Good Life for the Whole Community
What is best in life? In the 1982 revenge fantasy Conan the Barbarian, the titular character answers “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.” In this final chapter we’ll consider value systems that are close to the opposite to Conan’s vision, but it is instructive to learn its origin. The violent, misanthropic worldview of Conan creator Robert E. Howard was developed while growing up in oil boom towns in Texas in the 1910s and ’20s. As a youth, Howard witnessed cycles of extreme extraction and abandonment, and their human toll from injuries on the rigs, drunken brawls, and thievery at all scales. He grew up convinced of humanity’s inevitable decay, and infused his stories with this ethos.
The antidote to seemingly endless extraction, corruption and exploitation need not be the violent route so often taken by Western protagonists in fiction. Transformative justice strategies get to the root causes of injustice, and are more effective in ending cycles. What does transformative justice look like for the climate crisis? And what can we learn from visions of the best in life that are, well, a bit less vengeance-centered than Conan’s? An excellent starting point is the notion of feminist economy, as defined and described by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (also reprinted in the People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy by the United Frontline Table).
Feminist economy definition (Grassroots Global Justice)
Feminist Economy visibilizes and repairs the harms of capitalism’s exploitation of both paid and unpaid reproductive labor. It focuses on eliminating the gendered division of labor and gender binary that enforces global capitalism’s exploitation and extraction of resources from women all over the world—especially from the Global South, Black, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander, migrant women, and gender non-conforming (GNC) people. In a feminist economy, we recognize, value, and center reproductive labor—low-carbon, community-generating, life-affirming, and skilled work—that is necessary for the well-being of everyone and to sustain human society and nature itself. Feminist economy focuses on four principles to re-envision our world:
- ensuring bodily autonomy and self-determination as it relates to feminized and GNC people;
- socializing reproductive labor;
- being in right relationship with people globally;
- and being in right relationship with nature.
The Regenerative Economy is inherently a feminist economy because it understands life — its production, growth, sustenance, and reproduction — as the center of gravity from which value is created. A feminist economy requires undoing centuries of extractive economic policy founded on the ideology of individualization, isolation, and invisibilization of the reproductive labor required to sustain human life from one day to another—from the carework that happens in the home, to the support that happens in communities, to the resource generation that happens in the planet. Rather than commodify war, the feminist economy engenders peace.
A Feminist Agenda for a Green New Deal has outlined principles and values to guide climate policy towards a feminist economy. Their ten principles include analyzing any policy from intersectional gender-based and internationalist perspectives, following the leadership of Indigenous peoples and youth, confronting patriarchy, racism, and exploitative production, and advancing reproductive justice.
There are a variety of governmental actions that can be taken to support life-centering work: paid parental leave, child tax credits, subsidized child or elder care, and protecting women’s rights. Self-organized community-scale endeavors like mutual aid networks are non-governmental mechanisms towards a feminist economy. Life-building work tends to be low-resource intensity; care work, the arts, medicine, and education are also all green jobs in this sense. So any governmental policy that encourages these types of work helps to decarbonize the economy.
A related concept is the idea of regenerative economy, defined below by Movement Generation, Indigenous Environmental Network, Climate Justice Alliance, People’s Action, and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (from the People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy by the United Frontline Table).
Regenerative Economy is based on ecological restoration, community protection, equitable partnerships, justice, and full and fair participatory processes. Rather than extract from the land and each other, this approach is consistent with the Rights of Nature, valuing the health and well-being of Mother Earth by producing, consuming, and redistributing resources in harmony with the planet. A Regenerative Economy values the dignity of work and humanity and prioritizes community governance and ownership of work and resources, instead of oppressive systems that devalue people and their labor through violent hoarding by a few. Rather than limit peoples’ ability to fully shape democracy and decisions that impact our communities, a Regenerative Economy supports collective and inclusive participatory governance. It requires a re-localization and democratization of how we produce and consume goods, and ensures all have full access to healthy food, renewable energy, clean air and water, good jobs, and healthy living environments. A Regenerative Economy requires an explicit anti-racist, anti-poverty, feminist, and living approach that is intersectional and eschews top-down, patriarchal, classist, xenophobic, and racist ideology.
Adapted from Movement Generation, Indigenous Environmental Network, Climate Justice Alliance, People’s Action, and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance drawing upon Indigenous leadership and generations of work and vision from Black farming cooperatives and labor movements.
The People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy is a comprehensive guide to the systems changes needed for climate action that addresses root causes. It describes four types of actions to move towards a regenerative economy: protect, repair, invest and transform. It then describes over 80 policy actions within 14 different planks, such as Indigenous and Tribal Sovereignty, Just Transition to Workers and Community, and Investing in the Feminist Economy.
The usage of “economy” in the above two terms follows the word’s origin: “eco-” meaning home and “-nomy” meaning stewardship therein. Economy is not necessarily a monetary concept. But how does movement towards a regenerative, feminist economy affect money? In a capitalist system, growth is needed to provide continual generation of profit for investors. But unless economic activity can expand while decreasing material footprints significantly, infinite growth is incompatible with a regenerative economy.
Degrowth is a movement that directly takes on the need of capitalism to continually expand, promoting a radical redistribution of resources and a material slowdown of the economy.
Degrowth Examples (from Research & Degrowth)
Essential for degrowth is:
- Striving for a self-determined life in dignity for all. This includes deceleration, time welfare and conviviality.
- An economy and a society that sustains the natural basis of life.
- A reduction of production and consumption in the global North and liberation from the one-sided Western paradigm of development. This could allow for a self-determined path of social organization in the global South.
- An extension of democratic decision-making to allow for real political participation.
- Social changes and an orientation towards sufficiency instead of purely technological changes and improvements in efficiency in order to solve ecological problems. We believe that it has historically been proven that decoupling economic growth from resource use is not possible.
- The creation of open, connected and localized economies.
For a melodic ode to the liberatory potential of degrowth, listen to Opt Out, a song written by the band Marxist Jargon for DegrowthFest 2020. Or for a summary on screen, watch the free film Fairytales of Growth, named for a Greta Thunberg quote, which provides perspectives from many of the theorists who study degrowth. Research has shown that there is little correlation between per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and well-being, once basic needs are supplied (quality of democracy and public services are highly correlated with well-being). The monetary economy, as measured with per capita GDP, counts in it a large amount of expenses that are indicative of negative effects on society: rebuilding after disasters and cleaning up pollution for instance.
Consumption of well beyond what is necessary for sufficiency is largely by design in a capitalist economy, with surplus goods being created to maximize profits. The advertising industry (including tech companies like Facebook and Google, each overwhelmingly advertising-based) creates false needs among consumers. At the same time, artificial scarcity of certain goods is implemented in products such as fashion, luxury goods, or NFTs, in order to create positional goods, which indicate one’s economic status. In more equitable societies, the desire for such positional goods is significantly smaller.
Systemic overconsumption has created extreme inequality in both wealth and responsibility for environmental degradation. The Scientists’ Warning on Affluence from 2020 provides a framework for understanding how extreme overconsumers cause high emissions: by their own direct emissions, through their choices as capitalists, and by influencing consumption norms. Inequality also has a direct negative impact on well-being. The “warning on affluence” scientists describe both radical and reformist strategies for change, which can be contrasted with the eco-modernist approach of carbon taxes and green growth. Since climate justice advocates strongly oppose pricing mechanisms, we discuss the two radical pathways here. The reformist approaches are weaker versions of the radical pathways.
Eco-socialism and eco-anarchism are each justice-based radical alternatives to capitalism that provide guidance for climate solutions. These philosophies take different perspectives on the role of the state versus local grassroots organization in their management and decision-making. It is notable that the principles of feminist economy and regenerative economy described above each have elements of degrowth, eco-socialism and eco-anarchism within them. Eco-anarchists might suggest large-scale provisioning of locally generated solar electricity, while eco-socialists might focus on larger-scale offshore wind facilities. For food, one might imagine eco-anarchists working on local food gardens, while eco-socialists might develop larger-scale systems of food transport to assure everyone has enough. For post-disaster resilience, eco-anarchists might develop mutual aid networks, while eco-socialists might develop public housing that could be used as temporary shelter for anyone fleeing a tropical cyclone or forest fire. All of these strategies could be implemented together, of course, so are not necessarily oppositional. There are also less radical versions of the individual policies which still would move in these directions.
As a final philosophy of well-being, let’s consider a concept that has emerged over the last two decades that describes the notion of living well on a community basis, and not at the expense of others: buen vivir. Indigenous philosophies from peoples in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador are fundamental to buen vivir, which recognize humans as a part of nature, and therefore necessary for community well-being.
The notion of buen vivir is strongly opposed to the development strategies created by Global North-controlled organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organizations, which are frequently accused of destroying local economies and ecosystems while inflicting painful austerity reforms as conditions of their services. Rejecting the Western ideal is critical for developing a new humanity, suggests decolonialist Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth. Specific climate policies that buen vivir proponents oppose include any kind of commodification of nature, including “natural capital,” carbon offsets or forest credits. The Rights of Nature must be ensured for buen vivir, while financialization and privatization are rejected.
Perhaps the most important aspect of buen vivir is the focus on community rather than individual well-being. With viruses causing synchronous lockdowns across the planet, the global spread of climate disasters, and coincident dips in the globalized economy, it has never been more clear that we are all connected. Indeed, we need democratically-determined, community well-being approaches to provide the cooperative strategies needed to eliminate climate pollution, bring about a regenerative, feminist economy, and assure buen vivir for all.
The last person that our readers need to connect to is you! What are the critical climate and energy justice issues in your community? What organizations are you working with, or whose activism would you like to share? What actions are you taking, or what would you like to get involved in?
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