Is an ecological future possible in a global economy which is shrinking?

In response to Jeremy Lent’s request:  “Please share your own thoughts here on what Localization means to you, and how you see its role in Deep Transformation.”

The following is written from a UK perspective, where the future is already happening

We must think of processes. Not end-states.

Processes which, in the UK, are the way things are already developing.  Albeit not yet generally acknowledged.

If we are to imagine a future which is realistic and achievable we must also imagine how to get there.  We must understand where we are now and what is going on.  The future will be the natural evolution of how things are now.  A gradual process – even a revolution.

The System

The global financial system is shrinking. Quantitative easing (printing money) is giving the impression of growth.

As a result, the top-down systems which created the growth we don’t want are also shrinking.

Public sector and commercial organisations are all top-down.

The number of individuals employed in the top-down systems is declining.

The unemployed people are “moving” to the grass-roots. At first, some of them and their families are dependent on government subsidies.  Later they have to learn how to join the rest, who are self-supporting.  Sometimes in self-sustaining extended families.  With the potential to evolve into local economies. Not planned.

The rate of shrinkage of the UK national economy is accelerating as a result of increasing energy prices and declining energy surpluses.  Essential spending, which is dependent on energy, is becoming more expensive.  Discretionary domestic spending is declining and will soon become non-existent for some.   Food poverty is increasing and prosperity is declining.

Social unrest is growing and will become a political problem. Worker strikes, actual and threatened, are increasing.  Including barristers who are involved in administering the legal systems.

All of which will lead to financial, social and ecological breakdown.

In the countryside

What follows is speculation.

Industrial agriculture will become unsustainable, because of the high energy costs of fertilizers and complex machinery and the cost of borrowing.

Land prices will drop and farms will become bankrupt because of rising interest rates.  Land holdings will be broken up.

At the grassroots, small-scale farming will become viable. Undertaken by newly arrived self-employed incomers, content to work for a secure livelihood rather than the insecurity of discretionary top-down employment.  A feature of the shrinking economy.

Similarly, families will learn how to grow and process their food and barter their surpluses.

Local food economies will develop.  Based on self-organising clusters of extended families and like-minded individuals.

All of which will naturally evolve, with no top-down planning or management.

In the long term, this may evolve into the kind of culture which Helena Norberg Hodge found in Ladakh before it was corrupted by tourism.

In the towns

Like in the countryside, there will be a transition from working for failing discretionary businesses to self-employment.  The problem will be the limited self-employment opportunities in food businesses.

In low-density areas where houses have gardens, householders can grow their food.

In high-density areas where modern housing does not have gardens, community gardens and allotments will enable householders to grow their food.

In the longer term, when industrial businesses in discretionary markets cease trading the land they occupy will become available for small-scale farming and allotments.

The long-term possibility for towns must be to transition to the same future as in the countryside.  The implication of this must include migration from high-density areas to the countryside.

Towards an ecological civilisation

In the future sketched here, the power and influence of top-down organisations will wane as they shrink. Securing an ecological future will depend on grassroots processes.

It was the growth-oriented top-down systems which were responsible for creating global warming and the prospect of eventual catastrophe.  They continue to assume that growth is necessary and that borrowing money will enable the growth to be maintained.

Before long it will be accepted that the economy is an energy system and that growth is dependent on the availability of surplus energy.   Which will not be available.

So, top-down systems will no longer be able to drive growth.

As the Wall Street Journal has said the causes of the growth “were industrialization, mechanization, electrification and automation, joined with the ability to finance such innovations [plus a colossal, rising throughput of energy, mostly from fossil fuels].”

None of which is available at the grass-roots.

It must be concluded that the current global economic shrinkage is leading to the gradual extinction of the top-down systems and the development of bottom-up grassroots cultures.

History tells us that grassroots cultures in the UK, before industrialisation, were naturally ecological.   This is the direction in which the evolution of UK culture is heading.

The population of the UK before industrialisation was about one-tenth of the population today.

Industrialisation enabled this population growth.

The shrinking economy and declining prosperity are already resulting in food poverty.  This will get much worse

The shrinking economy is leading to (1) a process of localisation and (2) increasing food poverty.

An ecological future is likely, eventually.  People will have to live with less.  Otherwise, widespread starvation and depopulation will occur.