The title of this recent book evokes the local and global Commons (Elinor Ostrom, “Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action”). The many enclosed European Commons and the vaster and more numerous Indigenous Commons were and are being stolen coincident with the emergent Capitalist supremacy described by Karl Polanyi (“The Great Transformation”) from 1750 to the present. The staggering exponential growth curve of human material and energy consumption for this period is also called to The Great Acceleration resulting in Earth System Scientists proposing that the Earth has entered the Anthropocene. (See Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene here.)
Earth for All is published by The Club of Rome which in 1972 published Limits to Growth with forecasting projections based on computer modelling (World 3) of future social, economic and environmental outcomes. The predictive capacity of the Business As Usual (BAU) trajectory modeled by World 3 has been confirmed retrospectively as mostly accurate. Earth for All uses an updated and more complex modelling program called Earth4All, which will soon be available online for people to play with.
Two paths from among the many possibilities are described in the book: Too Little, Too Late; and the Giant Leap. Too Little, Too Late assumes insufficient action to forestall substantially increasing environmental breakdown and human misery resulting from crossing important tipping points and reaching a 2-degree Celsius increase of global temperature by 2050 and a catastrophic 2.5 increase by 2100. We have already crossed the safe operating space of five of the nine Earth System components, including climate, so our planetary earth support system would decline more severely and more unpredictably under Too Little, Too Late.
By contrast the Giant Leap scenario models a transformation in five main dimensions: reductions in poverty; reductions in inequality; increase in human empowerment; transformation in food production and distribution; and rapid transition to a renewables-electrically powered economy. Earth for All describes each of these in some detail and provides references and additional resources online (Earth4All) . The emphasis on the importance of measures to increase equality is also shown by a recent article entitled “Inequality can double the energy required to secure universal decent living” (Nature Communications, August 2022).
One of the most significant assertions by Earth for All is that, for the energy sector, the most important step is to increase efficiency, citing a Nature Energy paper showing that “energy demand in 2050 could be 40% lower than today if all energy efficiencies are implemented” (Nature Energy, “A Low Energy Demand Scenario for Meeting the 1.5°C Target and Sustainable Development Goals without Negative Emission Technologies” June 2018). Notably, by glaring exception, on taking office the Ford Conservatives cancelled energy efficiency programs and is projecting substantial gas-fired and small nuclear electrical expansion for Ontario.
Increased educational opportunities and empowerment for women and girls is given special emphasis along with women’s control of reproduction. One of the most moving chapters of the book involves probable descriptions of the futures of three young women under the two scenarios, the Giant Leap and Too Little, Too Late.
Reductions in poverty and inequality and increase of human empowerment (increased democracy and personal agency) are also emphatically demonstrated as necessary to reduce the wild card of the Social Tension Index, already at a high level and increasing. We must forestall the grim prospect described by Gwynne Dyer’s “Climate Wars” (2008).
The most challenging” chapter of Earth for All is the last, entitled ‘“From Winner Take All” Capitalism to Earth4All Economies’. While securing human well-being on a vast and inclusive scale is a necessary condition, how are we to transform or change the hegemonic global capitalism dominating all peoples and almost all environments?
The Earth for All ideas are practical, tested and broadly social democratic and Keynesian with respect to domestic economies and involve using the tax system, regulatory frameworks within nations and through international agreements, increased workplace democracy, and cooperative enterprise and financing. The bulk of finance needed by the state to secure well-being and to fund the massive scale of required infrastructure investment would come from steeply progressive taxation, an approach Piketty recommends. When used, carbon taxes must be progressive and fully refunded to households below a well-described Well-Being index. All this is a major reversal: after 40 years of neoliberalism, most nations, China excepted, have enormously reduced their financial capacity even as inequality surged (“Unsustainable inequalities: social justice and the environment”, Lucas Chancel, 2020).
Employment would greatly expand especially while implementing a renewables-electrification infrastructure and retrofitting most of the private and public components of the built environment. The scale of planning would be massive and complex, similar to that described by Seth Klein in “The Good War”, and must be considered in a comprehensive manner, from the local to the international, and encompassing all the components of Earth Systems with clear social, economic and environmental evaluation criteria. Fortunately, it seems likely that we are well on our way to being able to manage the vast data for the required modeling and planning.
Internationally, among other things, Earth4All would change the mandate of the IMF and World Bank to become truly redistributive agencies that promote agreed Social Development Goals, provide mechanisms for loan forgiveness when needed, emergency relief as locked-in climate change takes place, and ensuring that already promised and sure to be needed larger Adaptation transfers from the rich and wealthy to the poor and more impoverished countries and peoples are truly and reliably delivered. Technology transfers and agreements to change intellectual property rights will speed transfer of GHG reductions and help achieve well-being outcomes.
Earth for All rightly regards currency as a social construct which can be managed for differing ends. Those ends are generally subject to the designs of the dominant narrative of political and economic elites. This must change. One of Marshall McLuhan’s most intriguing quotes when discussing a guaranteed annual income is that money should be regarded as a public utility like the distribution of clean drinking water. Flint, Michigan, gives a horrifying example of malign state/private sector provision of water utility (e.g., Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”)
While Earth for All is not gradualist, and while we can have confidence that the policies and programs are technically achievable, a big question remains: how and by whom are they to be implemented? The book could equally be read as a policy prescription of the kind that Minister Guilbeault should eagerly embrace or as a populist document that the climate justice movement and Indigenous peoples could organize around.
Despite the assurances, to date the federal Liberals continue to support the fossil industries, shown by their carbon capture subsidy program, pipeline promotion, and support for small nuclear. Starkly lacking is any meaningful mention or investigation of national renewables-electrification. So, achieving sufficient climate justice mobilization to demand this type of plan is of primary importance for our common future.
George Wheeler is a SCAN! member and chair of the Education Committee.
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