Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Big issues: a communications revolution

  eGaia: Growing a peaceful, sustainable Earth through communications’       

It’s good to start the New Year on a positive note! And the new revised edition of Gary Alexander’s eGaia book certainly helps.  It is, as he says in the introduction, like the first edition  very much utopian, in the sense of trying to figure out what kind of a society and what kind of relationship with the Earth would work best for us all, humanity in all its diversity, and the rest of life on Earth. That's the big question. Can we imagine a society in which human activities preserve and enhance rather than destroy the natural world? And in which all the other issues raised above were at least significantly better, if not fully resolved? What might it be like? What sort of jobs would people do? What kinds of social structures would be needed? What would their relationships with one another be like?’

His approach is based on the conviction that human beings need to communicate better to understand each other, and he sees modern technology as helping with this. But the core message is the need to develop shared understanding via community experiences. He’s an exponent of the transition movement, which he says provides a context for sharing and growth. He sees this as prefiguring the future. But he says I have come to the reluctant conclusion that these starting points are unlikely to become significant until the economic collapse that I see as imminent actually occurs. Then the real significance of these starting points, and the visions in this book, also becomes clearer. The stronger they are, the easier it will be for the world to escape the worst effects of a collapse, to come to a soft landing in the kind of society we all dream about’.                 

That’s a view that has been common in ‘alternativists’ movements ever since the 1960s;  when the system collapses it’s best not to be underneath. But this is not a ‘survivalist’ tract, aimed at a few, leaving the rest out, or a proposal for minor changes. Instead, it calls for a radical transformation, caterpillar to butterfly like, of the global system. ‘Tinkering around the edges won't have much effect. The radical Utopian image of eGaia both clarifies the present problems and provides a pointer to practical steps in that direction: co-operative social groupings, information systems, improving human skills of communication and relationships. The image of eGaia is of the Earth coming to function with the coherence and wholeness of an organism with humanity analogous to its nervous system. The parts of an organism don’t fight each other or destroy the health of the whole. A nervous system is as much controlled by its body as it controls the body. It is part of the body and responds to its needs. The 'e' in eGaia is there because a nervous system is a communication system. If humans are the nerve cells of a global nervous system, then our electronic communication technologies will enable us to connect to each other in a way rich enough to form locally and globally self-organising and self-regulating social structures’.

The bulk of the book is made up of expositions of how bad thing have got (our current system is a global cancer) and how it might be in practice, after the transition, focussing on every day issues; new patterns of trade and e-exchange systems rather than a money economy, new ecological approaches to food, transport and energy- all familiar enough parts of the transition/alternativist prescription. There will be constraints, though ‘the amount of renewable energy available would be ample on current projections. But the total of humanity's requirements in the future depends upon how our societies are organised. All of humanity could live materially comfortable lives with much lower overall energy use than at present if it were organised collaboratively,’ as is proposed in this book.

Doesn’t all this fly in the face of human nature and inevitable conflicts over resources? No, he says, stressing the role of Gaian symbiosis, collaboration and the growth of order and balance.  A nicely positive view, reflecting the overall tone of this fascinating, optimistic book, which is packed with ideas and examples of how to do better, co-operatively and ecologically.
Free download (or buy the book) from

Almost as positive, but much more down to earth and much less radical, is the report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, ‘Better Growth, Better Climate’, which says that economic growth and action on climate change can now be achieved together: there are major opportunities in three key sectors of the global economy – cities, land use and energy. By improving efficiency, investing in infrastructure and stimulating innovation across these sectors and the wider economy, governments and businesses can deliver strong growth with lower emissions.  Former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, said the report  ‘refutes the idea that we must choose between fighting climate change or growing the world’s economy. That is a false dilemma,’ and  shows how technological  and structural change are driving new opportunities to improve growth, create jobs, boost company profits and spur economic development.”  

Lord Stern, one of the Commission team, has stressed that what’s changed is that, crucially renewables, are now getting cheap and we are also realising that the cost of continuing to use fossil fuels is not just their ever rising direct costs, as resources deplete, or the huge social and environmental impacts of climate change, growing long term, but also the huge and immediate health costs of emissions from coal -as witnessed by the air pollution crisis in China.  It’s said that this may be costing around 10% of their GNP. It’s similar elsewhere. So now making the transition to renewables and fuel use efficiency makes massive economic sense and will strengthen economies.

The UK DECC has said similar things in its report ‘Securing our prosperity through a Global Climate Change Agreement’, looking forward to the next UNFCCC COP in Paris

Not all ‘greens’ will agree with the claim that ‘green growth’ across the board is possible or desirable: innovation, increased efficiency and substitution of green fuels can certainly reduce impacts, but on a finite planet there have to be limits on all types consumption at some point. Though that may be true, if we are to have growth, especially for those who are currently at the subsistence level, then, for the moment, green growth may be the best bet.

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