What are we for?

This website originated in my interest in climate change. As someone with an undergraduate training in physics, while having spent my career as an economist, my first inclination, like that of many other people, was to think that with a combination of technology (including nuclear technology) and good economic policy, climate change could be dealt with. It was David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy – without the Hot Air that first convinced me otherwise. He points out that much of the guff around renewable energy is just that – meaningless and dangerous guff that gives us all, people and politicians, the comfortable feeling that we were doing something realistic that would make a difference, whereas we are just spitting in the wind.

Slowly I came to realise that climate change was only the most apparent aspect of environmental crisis and that issues of resource scarcity in general, such as that of phosphates, and diminishing biodiversity indicate the problem is much, much wider than that.

The only tenable conclusion was that we, particularly we in the West (i.e. the rich countries), had to reduce our material consumption over time and consequently live in, at best, a zero-growth economy for the indefinite future. Others, particularly those of a ‘leftish’ persuasion, had come to the same conclusion but hardly any serious economist had actually built a macro-economic model of such an economy. What would it look like?

Well one consequence is that there would, indeed will, be less paid work to go around, so that society would/will have to adjust to the idea that even fewer of its members than now would be in paid work. So we either have to offer some kind of citizen income, or basic income, to all or we will witness social disintegration.

Flowing from this are two further lines of investigation. The first relates to income and wealth inequality in the West. The second relates to human well-being, or flourishing or happiness (though that’s a rather unfortunate term) particularly if there are fewer material goods to go around.

And that is the crux of the matter. We have reached a point in Western society and culture where material goods, and consumption and economic growth have seemed to become the sole purpose of life and human existence. In our heart of hearts we may know this to be untrue. But what alternative sets of values are on offer? In short we have to rediscover meaning in our lives. Hence the title of this website:

What are we for?

To summarise, the themes followed here, not necessarily with equal weight, are:

  • Technical matters relating to climate change and environmental issues more generally;
  • Zero or declining growth economies and how they can be expected to behave;
  • Proposals for a basic or citizen income;
  • Trends causes and consequences of inequality in wealth and income;
  • The philosophy and values of our society and how we can recover real meaning in our lives.

I make no secret that I approach the latter question from a Christian perspective while being well aware that most people today find the presentation of the Christian message unconvincing.

Finally a note on the subtitle of this website: ‘Croire que la société de consommation est notre avenir est plus absurde que croire en l’existence de Dieu‘ (To believe that the consumer society is our future is more absurd than to believe in the existence of God) is a quote from an enclosed Carthusian religious sister at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Bonneval, in the Aveyron region of France. It comes from a documentary film about the Abbaye entitled: Le temps de quelques jours – see the Abbaye’s website here.