Davey, B (Ed.). (2012). Sharing for Survival: Restoring the Climate, the Commons and Society. Dublin: FEASTA. ISBN 9780954051020. 188 pages, paperback price: £14.95. [website]
This is an interesting book with some really good material. It is based on the idea that the international negotiations (Copenhagen, Cancun, Rio) are not going to deliver a solution to the climate crisis and indeed could make things worse. Therefore, instead of relying on such grand international agreements and programmes, the authors suggest that change will need to rely on ‘civil society organisations’ (neither market nor State) working together globally and coming up with initiatives that are then scaled up and/or ratified by governments (local, regional, national and international). Together with this idea there is an emphasis on ‘cap and share’ as an alternative to the existing carbon trading models. In cap and share, the body that brings hydrocarbon energy into the market has to pay a levy and this levy is then shared among the population (there are various ways of doing this) to mitigate the increased cost of energy and to facilitate the development of non-carbon intense alternatives. Nowhere in the book is there a succinct exposition, but here is a diagram (see http://www.capandshare.org/index.html)
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the book is the paradox that although it emphasises dispersed bottom-up initiatives, rather than waiting for governments to act, to work cap and share will require government action, indeed legislation (not to mention struggle against ogres like the World Trade Organisation). This contradiction is not resolved by the authors.
Nevertheless the book contains a wealth of useful information and ideas. A key emphasis is on ‘commons approaches’ that recognise that the environment and its resources belong to all of us and should be managed collectively and not via the money system nor by top-down direction. This idea draws from indigenous practices in managing forests and the point is made that almost everywhere there has been a robbery of these shared resources – think of the enclosure acts in England, the clearances in Scotland, the genocide in the prairies, pampas and rainforests of America, not to mention the sale of council houses and the privatisation of pension, health services and education.
Noteworthy chapters are those by Kenrick on The Climate and the Commons, Bardsley on the alignment of necessary policies (another demonstration that it can’t be left up to civil society on its own) and Bruges and Sharan on applying cap and share to the rural context of the majority of India’s population.
The book includes a chapter written by the ecological economist Richard Douthwaite and nearly complete at the time of his death last year. He argues that although the situation is grim, not all is lost and, breaking the problem down into its components, there are a number of practical steps to take which are still feasible. This seems to rely in large part on the coming of Peak Oil, and hence rising hydrocarbon costs to price carbon out in comparison with renewables. On balance this looks reasonable to me, even when taking tar oil and shale gas into account but we clearly can’t just wait for oil price hikes to kick in but need to prime the replacement arrangements for a different way of managing our society and its economy. We can take from the book the importance of local initiatives both as points from which to scale up society-wide solutions, or just as lifeboats when (to use a metaphor from Kenrick’s chapter) the ship of the growth economy finally sinks.
Rather than ordering from Amazon, you can get the book from News from Nowhere Bookshop, a Liverpool workers co-op with a reliable on-line channel at http://www.newsfromnowhere.org.uk