Less Net



Introduction - page 3

Any expectation that state finances can be stabilized or that traditional demand management techniques will provide an effective stimulus in these new and extreme forms of economic and financial turmoil are simply untenable. The point will soon be reached where the institutions of global capitalism can no longer function and the framework of international production, trade and finance will collapse. This is the price we are paying for the growth fetish. Right here, right now.

How do we get out of this mess? Without doubt, the transition to an economy that minimizes the use of finite resources, provides for our basic material needs, and ensures a complete environmental recovery, represents the greatest challenge ever faced in the modern era. Far greater, even, than the industrial mobilisation for World War Two, when existing industrial capacity was rapidly converted from civil to military production and an intensive research effort was focused on innovations like radar and nuclear fission.

Small oases of sanity provide grounds for optimism that, even now, the transition can be a successful one. Cuba faced what was, in effect, a resource depletion crisis in the early 1990s. Agriculture was heavily dependent on oil supplies imported from the former Soviet Union under a barter arrangement for Cuban sugar. These oil supplies were effectively withdrawn at the end of the Cold War as Russia looked to maximize revenue on the international markets.

During this national emergency, the country carried through a collective programme of food production for domestic demand, utilizing all available land, including urban gardens and replacing oil-based fertilizers and pesticides with organic local materials. From a position of severe shortages and rationing, the country became virtually self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs by the mid 1990s.

The clear lesson from the Cuban experience is that an external shock can be the catalyst for radical and successful change and that the transformation of a leading sector of the economy can be carried out over a short timescale. In this case, local production satisfied a basic material need using renewable resources and a significantly reduced energy demand. There was also a range of other social benefits including improved general health through access to good food, and new opportunities for employment in farming and market gardens.

The challenge for Western societies is to replicate the transition to local production achieved by Cuba but on a much wider and more ambitious scale that provides for sufficiency in all the basic areas of need, including housing, food, energy and transport, by utilizing local renewable resources while moving to a zero-carbon economy.



In this initial phase, governments would provide investment funds for a range of technologies, including micro-energy systems and energy efficiency programmes, while the local state would be in a position to direct land use and priortise it for social housing, food production, and other forms of local sufficiency production through contracts with locally-owned and run companies and co-operatives.

Transition on this scale will, in the longer term, be so profound that it calls into question the very survival of the nation state in any recognisable form. Why? Because the major states emerged as large geographical units around a central authority that, with the support of a growing merchant class, could guarantee security through a monopoly of force.

Stable political systems ensured the development both of an internal market and an institutional architecture for international trade that ultimately led to the industrial revolution and globalised capitalism. These conditions no longer apply and the role of the nation state as the pivot that translated economic activity into political authority and legitimacy is breaking down.

The pattern will not be a uniform one. Larger states like China and India that have embarked on later, but more accelerated, development strategies face the most immediate threat because they embody all the failings of rapid economic expansion -  high energy input and materially-intensive forms of production for global markets, compounded by rapid urban population growth. Every percentage point increase in GDP is simply another nail in their coffins. The combined economic and environmental collapse will lead to social breakdown and the emergence of new power centres at regional and local levels.

During this period of turmoil and nation-state fragmentation, Western societies face fundamental choices. Under the dominant leadership of the USA, they have constructed a vast, imperial, military-industrial complex whose function is to maintain global access to finite resources, including oil, gas and raw materials.

Competition from other states has grown, notably from China, in its attempts to secure oil and mineral supplies, especially across the African continent. In the short-term, as these resources become scarcer, there will be intense efforts to reinforce military power projection. But the reality of economic and environmental breakdown will be measured against the billions wasted on the military machine, a black-hole that devours those very same energy supplies and scarce resources. It will be the delusion of military security that collapses alongside the system of nation states.