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Glorious Recession a great idea

Opinion Piece

Photovoltaic cells, electric vehicles, biofuels, hydrogen fuel, wind farms, negative-carbon structures, coal bans — all are good, but all, even in toto, are too slow and too small.

Worse, they support business as usual: continuing to do silly things. Burning less while continuing to build, freight and travel more. Delaying the disasters fuelling them with growth, population and pollution of all other kinds.

Alternatives alone assume business as usual, and promote it by blotting out radical alternatives. When you’re galloping towards the cliff-edge, recession is a great idea.

Leaders are bent on business as usual. Even the recent world climate meeting, the most widely acclaimed ever, overlooked the obvious: just stop. Slow down, do less. Change the artificial economic rules. The only possible response to climate change is to stop causing it. Stop doing bad things, which means many things, and the complete decline of some industries.

Some jobs are born toxic — armaments, for example; others achieve toxicity, overgrowing till they damage air, water, land, habitats, and people; and some — the so-called bullshit industries, that just keep you running round in circles — have toxicity thrust upon them. Even the most benign industry can require redundant buildings, infrastructure, commuting, advertising and transaction management.

Many jobs, and entire industries, exist just to prop up others. Creating jobs boosts the economy, but does nothing for wellbeing, nothing for the planet. Jobs exist, not to do basic work for home, health, community or environment, but to dish out spending power, inefficiently, unequally, unfairly. The effect on the majority is to take away spending power, or living power. Inventing jobs is inventing problems for someone to solve, instead of solving the problems we already have. It’s negative. Jobs and work are not the same.

If we share the wealth, we liberate people to do good things. The idea of communities that share, where people actually feel they belong, is older than civilisation — now a civilisation that alienates them and can’t even house them.

You cannot have an emergency and business as usual at the same time. To recognise emergency is to grapple with this fact. Emergencies mean sacrifices, and they take courage.

Talk of the cost of climate action is false: macroeconomically, globally, doing less is costless.

Climate action is not painless, but it is costless. The costs of business-as-usual are infinitely more.

Many countries, agonisingly and violently overpopulated, face far worse outcomes than we do. Materially, we cannot help them. Inspirationally, we can. We have the fortune to be small, flexible and not quite overpopulated, and able to develop the new model of a decent civilisation.

There are powerful economic tools available, if you have courage: a tenfold increase in fuel price would stop a lot of nonsense in its tracks; a guaranteed income would ease the pains of slowing down and transform the power of the labour market to choose good jobs and refuse bad ones, and to live where there are empty houses instead of where there are jobs; monetary reform would enable a guaranteed income and undermine some inequality.

I still remember the joy, and the practicality, of the three-day week in England in the 1970s oil crisis. In those days, the norm was a five-day week, and people knew how to enjoy their weekends. Now with so many six and seven-day businesses, the idea is almost unimaginable. Perhaps, just for a step in the right direction, we could try a five-day working week? Then four . . . in no time at all, a stronger koha economy, and less busy, blundering, bullshitty, blindly barging business.

Gavin Maclean