Can austerity save the planet?

At a recent talk by John Holloway at the Space Project in Leeds he mentioned a number of ways that people and communities around the world were organising politically to resist the ‘restructurings’ being used to bail out the banks and sovereign debt. He also gave examples of how people were surviving massive increases in costs, decreases in income and very high levels of unemployment at precisely the same time benefits and services were being cut, citing some of the things going on in Greece. Coincidently a couple of days later an article was published about Samos, a Greek island, covering this exact topic.

As I was thinking about this I also received a number of reports about the progress of the current talks in Durban ( about climate change and the attempts to come to some new international agreement now the Kyoto agreement is coming to the end of its time span. It seems clear that several of the rich countries, for instance Canada and the USA, are resisting any new agreement in, one would suppose, what they see as their national interest. I’m convinced that the warnings about the consequences of climate change, peak oils and so on, are correct and that sooner or later circumstances will force some sort of draconian reaction by governments. Given their current perspective is driven by narrow self interest (and when I say ‘government’ I mean of course the corporatist amalgamation of politics, the State and business) I see no reason to hope this will not also be the case when we are running into the buffers. Militarism, a diminution of democracy and war are just as likely an outcome as some sort of national and peaceable agreement on how to cope with the coming disasters. Rather like Stalin’s attempt at achieving communism in one country, there may be attempts to circle the wagons and attempt continued western style growth in specific parts of the world and let the rest go hang. The German military establishment has already produced a report anticipating a number of possible future scenarios and their military implications. One conclusion is that the German government may well have to dilute and even abandon its position on human rights in order to achieve the strategic alliances and partnerships it will need to secure energy supplies. It’s hardly surprising there has been a recent renewed interest in Carl Schmidt’s theory (  on exceptionalist government power, the idea that in periods of exceptional danger, in states of emergency, governments have the right and responsibility to adopt a dictatorial mode beyond the law.

But of course growth is the issue and the problem.  What would a non-growthist way of life look like? This is were I need to read Tim Jackson’s ‘Prosperity without Growth’. As it happens the way of life we need in the west is probably very similar to those that are emerging as a response to austerity programmes. As Holloway says, there is no point in making demands of politicians as they do not have any answers or the power to grant our demands. In fact to make demands concedes that they have the power and we are the supplicants. And it means that, in principle, we wait on them.

This is why it is so important to see how the Greeks and others are taking their lives into their own hands and getting on with the job of living without money, without the props of and services of the consumerist society, and finding new meanings, new satisfactions and new values to live by. What may be thought of as a temporary survival strategy to hang on until the good times return may turn out to be an enduring solution to the deeper environmental problems we confront and, in the process,  a new sort of ‘good times’ will also emerge.

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