[CrashList] Ted Trainer essay 1of2
M A Jones
jones118 at lineone.net
Sat Sep 9 00:26:10 MDT 2000
WE MUST MOVE TO
THE SIMPLER WAY:
AN OUTLINE OF THE GLOBAL SITUATION, THE SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY,
AND THE TRANSITION TO IT.
Faculty of Arts, University of N.S.W.
Increasing numbers of people recognise that our industrial-affluent-consumer
society is riddled with problems. It is unjust and above all it is
ecologically unsustainable. Just about all social and economic problems
are getting worse and measures show that the quality of life is falling now.
The argument below is that these problems cannot be solved in a society
that is driven by obsession with high rates of production and consumption,
affluent living standards, market forces, the profit motive and economic
growth. A sustainable and just world order cannot be achieved until we
undertake radical change in our lifestyles, values and systems, especially
in our economic system. There are now many people in many groups around the
world working for a transition to The Simpler Way.
CONSIDER THE PROBLEMS FACING US
- Inequality is extreme and getting worse. One-fifth of the world's people
receive 86% of all income while one-fifth receive only 1.5%. Even in the
rich world there is rapid polarisation now towards a small rich class and a
large poor class. Many in the middle classes are being squeezed by work
stress, downsizing and insecurity and the high costs of housing, medicine,
- Debt throughout the world is alarmingly high, and has been increasing at
three times the rate at which our capacity to pay it off is increasing!
(Clairmont, 1996, p. 29.) The total American debt in the late 1990s is
around $15,000,000,000,000. Rising even faster than debt are the interest
payments due on debt. One-fifth of the American GDP is now required to pay
interest on debt; i.e., Americans now work about one day in five just to
pay interest to the very few who lend money. (In America about half the
capital is owned by .5% of the people. ) Such debt trends cannot continue
for very long.
- Rural decline is a vast tragedy in most countries. This economy does
not need many people on the land. It is cheaper to produce food on
automated agribusiness farms, or in Third World plantations for dirt cheap
wages. Country towns are dying. Australia's rural debt multiplied by
about 10 in the 1980s.
- Foreign ownership of the Australian economy is now extreme. It
multiplied by 6 in the 1980s.
- The Australian Foreign Debt is huge, and growing. It multiplied by 6 in
- Unemployment in Australia would probably be double the official rate if
- Public services and enterprises are being lost. We are rapidly
becoming much poorer with respect to our schools, railways, libraries,
aged care, health services, welfare systems etc., because governments are
drastically cutting their spending in these areas.
- Conditions and hours of work are deteriorating. The average work week
is rising, many are working long periods of overtime (much of it without
pay), and workers rights and conditions are being driven back. There has
been a large increase in the number of casual jobs.
- Even real wages are falling. The real wage for 80% of American workers
has been falling for 20 years.
- Social problems are getting worse. Twenty years ago virtually all
social problems were much less serious; consider drug abuse, homelessness,
stress and depression, violence, insecurity and mental illness. The
suicide rate for young males in Australia has doubled in a generation.
- The Third World problem is immense and getting worse. The poorest one
third of the world's people are actually getting poorer. (U.N., 1996.
- The global environmental problem is getting worse. This is a direct
consequence of the affluent lifestyles and the obsession with economic
growth that are built into the foundations of our society.
- We work far too hard! We produce much more than would be necessary
to provide a high quality of life for all, yet we are driven all the time
to be more productive and efficient and competitive. We have worked harder
and increased productivity and national wealth...but we are getting poorer!
- Measures of the quality of life are falling. Measures such as the
"Genuine Progress Indicator" are falling in Australia and Britain, and in
the US have fallen for 20 years.
- The decline of civic culture. A generation ago there was more concern
with things like the public good, social justice, a fair go, public
service, the welfare of all and maintaining the standards essential for
a good society. Now the emphasis is on insecure individuals striving to
advance their own welfare, in competition with each other. This is the
cultural damage the emphasis on the free market economic ideology has
caused. It is now a more mean, selfish, greedy, callous and competitive
culture than it was a generation ago. Not only is the emphasis on making
it as an individual, there is declining sympathy for those who do not make
it. In fact the unemployed and the poor are attacked and punished rather
than seen as victims suffering social injustice.
This all adds to a far from a satisfactory situation. Our society does not
provide well for all. In fact it probably only serves 40% of people in the
rich countries. (Fotopoulos, 1997.) We have a socio-economic system that
is not providing well for more than about 10% of the people in the world,
and is reducing the real living standards and the quality of life of many
even within the richest countries. It has condemned the poorest one-third
of humanity to terrible conditions, which cause the death of 30,000 children
THE CAUSES; THE BASIC MISTAKES.
The argument below is that there are two major faults built into our
society which are causing the main problems facing us. The first is
allowing competition within the market to be the major determinant of what
is done in our society. The second and even more important mistake is the
obsession with affluent living standards and economic growth; i.e., the
insistence on high and ever-increasing levels of production and consumption.
Fault 1: THE MARKET.
Markets do some things well and in a satisfactory and sustainable society
there could be a considerable role for them, but only if carefully
controlled. It is easily shown that the market system is responsible for
most of the deprivation and suffering in the world. The basic mechanisms
are most clearly seen when we consider what is happening in the Third World.
The enormous amount of poverty and suffering in the Third World is not due
to lack of resources. There is for instance sufficient food and land to
provide for all. The problem is that these resources are not distributed at
all well. Why not? The answer is that this is the way the market economy
The global economy is a market system and in a market scarce things always
go mostly to the rich, e.g. to those who can bid most for them. That's why
we in rich countries get most of the oil produced. It is also why more than
500 million tonnes of grain are fed to animals in rich countries every year,
over one-third of total world grain production while perhaps 1 billion
people are malnourished.
Even more important is the fact that the market system inevitably brings
about inappropriate development in the Third World, i.e., development of the
wrong industries. It will lead to the development of the most profitable
industries, as distinct from those that are most necessary or appropriate.
As a result there has been much development of plantations and factories in
the Third World that will produce things for local rich people or for export
to rich countries. Their cities have freeways and international airports.
But there is little or no development of the industries that are most needed
by the poorest 80% of their people. The third World's productive capacity,
its land and labour, are drawn into producing for the benefit of others.
These are inevitable consequences of an economic system in which what it
done is whatever is most profitable to the few who own capital, as distinct
from what is most needed by people or their ecosystems. The Third World
problem will never be solved as long as we allow these economic principles
to determine development and to deliver most of the world's wealth to the
rich. The development taking place is mostly development in the interests
of the transnational corporations, the Third World rich, and consumers in
rich world supermarkets. Consequently conventional Third World development
can be seen as a form of legitimised plunder. ( Goldsmith, 1997,
Chussudowsky, 1997, Rist, 1997, Swhwarz and Schwarz, 1998.)
Rich countries could not have their high living standards if the global
economy was not enabling them to take far more than their fair share of
world wealth and to deprive Third world people. We can go to supermarkets
to buy the coffee from land that should have been producing food for Third
World people. Rich countries support many repressive regimes willing to
keep their countries to policies that benefit the rich countries and the
ruling classes in poor countries. (For an outline of contemporary
imperialism, see Trainer, 1989, Chapter 6.)
Since 1980 the most powerful mechanism gearing the Third World to the
interests of the rich have been the Structural Adjustment Packages of the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. When Third World countries
get into impossible debt problems these agencies agree to grant new loans
etc, but only on condition that they accept fundamental changes. These are
conventional economic strategies designed to cut costs and increase income
and therefore "get the economy going again and become more able to pay off
the debt. The changes enforced are delightful for the corporations and
banks of the rich countries, e.g., increasing freedom for market forces and
access for rich world corporations to the country's resources and labour,
devaluing its currency and therefore reducing export prices and increasing
import prices, settling more favourable conditions for foreign investors,
especially enabling them to buy up the country's bankrupt firms. The
consequences for most people are devastating. Most are pushed into much
worse conditions than they had before. The economy is literally dismantled,
and reassembled largely in the hands of foreign corporations.
It is likely that the Third World will accelerate into squalor and chaos
from here on. The progress made between 1950 and 1980 is now being
reversed. The United Nations concluded that 1.6 billion people, one third
of all the world's people, are getting poorer. (U.N., 1996.) The market
system is now giving the corporations and banks much more freedom and power
than ever before to develop in the Third World only those industries that
will maximise their profits. Poor countries will have to compete more
fiercely against each other to sell their commodities or labour, and many
countries will simply be ignored and dumped. (For example most of Africa
and the Pacific countries have no possibility of competing against the rest
to win any export markets.)
Thus the Third World problem shows how grossly unsatisfactory and unjust
the world market system is. It allows investment, jobs, incomes etc to flow
to where the most profit can be made, it ignores the rest, it draws the
productive capacity the poor once had into producing for the rich, it uses
up Third World forests etc at negligible benefit to Third World people, and
it devastates the environment. There is no possibility of satisfactory
Third World development until the rich countries stop hogging far more than
their fair share of the world's resources, until development and
distribution cease to be determined by market forces, and therefore until we
develop a very different global economic system.
The same mechanisms are the basic causes of the main social problems of the
richest countries, although the effects are less glaring than in the Third
World. An economy driven by profit within the market is greatly enriching
the few and depriving increasing numbers.
Market relations destroy social relations
The government's top priority is to stimulate more production for sale;
i.e., to do to whatever will enable businesses to sell more. This means
that relatively few resources are devoted to building supportive
communities, and providing well for less skilled or able people. Many who
can't compete well are dumped into poverty and despair, which has damaging
effects on social cohesion.
More importantly, the more attention that is given to economic goals the
more that the values and concerns that are crucial for a good society are
driven out. There cannot be a satisfactory society unless people put
considerable value on things like the public good, the welfare of all,
social justice and the situation of less fortunate people. However in a
market situation you have to be concerned only with your own advantage;
i.e., with self interest. There is no incentive to think and behave
cooperatively or to focus on what is good for society. The more we
commercialise all aspects of life, the more space buying and selling take up
in our lives, the more we have to deal in a market place to get what we
want, then the less attention we give to social values, such as concern for
the welfare of others or for the public good. We should not be surprised
that our society is more selfish, competitive, mean, indifferent and callous
than it was a generation ago, nor that the goal for many is to get what they
can rather than to contribute.
The economic historian Polanyi stressed how misguided it is for a society
to allow the market to be as dominant as it is in our society. (Dalton,
1968) No society previous to ours has done this. Polanyi insisted that
unless market forces are under tight social control they will destroy
society and its ecosystems; everything will be open to sale for maximum
Fault 2: THE LIMITS TO GROWTH
There is an even more important and alarming mistake built into the
foundations of our society. This is the commitment to an
affluent-industrial-consumer lifestyle and to an economy that must have
constant and limitless growth in output. Our levels of production and
consumption are far too high to be kept up for very long and could never be
extended to all people. We are rapidly depleting resources and damaging the
environment. We can only achieve present "living standards" because we few
in rich countries are grabbing most of the resources produced and therefore
depriving most of the world's people of a fair share. Because we consume so
much we cause huge ecological damage. Our way of life is grossly
Yet we are obsessed with economic growth, i.e., with increasing production
and consumption, as much as possible and without limit!
If this "limits to growth" analysis is valid we must work for eventual
transition to ways of life and to an economy that will enable all to have a
high quality of life on far lower levels of resource consumption. (It will
be argued below that such ways are available, and attractive, and easily
developed if enough of us want to adopt them.)
Following are some of the main points that support limits to growth
conclusions. (For more detail see Trainer, 1995a, 1998, 1999.)
Rich countries, with about one-fifth of the world's people, are consuming
about three quarters of the world's resource production. Our per capita
consumption is about 15-20 times that of the poorest half of the world's
people. World population will probably stabilise around 10 billion,
somewhere after 2060. If all those people were to have Australian per
capita resource consumption, then world production of all resources would
have to be 8 to 10 times as great as it is now. If we tried to raise
present world production to that level by 2060 we would by then have
completely exhausted all probably recoverable resources of one third of the
basic mineral items we use. All probably recoverable resources of coal,
oil, gas, tar sand and shale oil, and uranium (via burner reactors) would
have been exhausted by 2045.
Petroleum is especially limited. The recent Petroconsultants Report
(Campbell, 1994.) concludes that world oil supply will probably peak by
2010 and be down to half that level by 2025, with big price increases soon
after the peak. If all the people we will have on earth by 2025 were to
have Australia's present per capita oil consumption world oil production
would have to be 15 times what it will probably be then.
If all 1o billion people were to use timber at the rich world per capita
rate we would need 3.5 times the world's present forest area. If all 10
billion were to have a rich world diet, which takes about 1 ha of land to
produce, we would need 10 billion ha of food producing land. But there is
only 1.4 billion ha of cropland in use today and this is not likely to
Recent "Footprint" analysis estimates that it takes at least 4.5-5 ha of
productive land to provide water, energy settlement area and food for one
person living in a rich world city. (Wachernagel and Rees, 1995.) So if
10 billion people were to live as we do in Sydney we would need about 50
billion ha of productive land. But that is 7 times all the productive land
on the planet.
These are some of the main limits to growth arguments which lead to the
conclusion that there is no possibility of all people rising to the living
standards we take for granted today in rich countries like Australia. We
can only live like this because we are taking and using up most of the
scarce resources, and preventing most of the world's people from having
anything like a fair share. Therefore we can't morally endorse our way of
life. We must accept the need to move to far simpler and less
But what about nuclear energy?
If you think we can solve these problems using nuclear energy then you are
assuming about 1000 times the world's present reactor capacity (before fusio
n power can be developed, assuming that's possible.) They would mostly have
to be breeder reactors, with about 1 million tonnes of Plutonium in
circulation, and more than 25 worn out reactors to be buried every day. In
any case reactors only produce electricity and that only makes up 17% of
rich world energy use.
What about solar and wind energy?
We must eventually move from fossil fuels to the use of renewable energy,
but it is not likely that we can all live in energy affluent ways on those
energy forms. (For the detail see Trainer, 1995c.) This is because there
are large energy losses in converting sunlight into electricity and then
into a storable form, such as hydrogen, in transporting the energy to cold
northern American or European countries, and then converting it back to
electricity. At present efficiencies less than 5% of the solar energy
collected in Sahara desert solar plants would be delivered as electricity in
northern Europe in winter. The cost of a solar plant would probably be 50
times as much as a coal fired plant in Europe that would deliver the same
amount of electricity (and twice that when interest charges on the money
borrowed to build the plant is taken into account).
There are similar problems with wind energy, especially the fact that there
is always a probability that at some point in time all mills will be idle.
This limits this source even in high wind areas to providing only about
one-quarter of the electricity needed. (Grubb and Meyer, 1993.)
There is far too little available biomass to provide liquid fuel for the
world's present car fleet. If 10 billion people were to have cars at the
American per capita rate, 10 times as much fuel would be needed. To produce
fuel for one car would take as much land as would feed 9 people. (Pimentel,
et al., 1984.)
Certainly we should be developing renewable energy sources as fast as we
can, but more important is developing ways of living well on per capita
levels of energy use that are a small fraction of those we have now.
The environment problem
The reason why we have an environment problem is simply because there is
far too much producing and consuming going on. (For the detailed argument
see Trainer, 1998.)
Our way of life involves the consumption of huge amounts of materials.
More than 20 tonnes of new materials are used by each American every year.
To produce one tonne of materials can involve moving or using up 15 tonnes
of water, earth or air. (For gold the multiple is 350,000 to 1!). All
this must be taken from nature and most of it is immediately dumped back as
waste and pollution.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that in order to
stop the carbon content of the atmosphere from rising any further we must
reduce the use of fossil fuels by 60-80%. If we did cut it by 60% and
shared the remaining energy among 11 billion people, each of us would get
only 1/18 of the amount we now use in Australia per capita. Most people
have no idea of how far beyond sustainable levels we are, and how big the
reductions will have to be.
The Worldwatch Institute's annual figures seem to show that we are reaching
plateaus in many indices of biological and agricultural productivity,
including world grain production, cropland area, irrigated land,
experimental farm yields, and fertiliser use. World fish catch seems to be
going down. Even a decade ago they concluded that "The biological
productivity of the planet is declining now." (Brown, 1990, p. 7.) Yet we
are feeding only 1 billion people well, and will probably soon have to feed
One of the most serious environmental problems is the extinction of plants
and animal species. This is due to the destruction of habitats. Now
remember the footprint concept mentioned above; if all people living on
earth today were to have rich world "living standards" humans would have to
use three times all the productive land on the planet. Clearly our resource
intensive lifestyles , which require so much land, are the basic cause of
the loss of habitats and the extinction of species.
Some of the most unsustainable aspects of our society are to do with our
agriculture. It is dependent on heavy inputs of energy. It loses soil to
erosion (5 tonnes lost per person per year, about 15 times the weight of
the food we eat). It damages the soil through the use of chemicals and
pesticides, and it fails to recycle nutrients back to the soil. Many
civilisations have collapsed because they depleted their soils. We cannot
recycle nutrients unless we have a localised agriculture, in which food is
grown very close to where people live. In other words industrialised
agriculture is not sustainable.
If all nations go on trying to increase their wealth, production,
consumption and "living standards" without limit in a world of limited
resources, then we must expect increasing conflict. Our affluent
lifestyles require us to be heavily armed and aggressive, in order to guard
the empires from which we draw more than our fair share of resources. We
cannot expect to achieve a peaceful world until we achieve a just world, and
we cannot do that until rich countries change to much less extravagant
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