for millennia: Place-based stewardship and community self-reliance can offer more ecologically rooted, humane, and satisfying ways to live.
    But how can we possibly work for such a vision? One thing is for sure, it won’t come via Washington, D.C., or new trade policies or farm bills, at least not primarily. It will first require some deeper cultural and personal shifts from us – and the development of new sorts of commons-based institutions.
    It will require that we wean ourselves away from a mindset that is transactional – which is the essence of capitalist markets and culture, a mindset deeply embedded within each of us – and learn to embrace a mindset that at its core is relational, where we see ourselves as interconnected and interdependent, and can show our vulnerabilities as humans without being taken advantage of.
    That’s where I see the commons helping to catalyze a transformation. The language and framing of the commons helps name this different order of life. Evolutionary sciences are showing that the hyper-individualistic story told by conventional economics is an utter fantasy. As E.O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson (among others) have shown, we are a species that has evolved through cooperation.
    We are not free-floating individuals without histories or social ties, untouched by geography or community. In reality, we are all nested-I’s – individuals nested within larger biological webs and within social collectives that profoundly shape us. Land and natural systems are not mere resources as the price-system implies. They are what I call care-wealth.
    It’s this relationality that needs to be brought to the foreground. As Thomas Berry put it memorably: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” This is the ontological shift – the OntoShift – that we need to make as a culture and find ways to enact through projects and express through language.
    In a sense, that’s the purpose of the commons. It’s a rediscovered term that is being used to describe some ancient realities. It expresses the spiritual connections of indigenous peoples to the land and the cosmos. The commons is about the land ethic that Aldo Leopold wrote about. It echoes what Rachel Carson said about the subtle interconnectedness of all living things, and what Wendell Berry has so beautifully written about the human satisfactions of working with a landscape.
    A commons is about having responsibilities and entitlements that flow from them; stepping up to long-term stewardship; making up the rules of governance from the bottom up, with an accent on fairness, participation, and inclusiveness; and the inalienability of certain things. Some things just aren’t for sale.
    In short, it’s all about relationality! It is here where a new vision for rural America needs to begin.
    Much has been made about the linkages between rural America and Trump voters – a linkage that I think has been vastly overblown. Trump brilliantly exploits genuine needs, and preys upon fears and desperation. But if we think more deeply about what’s important to us and what makes for quality of life over the long term, the answers won’t be ideological. They must be human, and they must grow their own new legal, economic, and institutional vessels.
    The standard wisdom is that farmers, agricultural suppliers, and rural businesses should double-down and try to compete more effectively in integrated global markets. They should get leaner and meaner and smarter, goes the pep talk. They should demand greater government subsidies and new forms of support. This is fair enough, so far as it goes.
    But we’ve seen how this approach is fraught with problematic risks. Are we really prepared to accept permanent subordination to the corporate seed, biotech, and chemical giants? Do we really want to build a future based on volatile energy and food prices in an era of Peak Oil and climate change? Can we depend on dwindling supplies of water from elsewhere and owned by someone else, and on the shifting sands of international trade policies and tariffs?
    The Commons and Rural Futures
    I’d like to suggest that a more constructive and secure long-term vision is for communities to become more locally autonomous and self-directed and to become less dependent on the global and national markets, many of which treat rural America as sites for neocolonial extraction in any case.
    The more promising answers lie in greater relocalization and community self-reliance and in decommodifying our daily needs as much as possible; in working with the land and not abusing it; in sharing infrastructure and collaborations with other commoners; and in mutualizing the benefits that are generated.
    This was roughly the strategy that civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer used fifty years ago when she and others purchased 680 acres of Mississippi Delta land and named them “Freedom Farms.” The goal was to provide access to land so that African-Americans could grow their own food cooperatively. “When you’ve got 400 quarts of greens and gumbo soup canned for the winter, nobody can push you around and tell you what to say or do,” she said.
    That is the beauty of commoning. It’s practical. You could say that it draws from the best of all political ideologies: Conservatives like the tendency of commons to promote responsibility. Liberals are pleased with the focus on equality and basic social entitlement. Libertarians like the emphasis on individual initiative. And leftists like the idea of limiting the scope of the market. It’s all about cultivating a mindset of mutual support and building durable systems of relationality.
    In the few minutes that remain, I’d like to quickly review some of these cooperative, benefit-sharing, relational approaches.
    It seems appropriate to start with the Land Institute’s Kernza wheat and other perennial crops. Could one imagine an agricultural innovation more in sync with natural systems? It absorbs more water than conventional wheat, prevents runoff and erosion, captures more carbon, and provides year-round habitat for wildlife – while of course providing a tasty food for we humans. Kernza has enormous potential for bringing humans into a deeper, more regenerative relationship with the land itself – which will surely enhance the stability of agricultural towns.
    I am thrilled by another commons-in-the-making, the Open Source Seed Initiative. Its basic purpose is to decommodify seeds to make them freely breedable and shareable, under terms set by commoners themselves. Currently, more than 400 varieties of seeds and fifty-one species have become what I would call “relationalized property” – legally shareable seeds that can participate in the gift-economy of nature and yet cannot be privatized.
    Of course, land is another precious resource that has already been enclosed by capital or faces constant threats of enclosure. How can land be made more affordable and accessible, especially for young farmers, and be deployed as an object of stewardship, not simply ruthless market exploitation?
    We know that community land trusts are a powerful vehicle for land reform. They are a way for communities to take land off the speculative market and use them for long-term community purposes, such as workforce housing, town improvements, sustainable agriculture, and recreation.
    Again: the strategy of decommodify and share. A CLT is a kind of commons because it socializes and collectivizes economic rent, and then invests it back into the community that helps create it. It’s a social organism for regenerating value, through democratic governance and open membership in its classic form.
    More recently, the Schumacher Center has been developing an offshoot of community-supported agriculture – community-supported industry. The idea is to use community land trust structures in novel ways to help decommodify land and buildings in a town. They can then be used for all sorts of “import-replacement” enterprises – production, retail, food – that recirculates dollars within the region.
    In terms of re-purposing land, I recently learned about the FaithLands movement. It’s a small but growing movement of churches, monasteries, and other religious bodies offering up their land for community-minded agriculture, ecological restoration, and social justice projects. It turns out that religious organizations own a lot of tax-free land, and so they can potentially act like conservation organizations or land trusts.
    A farmer working on church land said: “Our scripture starts with Genesis in the garden and ends with Revelation in a garden in the city—with Jesus in the middle inviting us to a meal. If we’re seeking to transform our food system in a way that’s going to be beneficial not only for ourselves, but for our great grandchildren, how can the church put [its] land into service?”
    Simply asking, “What does the land want?” and “How can we feed the hungry?” let us consider the radical idea of food itself as a commons. Why shouldn’t food be recognized as a basic human need available to all, and not merely as a private, transnational commodity? A famous essay published in 1988 called for returning a vast portion of the Great Plains to native prairie as a “Buffalo Commons.” That never happened, of course, but it did provoke valuable debates that have sparked some actual projects that move in this direction. A dialogue about food commons could have similar effects.
    If a larger Commons Sector is going to arise and flourish, however, we will need more than small-scale, one-off projects. We need larger shared infrastructure to take things to the next level. This can open up new opportunities for commoning while thwarting the possibility of business monopolies and proprietary lock-ins, as we see in seed patents, exclusive supply chains, and the like.
    I am thrilled to learn of the supply infrastructure created by farmers in the area north of Boston, along the seacoast of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. The Three River Farmers Alliance has brought together a variety of local producers to aggregate and distribute their foods. The shared distribution system helps them escape a dependency on powerful middlemen and build new bonds of trust among themselves. An open source farm-management software platform lets each farm function independently while also letting each opt-in to share knowledge and cooperate with others. This works only because there are shared data protocols managed as a commons.
    Or consider the Fresno Commons in Fresno, California, which is reinventing the whole farm-to-table supply chain under the control of a series of community trusts. This is helping farmers, distributors, retailers, and others to mutualize risks and benefits throughout the value-chain. The “profit” doesn’t get siphoned off to investors, but is used to improve wages and working conditions, grow food without pesticides, make food more affordable to low-income people, etc.
    These stories point to the critical role that digital network technologies can play in bringing gig-economy efficiencies down to the local level. But this is not just about market efficiencies and automated administration; it’s about building tech-based affordances for new forms of cooperation in today’s world.
    Another such platform is called cosmo-local production. This is an emerging production process in which knowledge and design – the light-weight stuff – are co-developed and shared with collaborators around the world via the Internet. Then the heavy, physical tasks of production are done locally, in open source ways – which is to say, in ways that are inexpensive, modular, locally sourceable, and protected from enclosure. This is the idea behind Farm Hack, a global community of open source designers of all sorts of farm equipment.
    Cosmo-local production is also being used to design electronics (Arduino), video animations (Blender Institute), cars (Wikispeed), houses (Wikihouse), and furniture (Open Desk). The same general logic of global collaboration can be seen in the System for Rice Intensification, a global collaboration in which thousands of farmers around the world share their own agronomy innovations with each other, open-source style. It has improved rice yields four- and five-times over without chemicals or GMOs.
    I haven’t touched on innovations in local government. Let me just quickly mention the ingenious uses of government procurement to help strengthen the local economy such as the pioneering work led by the Democracy Collaborative in Cleveland and more recently, in Preston, England. In Italy, dozens of cities are developing “public/commons partnerships,” also known as “co-city protocols.” These are systems through which city bureaucracies collaborate with neighborhoods and citizen groups, empowering people to meet their own needs more directly and on their own terms.
    Lest I leave the impression that the commons amounts to a bunch of white papers and policy ideas, let me underscore that the commons is about providing convivial spaces for us as whole human beings. A commons can only work by drawing upon our inner lives, sense of purpose, and cultural and spiritual values. It is therefore imperative that artists and cultural organizations play a conspicuous role. They can express insights and feelings that our hyper-cognitive minds cannot. They can express embodied ways of knowing.
    I think you can begin to connect the many dots. No single one of them is the answer, but together, they help us to begin to think like a commoner. That’s liberating. That opens up new vistas of possibility. It helps us fight the war against the imagination and give us hope.
    In the 1980s, British Prime Minister Thatcher defended the harsh neoliberal agenda of privatization, deregulation, and fiscal austerity, with a line that was often shortened to its acronym, TINA: “There Is No Alternative!” she would thunder. In truth, as I hope I’ve shown, the more accurate acronym is TAPAS: “There Are Plenty of Alternatives!”
    But these alternatives are only available to us if we can learn how to develop a new mindset, cultivate a new language to express our shared vision, and embark upon the hard work of building it out through commoning, project by project. That’s our challenge, which I am grateful to be able to share with this remarkable Prairie Festival!
    Thank you.
    Publication By

    David Bollier

    David Bollier is the Schumacher Center’s Reinventing the Commons Program Director. He is an author, activist, blogger and independent scholar with a primary focus on the commons as a new paradigm of economics, politics and culture.  He pursues this work primarily as co-founder of the Commons Strategies Group, an advocacy/consulting project that assists the international commons … Continued