For anyone who has spent much time around E4A students and faculty, or attended the same events we do, it’s no secret that ecological economics and its wider academic and social milieu leans toward the leftward end of the political spectrum. As such, we tend to enthusiastically embrace egalitarianism, democratic governance, and all forms of social inclusion and equity. These are laudable ideals which continue to face serious threats, and it is easy to see how they have made their way to the centre of the sustainability and heterodox economic discourse. To the extent they can be realised, they are powerful forces for building better societies, as explained by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their 2009 book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.
But is it so simple to insist on one and only one model, regardless of the diversity of circumstances and very real challenges we face in the transition to sustainability? For example, can we really maintain a non-negotiable commitment to liberal governance in an era of profound political disruptions associated with the contraction of human societies, driven, in part, by declining access to cheap, high-quality energy supplies? To what extent is the apparatus of liberal democracy in large, developed societies dependent on high-energy modes of socio-economic and institutional organisation? What do we need to do if we wish to protect democratic governance? Are democracies even up to the task at hand, assuming we manage to maintain them?
It’s these questions author Richard Heinberg set out to answer in an article posted online last year. There was enough interest in the topic that he was invited to submit a reworked version to the journal Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, which is where I came in. I can’t promise that the article is suitably optimistic, or that it covers everything there is to say on the topic, but if you have any interest in the subject, please see the full article here. In the end, to give ourselves the best chance of the type of society we wish to see, it is necessary to take a direct look at some of the obstacles that might get in the way and what can be done about them. Let’s have a conversation.