14 August 2012

It's the Green Economy, Stupid!

It is widely agreed that the Rio +20 conference was a disastrous failure. What it proved most convincingly is that the people of the world cannot have 'the future we want' without taking the power back from the corporations who currently dominate the global economy. The ideological battle over what the green economy means must be fought and won: a sustainable economy is different in kind from a global capitalist economy. Although many who went to Rio were fighting hard for this agenda, the conference itself was unresponsive to their message.

My own small contribution to the Rio process was to call on some of the best co-operative studies researchers to contribute towards a special issue of the Journal of Co-operative Studies, drawing attention to why proposals for a green economy need to focus on how economic resources are owned and controlled. In my editorial I argue that:

'Much of the discussion around what the green economy means has focused on the need to achieve efficiency in the use of materials and energy. At the more conservative end this can mean simply a form of 'green capitalism', where the economy operates much as it does now, but with a different range of products on sale and powered by a different range of electricity-generating technologies. For others, however, this is too limited a vision, and the growth dynamic and profit drive that characterise a capitalist economy can never be compatible with a sustainable future. That is where the co-operative movement comes in, because two of its central concerns—with accumulation and allocation—are also central to the debate about the restructuring necessary to make our global economy green.'

The special issue also includes my thoughts on links between co-operation and the green economy from my keynote address to last year's ICA research conference in Mikkeli, Finland. Professor Mary Mellor outlines what she considers to be 'co-operative principles for a green economy'. Two more detailed papers describe what the co-operative business model has to offer networks of organic food distribution (in the USA) and local agricultural regeneration (in Spain). The paper also includes two papers from co-operative activists describing the co-operative contribution to renewable energy development and the encouragement of pro-environment behaviour.

The main reason for the failure of the Rio conference was that it was not organised co-operatively and not controlled by the people whose futures were at stake. For many of us, this was clear from the outset. The more fruitful way to achieve change in the short term, whether in terms of economic empowerment or sustainability, is in your own community. And in the longer term, we need to be focused on the ownership and control of resources--issues that were notably absent from discussions at the top table in Rio.

The green economy is not something we are planning or dreaming about: at the local level the real green economy already exists. We just need to expand it so that it takes over from the corporate, unsustainable economy that is so powerful at projecting itself but so socially destructive. All the practical examples you need are covered in a wonderful new book The Resilience Imperative, from Pat Conaty, who also contributed to the JCS special issue, and Michael. JAK banking, community land trusts, shared home ownership, and the Danish windpower revolution: all are covered to provide detailed guidance and inspiration.

If you would like copies of any of the papers in the JCS special issue please email me. 

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