New Internationalist


Issue 307


You may reckon it's impossible to cut the use of resources in the
North and achieve a more equal society at the same time. 
Well, have another think.
Here's the outline of a plan to do just that.


Believe it or not, we still accept the logic of acceleration. People arrive ever more quickly at places where they spend ever less time. Employed adults speed up, while a third of the population – young, old, poor – without their own private transport slow to a halt. A new time balance, between employment and the household, can be struck:

Design: Upper speed, acceleration and fuel-consumption limits designed into all vehicles.
Roads: Graduated distance charges on commercial vehicles; products regionally sourced and labelled.
Railways: 80-90 per cent of the population within a six-kilometre cycle ride of a station in the country, or a three-kilometre walk in towns; travel times measured door-to-door, not by vehicle speed.


As ‘dematerialization’ and industrial ecology advance, together with ‘front-end’ avoidance of waste, the focus shifts to materials recycling and product durability. At work, rigid hierarchies, long lines of communication, lack of co-operation and striving for individual power are abandoned as inefficient and counterproductive:

Recycling: All products made so that materials can be separated after use, significantly reducing consumption.
Reusing: Home and office appliances made of reused parts.
Companies: Responsible for the entire life-cycle of their products.


‘Competitiveness’ is measured not by profit but by the efficient use of energy and raw materials. Anti-ecological subsidies – for nuclear energy or industrial agriculture – are cut. The social costs – accidents, pollution, land use – of road traffic are fully charged:

Taxation: Ecological Tax Reform Association proposals adopted; tax reductions for shorter distances travelled to work; fuel-tax exemptions for air traffic and agriculture removed.
Insurance: Genetic engineering and biotechnology severely restricted by cost of insurance to cover all risks; ‘risk surcharge’ – related to weather damage done by global warming – on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Electricity: Decentralized power generation; anti-ecological subsidies transferred to mass production of photovoltaic (solar-power) cells, reducing cost dramatically.

[image, unknown] Land

Urbanites come to appreciate that they value the vanishing countryside more than they’ve been paying for it:

Organic farming: Public utilities support conversion to organic farming of areas supplying drinking water.
Wood: Never thrown away; saved before houses demolished; wood fibre used for plywood or paper; cellulose used in industry. If wood is ever burnt, ashes are returned to the forests.
Tourism: Promoting gastronomy, local dishes and a diversity of food products.


‘Intelligent’ infrastructure – pipes, wires, rails, roads, buildings – becomes the ‘pivot’ between a wasteful economy and one focused on needs. The emphasis is on ‘human capital’ (education, health), eco-efficient products and services:

Energy: New incentives for ‘Negawatt’ energy suppliers; profits rise as consumption declines.
Water: ‘Closed cycles’ encourage local reuse of water resources, discourage dams and the draining of groundwater.
Mobility: Foot, bicycle, public transport and sharing.
Building: No new land for housing, industry or transport.


‘Post-materialism’ flourishes – joie de vivre is preferred to possessions:

Shopping: The act of ‘consumption’ becomes an act of creation and restraint, of moral and political self-expression.
Eating: Too much meat, too little fruit, too much sugar, too few vegetables – a return to basic principles of high-quality eating takes place: local/seasonal vegetables and fruit, avoiding processed foodstuffs.
Using: Sharing, borrowing or renting become more commonplace than owning useful ‘things’.
Wealth: ‘Time pioneers’ restructure their working days away from income and consumption, towards restraint and richness in time; the very notion of ‘unemployment’ eventually disappears as a result.
Simplicity: The number of ‘things’ in the average household – once 10,000 – declines towards the 200-or-so basic necessities.

[image, unknown] Development

A driving force is the reduction of consumption in the North towards levels sustainable in the South. Some key ‘global’ initiatives include:

Debt: Written off as ‘odious’; banks required to reclaim loans from local élites who incurred them.
Adjustment: IMF and World Bank shift from ‘Structural’ to ‘Sustainable’ Adjustment.
Trade: Principles of fair trade adopted by World Trade Organization.
Taxation: UN-administered ‘bit’ (computer) and ‘Tobin’ (foreign exchange) taxes.


IF YOU WANT THE FULL STORY – using largely the example of Germany – get hold of Greening the North: a Post-industrial Blueprint for Ecology and Equity by Wolfgang Sachs, Reinhard Loske and Manfred Linz, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Zed Books, London, 1998, on which much of this outline is based.


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This article was originally published in issue 307

New Internationalist Magazine issue 307
Issue 307

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