Are there any alternatives to our present economic system and if so what are they?
Before we examine any alternatives, it pays to understand certain aspects of our present economic system. It has a number of fundamental characteristics that are very peculiar and can only lead us into crisis.
The first of these characteristics is that it is based on a quasi religious obsession with economic growth and development. Growth is perceived as being absolutely essential to the modern world. This leads to the never-ending accumulation of material wealth.
However, any system that requires never ending growth requires ever increasing volumes of resources and of energy and generates a corresponding volume of wastes and pollution. Faced with the finite nature of planet Earth, this constant expansion can only but breach the physical limits of our planet.
The second fundamental characteristic is an economic system heavily dependant upon fossil fuels which are non-renewable. Currently, 80% of energy consumed worldwide comes from fossil fuels such oil, gas and coal. Severe supply constraints are now occurring in oil supply because of Peak Oil which happens when annual world oil production reaches a maximum and then declines slowly year by year. Peak Oil is inevitable given the fact that oil is a non renewable and finite resource. An increasing number of studies carried out by geologists and engineers have concluded that there is an extremely high probability that Peak Oil will occur during the 2010 to 2020 period. Similar phenomena will also happen for coal and natural gas but at later dates.
The third characteristic is the linearity of our economic system. It extracts natural resources such as metals, chemicals and biomass in ever increasing quantities, transforms them into consumer goods destined to be thrown away as quickly as possible into landfills or incinerated. The linear and wasteful nature of our economic system is obvious.
Adding it all up, it can clearly be seen that we have an economic system in constant expansion, that devours huge and increasing quantities of fossil fuels whose resource bases can only shrink with time, that consumes vast and increasing amounts of natural resources to satisfy consumer and throw away societies whose citizens have been conditioned to believe that this state of affairs is not only normal but above all desirable because synonymous with progress.
Faced with such an appalling state of affairs, why be surprised when environmental degradation continues unabated, and why be astonished when our civilisation itself creates crises that are serious, violent, insoluble and potentially catastrophic for that same civilisation?
As our economic system overshoots its resource base which is Planet Earth itself, this system generates crises which impact directly on the very civilisation it is supposed to sustain. These crises create much human misery in their wake and potentially can cause the collapse of human civilisation under its present form.
Very briefly, those crises can be regrouped under the acronym CAFEE that stands for Climatic, Agro-alimentary, Financial, Energy and Environmental.
It follows that we should give much thought to alternative economic models because the one we have is becoming increasingly dysfunctional and is headed for collapse. Thus the requirement for a new economic system is very much a question of survival of human civilisation.
We need a new way of doing things that increases the sustainability of human civilisation and of our economic system. Sustainability is the ability to continue an action without the risk of failure or collapse.
So what should be the main characteristics of this new economic system and civilisation? We have divided that into its physical, financial socio-cultural and mythical characteristics.
The Physical Characteristics
(1) Biological agriculture – The growing of food that does not require fossil fuels inputs but requires the use of composts that recycle nutrients into the soil
(2) The recycling of ALL wastes
(3) The use of renewable (biomass) and recyclable resources (metals)
(4) The use of renewable energies – The finite nature of fossil fuels makes their use problematic
The Financial Characteristics
Financial systems will no longer be based on interest rates as is the case today in western financial systems. This is because interest based financial systems have the tendency of making monetary systems become larger and larger with no end in sight. They diverge to infinity given time. We will have to think along the lines of Islamic Banking where profit accrued and risks are shared among all parties involved.
The Socio-cultural Characteristics
(1) A controlled demography
(2) A democratic, transparent, inclusive and accountable system of Governance
(3) A social structure that reduces social injustices and reinforces equity
The Mythical Characteristics
Every society is dominated
by a central myth which is the fundamental belief system or narrative that is
taken to be true and obvious by all, and as such rarely discussed. The
central myth of our civilization is that of progress and modernity. This myth
has enabled the emergence of a mostly utilitarian vision of nature. Nature is
simply seen as a place from which resources are extracted and waste dumped
into. This vision of nature will have to change and we will have to cease
seeing her as simply a door mat to the
Another myth and another vision of nature will have to prevail. Which myth and which vision will come to pass? We do not know as yet. But we can imagine that our new myth shall incorporate a narrative that perceives Nature as being a powerful ally essential to our survival and well being.
Nature is to be respected but not feared, bountiful or mean at times, placid or a fury at others. But above all, we’ll have to accept that we are part of nature and nor apart from her. Nevertheless, the new myth of a future sustainable civilization will be the most difficult aspect to address.
The next question is how could we get there? What measures to be implemented NOW so that we begin our long journey towards an alternative economic system that can sustain human civilisation indefinitely?
(1) Land Reform – The creation of a Land Bank to promote food security and to offer to each Mauritian family that requires it a plot of land of 400 metres square for the construction of a decent house with a garden for children, a vegetable garden and fruits trees and a corner for home composting.
(2) A levy on all land conversion from agricultural to other uses to finance sustainability and poverty alleviation projects.
(3) Aggressively promote home gardening and home composting making via mass media.
(4) Make the importation, manufacture and sale of renewable energy equipment either VAT exempt or zero rated.
(5) Introduce a levy of Rs 100 on any tourists that visit our country and with the proceeds finance projects that promote sustainability or poverty alleviation.
(6) Introduce as rapidly as possible the use of cane ethanol as a transport fuel.
(7) Set up a sustainability fund financed through levies on tourism, land conversion operations, on IRS & RES projects that will be used to subsidise land reform, food security, renewable energy and poverty alleviation projects.
(8) Set up a local financial institution that does not operate on interests but on profit sharing schemes like Islamic banks.
(9) Rain water harvesting to be made mandatory for all new industrial and commercial buildings whilst offering incentives for new residential projects.
(10) Extend and consolidate soft loans for the installation of solar water heaters.
An Outline of the Land Reforms deemed necessary for a Transition to Sustainability for Mauritius
(1) That each Mauritian family has access to approximately 400 sq. metres of land for a house leaving enough space for a garden where children can play safely, where vegetables can be grown together with a few fruit trees and where home composting can be carried out.
(2) That each town or village has enough land close by for public parks, playgrounds and playing fields situated within reasonable walking distance.
(3) That agricultural lands be reserved mainly and principally for agricultural activities, especially for the production of food for local use.
(4) That the forests cover be expanded or at least maintained for the purpose of biodiversity protection and the sustainable production of food, fuel and fibre.
(5) That a land bank be established for land exchanges required for the proper implementation of the Land Reform.
(6) That ALL islets be restored and maintained with its proper natural vegetation and opened to the public for recreational and educational purposes.
(7) That an audit of all agricultural lands and State lands be carried out within a reasonable period.
(8) That all of the above be implemented through non-violent means and with the explicit objective of conflict resolution and for the Transition to Sustainability of Mauritius.
On a final note: the Maurices Iles Durables (MID) process, the Truth and Justice Commission, the Democratisation of the Economy and the Electoral Reform can be powerful tools for sustainability for Mauritius. It is important that civil society gets involved in those processes and make its voice heard.