Guaranteed Income Makes Fertile Ground For Green Ideas
by C.A. L'Hirondelle, July 23, 2012

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"For therein lay the awful persistent paradox at the heart of environmentalism... the fight to save the earth however popular and successful by all conventional norms, was failing to save it in any real sense, seemed in fact to be uncovering only new threats and crises." —Kirkpatrick Sale, The Green Revolution, 1993

Many people are heart-sick about all the harm inflicted upon the environment. And there are many good ideas to save the environment. But good ideas need fertile soil to grow, and because of our economic system, ideas that are good for the environment, community and health, are constantly under threat of being uprooted, plowed under, or paved over.

Good green ideas can't grow because they run smack into the brick wall of an economic system that requires high consumption and waste to function. What is good for the planet is bad for economic growth and profits.

The simple practical solution out of this rut of destruction is a universal livable income.

But first, let's look at why so many environmental ideas don't take root.


Individuals are repeatedly told to reduce, recycle and reuse and to take the bus, walk or cycle and that cutting consumption will save the environment.  

"Consume less, Conserve more." —Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth

"...the core problem: we have to consume less. This is the message of Buy Nothing Day."

"People like to think when we buy something, we're helping the economy, but the idea we're also killing the planet is not something they've thought about." —Kalle Lasn, Adbusters founder

"consume less, live more!" —Friends of the Earth International

Campaigns to reduce consumption focus on individual change, but as Bruce Bartlett points out: "we've built an economy that needs rampant consumerism as a fuel, just to keep the engine going." (In Debt We Trust, 2007)

No doubt everyone realizes on some level that ruining our environment also imperils our future. But short-term survival instincts always eclipse long-term mutual survival thinking.

This is why anti-consumerism as a strategy to save the environment can only have very limited impact. Jobs depend on consumption and when consumption drops, the number of jobs drop. And since there is no universal income in place, people rightly fear poverty since it is a direct threat to their well being and life expectancy. There are mountains of evidence showing the connection between income and health, and anyone who has survived on a tenuous low-income, knows the impact of having constant gnawing uncertainty over whether you can meet your most basic needs for food and shelter. And triple the worry if you have loved ones who also depend on your for their well-being.

The flaw in anti-consumption campaigns is that they don't make the consumption=jobs connection. climate/article/13090/AFLCIO_Reiterates_its_Opposition_to_Kyoto_Global_Warming_Accord.html

(Feb. 17, 1999 “AFL-CIO reaffirms its opposition to the Kyoto Protocol”)
(“Kyoto will cost 511,000 jobs" The Science of Climate Change, Senate Floor Statement by U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla), Chairman, Committee on Environment and Public Works, July 28/2003)


Some groups advocate working less, job sharing or a reduced work week. These initiatives would certainly benefit the environment, communities, and people's health, but they can't stand on their own, since the vast majority of people can't cut back their paid work time simply because they need the money. A guaranteed income would be fertile ground for all kinds of 'work less' initiatives.


Green Jobs are supposed to save both the economy and the environment. However, the number of green jobs can never match the number of jobs created by an economic system based on waste and destruction. There are millions of jobs in the oil and auto sector, the military industrial complex, the processed food industry, and industries that rely on mass consumption of cheap consumer goods. And then there are all the jobs that exist to try to fix the harm created by all the 'wrecking' jobs. As Marilyn Waring has pointed out, cleaning up the Exxon oil spill was good for the economy and created a lot of jobs.

There are massive, hidden incentives that perpetuate environmental harmful activities. For example, trying to get people to reduce their automobile dependence to help the environment does not address the fact that the economy is massively reliant on the auto sector. According to a report by the aptly named "CAR"*, 1 in 10 jobs in the US are directly or indirectly related to the automotive sector: research and development, energy, petrolium refining, trucking, warehousing, parking, highway construction, tolls roads/ bridges/ tunnels, insurance, credit/finance, advertising; upstream sectors supplying materials (metals, electronics, fluids, plastics, rubber, paint, textiles, glass, heating/cooling systems, industrial machinery and equipment); downstream sectors including new and used motor vehicle dealers, tire dealers, repair services, car rental, car washes and gas stations.

*Economic Contribution of the Automotive Industry to the US economy - A Study Prepared for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Centre for Automotive Research (CAR), Fall 2003

Conversely, if people follow voluntary simplicity, grow veggie gardens, eat healthy home cooked meals, walk, bike and use public transit, pack homemade lunches, drink homemade beer and wine, live frugally in modest green homes, and become so imbued with happiness that world peace breaks out...   this would cause a seismic loss of jobs world wide.

Healthy, happy, people can never create the same number of jobs as a society of unhappy, TV-watching, junk-food eating, booze-swilling, tobacco-smoking, car-dependent, compulsive-shoppers with epidemic diseases, illness and addictions. The current economy is designed as a perpetual wrecking/fixing machine. Very good for jobs, but bad for everyone and everything else.

"Our entire economy is built on human weaknesses, on bad habits and insecurities. Fashion. Fast food. Sports cars. Techno-gadgets. Sex toys. Diet centres. Hair clubs for men. Personal ads. Fringe religious sects. Professional sports teams--there's vicarious living for you! Hair salons. Male mid-life crisis. Shopping binges. Our entire way of life is built on self-doubt and dissatisfaction..." Will Ferguson's novel Happiness, 2002

" 'The best diseases, from a business point of view,' said Crake, 'would be those that cause lingering illnesses. Ideally--that is, for maximum profit--the patient should either get well or die just before all of his or her money runs out.' " —Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, 2003

Good economies would create good health, not bad health, leading to less economic activity, not more. As people, communities and environments became healthier, there would be less need for fixing industries. See: Jobs Cause Poverty


There have been various proposals for non-universal funds targeted to specific groups. Some unions propose a transition fund for people who lose their job because it is environmentally damaging. In their book One with Nineveh the Ehrlichs propose to take world military spending and target it to poverty relief. However non-universal solutions are problematic: they are either public or private charity and as such are vulnerable to bloated bureaucracies, vested interests, means testing, stigmatization, and are subject to political whims since they are not guaranteed.


Currently virtually everyone gets their money to survive from our waste-based economic system. If we want to stop the harm from this system, we can simply get out of the rut by changing how people get their money and implementing a universal livable income.

A universal livable income would immediately benefit the environment. However, when people propose a universal income, they run into the brick wall of tradition and the manly mythology of work.  

Yet, without implementing a universal, guaranteed income at a livable level, increasing ecocide is inevitable —people will have no way to say 'no' to doing harmful and/or wasteful jobs and no way to say 'yes' to good green ideas.

Without a universal income, all the eco-initiatives are in danger of being uprooted, plowed up, or paved over.

"People say a job is a job and you get a salary. But if you put people to work cutting down all the forests, building dams and spreading poisons all over the place-that's a job. You can pay a person for that but what is happening? How long can it last? The sense of this is like drug addiction again." —Father Tom Berry (Thomas Berry) in "Earth: Conference One", 1989

A guaranteed livable income would create fertile soil to grow all kinds of green initiatives, large and small, formal and informal. This will create a transition to a livable economy that can flourish with all those low-consumption and pro-environment good ideas. We could finally move from a death-cycle economy, to a life-cycle economy that respects our natural environment and other living things.


When discussing consumption as being harmful or beneficial, we should remember that there is a vast difference between essential and non-essential consumption. As soon as we are born our bodies dictate that we start consuming. Without primary consumption we die. Consumption is the first rule of our body; we all must consume in order to stay healthy and alive. In addition, the world's most serious problem for the largest number of people is under-consumption, not over-consumption: billions of people around the world do not consume enough to meet essential needs for food, shelter and health care. (See Abundance vs Scarcity)

Writer Bill McKibben argues that "consumerism is in our bones." However, if mass consumerism of non-essentials were "in our bones," then there would be no reason for companies to "throw a relentless shitstorm of advertising at potential customers" (Maybe One, 1998). Businesses big and small are desperate to sell their products or they will face the wrath of shareholders and investors or they will simply go bankrupt. Ergo, the constant assault of the advertising shitstorm.

This need to maximize consumption is also an incentive to produce disposable and poor-quality products otherwise known as 'planned obsolescence' (See Made To Break by Giles Slade 2006).

People are justifiably angry at all the low-quality crap products, but the reason they are 'made to break' is because if products were built for long-term durability and ease of repair, this would have a negative impact on 'growth' and jobs. For example, my mother has a vintage metal dustpan (similar to this one) that belonged to her mother. It is a brilliant piece of simple engineering with a 3-foot long twisted metal handle that easily pops into two small holes in the metal pan. If it gets loose, you just get pliers and bend so it fits properly again. It is also very efficient; the pan has a thin beveled edge that, despite its age, lays perfectly flush against the floor. This dustpan has lasted for a century and could probably last for several more. This kind of engineering for longevity is very good for the environment but very bad for the economy. (see the documentary Objectified)



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