Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ted Trainer has been an personnal inspiration of mine since I first read an article of his about 5 years ago. His vision of the 'Simpler Way' is what inspires this blog. This is an interview I did with Ted and had published in Green Left Weekly a while ago.

1. You have been almost a lone voice in the environmental movement, arguing that consumer-capitalist society cannot be run on renewable energy alone. Can you briefly explain why?

One has to distinguish between what is technically possible and economically feasible. Of course the technical potential of renewable is enormous, but we have to ask what will this cost, and what other problems might arise? In my book I set out a numerical case that to supply 2050 world energy demand via renewables would require investment totals that are perhaps 10-15 times the present proportion of GDP that goes into energy. Relying on renewables alone also creates major problems associated with intermittency & energy redundancy. These problems would not exist if electricity could be stored in very large quantities but I have argued this can’t be done and is not foreseen.

None of this is an argument against renewable energy sources; we must move to full dependence on them as soon as possible. But it is an argument that we cannot run an energy-intensive affluent society on them, let alone one that insists on limitless growth.

2. You have written a lot about development. What in your view is the main problem with mainstream development?

The global economy is massively unjust. It delivers most of the world’s resources to the few in rich countries, and gears Third World productive capacity to rich world super- markets, not to meeting the needs of the world’s poor billions. Rich countries must move down to living on their fair share of global wealth.

3. You have often talked about the concept of ‘appropriate development.’ What do you mean?

Most people, including most on the left, make the mistake of seeing "development" in unidimensional terms; i.e., as moving up the slope to rich world ways. It is crucial to break out of that trap, to see the possibility of "appropriate" development enabling a high quality of life on very low levels of consumption, industrialisation, GDP, trade, foreign investment etc. I live under the Australian poverty live but my quality of life is high. All could live in such sways with negligible investment of capital.
4. In your latest book you argue that we cannot ‘fix’ the problems of consumer-capitalist society, via reforms within the system. Why do you think that?

These faults cannot be fixed within or by a society driven by growth, market forces, production for profit, or affluence. These are the causes of the global sustainability and justice problems.

The limits to growth point to the need to cut levels of production & consumption by something like 1/5 below what rich countries have now. But this largely rules out an affluent, globalised, heavily industrialized, or growth economy. Especially challenging for the left is that we cannot have a highly centralized society. The coming scarcity of resources and energy rules this out.

All this means consumer society cannot be reformed to make it sustainable or just; it must be largely replaced by a society with fundamentally different structures.

5. Can you briefly outline your vision of the Simpler Way?

The Simpler Way is a vision of a society based on non-affluent lifestyles within mostly small and highly self-sufficient local economies under local participatory control and not driven by market forces or the profit motive, and with no economic growth. There must be an enormous cultural change, away from competitive, individualistic acquisitiveness.

A key aim of the book is to detail the reasons why this Simpler Way vision is workable and attractive, promising a higher quality of life than most people in rich countries have at present.

6. What then is the most effective transition strategy for those who see the need to replace consumer-capitalist society?

My book argues that most strategies, including green and red-left as well as conventional strategies, are mistaken. The essential aim is not to fight against consumer-capitalist society, but to build the alternative to it. This revolution cannot be achieved from the top, either by governments, green parties or proletarian revolutions. This can only be a grass-roots transition led by ordinary people working out how they can cooperatively make their local communities viable as the global economy increasingly fails to provide. The Eco-village and Transition Towns movements have begun the general shift, but they need informed by anti-capitalist perspective.

So lefties, do you want to get rid of capitalism? Then the most subversive thing you can do is join transition-towns movements and work to widen their presently very narrow and thoroughly reformist vision to include getting rid of capitalism and growth and the market and all/any interest in affluence or gain!

Trainer latest book is The Transition to a Sustainable and Just world. Envirobook, 2010. His website can be found at: Ted is also happy to discuss any of the issues raised via email:

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