21 September 2011

Sunshine State or Resilient Region?

Those of us who are active in Transition Towns have been disappointed by the government's inability to respond to the impeding food crisis that will result from the exhaustion of oil supplies. So I was surprised, I'm not sure whether or not it was a pleasant one, to find that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills employed some consultants in 2008 to develop a range of scenarios in response to the need to radically reduce our national use of energy.

The scenarios are based on a series of 2 x 2 matrices arising from two ‘axes of uncertainty’. The x-axis ‘describes the significant uncertainties in the global political and economic context in 2050’, while the y-axis ‘looks at the type of innovation which attracts investment’. On the x-axis are represented possible assumptions about the extent of co-operation between nations, while the y-axis marks out the continuum between investment in optimising existing systems or developing wholly innovative solutions.

This process results in four possible scenarios: Green Growth, Carbon Creativity, Resourceful Regions and Sunshine State. Two of the scenarios have commonalities with a bioregional future, although both are based on this relocalisation as a response to a failure of global solidarity which is by no means the basic assumption of a more regionally based economic future. In the first, the Resourceful Regions, ‘The key distinguishing feature is that English sub-regions have a high degree of autonomy, matching Scotland and Wales’:

‘The countryside is used more intensively than in the past, for food production, mining
and other activities. Within built up areas, retrofitting rather than new build is the
preferred approach. Any new buildings are increasingly built in a local vernacular
style, and there is considerable emphasis on urban green space to tackle overheating. People in this Britain like to think they are self-reliant, and are proud of being British, even though the country is closer to breaking up than any other time in the previous century. Their living conditions vary widely as regions have their own economic structures and differing levels of economic success. But acceptance of the situation is underpinned by strong regional identities and the effectiveness of most regional government’s moves to support vulnerable groups and public services such as public transport.’ (Foresight, 2008: 14)

In the Sunshine State scenario, ‘Government has fostered an emphasis on localism to respond to energy problems’ and there are other aspects of the imagined future that could find resonance with a bioregional approach: ‘There are more local shopping streets and other community resources, partly because of planning decisions intended to promote local autonomy and partly because of municipal enterprise.’

I cite these examples not to support their vision of the future, which I think is limited by the nature of the underpinning assumptions, as well as the method used, but to indicate that government is considering the future design of economic systems that must result from rapid reductions in energy use. Policy focus has been most strongly on the Green Growth scenario, with profit-driven companies providing technological solutions, and to a lesser extent the more co-operative Carbon Creativity approach, but these are political choices. In a democracy, visioning the future is a job for all and these scenarios make clear that a bioregional future of the sort I am proposing frequently on this blog is a realistic possibility already under consideration by policy-makers.

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