What could be more important than sustaining habitable living conditions on Earth? Climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental problems demand changes on an order of magnitude well beyond the trajectory of business-as-usual. And yet, despite accumulative social and technological innovation, environmental problems are accelerating far more quickly than sustainable solutions.
The design industry is one of many industries mobilising to address environmental imperatives. While sustainability-oriented designers are working towards change from many angles, addressing climate change and other environmental problems on this scale demands much more dramatic transformations in economic ideas, structures and systems that enable – or disable – sustainable design.
Put simply, designers cannot design sustainable future ways of living on scale without a shift in economic priorities. Human impacts on planetary processes in the Anthropocene require new types of ecologically engaged design and economics if the necessary technological, social and political transitions are to take place.
World making design
Design is crucial to this debate because it is key to the creation of future ways of living. Designers make new ideas, products, services and spaces desirable to future users. With the shape of a font, a brand, the styling of a product, the look and feel of a service, the touch of a garment, the sensation of being in a particular building, designers serve the interests of customers (generally, those with disposal income). They do so according the logic and modes of governance generated by what is valued by economic structures. Design is the practice that makes capitalism so appealing. Continue reading →
Abstract: The green economy is an emergent approach to sustainable development launched at Rio+20. Herein environmental decision-making is increasingly achieved through economistic processes and logic. The natural commons are quantified and managed as natural capital. This paper summarizes the trajectory of the project and its ideological framework. It examines various conceptualizations of economic approaches to the environment and considers philosophical, methodological, and political problems associated with the green economy project. In the face of very different definitions of what constitutes a green economy, environmental communicators face a situation characterized by discursive confusion as the complexity of natural capital accounting processes conceal new political configurations. Counter movements argue that the green economy program is performing ideological work that uses language of environmentalism to obscure an intensified agenda of neoliberal governance and capital accumulation. The concept now has contradictory meanings. Environmental communicators have an important role to play in exposing the contested nature of the project and in helping to define the emerging green economy. Published March 13 in Environmental Communication. 50 free downloads here (until they are used up – please do not use if you have institutional login)
Recently I did an interview with Blue & Green Tomorrow and talked about how the notion of free markets misrepresent our political and economic system. Here I am republishing part of this interview here (with their questions in blue text):
Yesterday, we published the first part of an interview with EcoLabs founder Joanna Boehnert. In response to a Blue & Green Tomorrow article about free markets (Free markets need to be free), Boehnert said on Twitter that it “[failed] entirely to deal with the problem that free markets systemically devalue the ecological wellbeing“. We asked her if she thinks the free market is therefore unsalvageable, and this was her response.
I am not against all markets absolutely. What I am absolutely against is misinformation, so it is important to note here that there is actually no such thing as a free market. Every market in the world has ways of working that was designed into the market, i.e. parameters that are predetermined. So-called free markets suit the interests of those who have the political power to design the terms of the market. What we have is a political and economic system that is neoliberal and capitalist. The idea of free markets is an obfuscation. Continue reading →
In wealthy countries such as the UK we like to think that rich nations help poorer nations with aid and other types of development funding. We have millennium goals to eradicate poverty, surely we are helping our Southern neighbours develop sustainably?
Activists from the Global South tell a very different story. This map illustrates this counter-narrative using data from World Bank depicting the hidden flows of capital into and out of low and middle-income countries. It exposes the disturbing fact that rich nations extract significantly more money from the low and middle-income nations than they give in aid. Continue reading →
Over the past six months I have been helping Occupy Design UK explore how design can be used to facilitate popular education on the structural causes of the recent economic crisis. During the London Design Festival we held an event at the V&A called ‘Exposing the 1% and De-branding the City’ where we examined information graphics and animations that illustrate the complexity of our economic system and exactly what went so wrong in the recent credit crisis. The following visualisations expose the dynamics and structural problems within the current economic system and propose what we can do to create a more resilient system for long-term prosperity, social justice and sustainability.
Crises of Capitalism. RSA Animate. Cognitive Media.
This animation features Marxist historian David Harvey’s analysis of the structural causes of the economic crisis and the role of crisis in the history of capitalism. Here animation studio Cognitive Media use the Monopoly metaphor that the Occupy Movement has also repeatedly used to describe the systemic dynamics of capitalism (another example can be found below). This video presents an overview of the contradictions of the capitalism system. While the Royal Society of Arts funded this animation, Harvey’s interpretation of the causes economic crisis remains marginal in mainstream economic discourse. The Occupy Movement has successfully created at least some discursive space in mainstream media for radical critiques such as this one.
Capitalism is a Pyramid Scheme
. CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective and Packard Jennings. Pdf back of poster.
The UN’s Rio+20 declaration ‘The Future We Choose’ warns; ‘the scientific evidence is unequivocal…the time to act is now!’ With this document the UN calls for ‘a great transformation’ emerging from the recognition that business as usual is no longer sufficient. Humankind is now in the ‘Anthropocene’ wherein we must live within the ‘safe operating space of planetary boundaries’. Does this environmental rhetoric demonstrate that the UN is serious about addressing the biodiversity crisis? Or has the UN simply appropriated green language to sell its new project to the global public?
The so-called ‘Green Economy’ launched at Rio+20 reveals a new approach to sustainable development, based on creating new markets for nature’s processes. The basic provisions of the natural world are now ‘ecosystem services’ (water purification, plant pollination, carbon capture and maintenance of soil fertility, etc.). Presently free and commonly shared, the emerging programme will soon quantify, financialise and marketise them. The commodification of the natural world supposedly aims to protect nature by accounting for ‘externalities’ of environmental damage by industry. According to this logic, once nature’s processes are given a financial value, prices of goods and services will reflect ecological costs and it will no longer make economic sense to produce ecologically harmful products.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend two events in one day presented by two significant economic analysts. Stoneleigh runs The Automatic Earth, now the 7th largest global website on finance, did a presentation in the afternoon at the new economics foundation. Later I attended a public debate – ‘Economic growth, prosperity and sustainability: a contradiction?’ in Westminster with Paul Ekins and Tim Jackson, hosted by the Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester. I have a lot of respect for Tim Jackson, his analysis and the fact that he has been able to bring sensible and radical positions into government working with the now becoming defunct Sustainable Development Commission. Nevertheless, it does appear to me that the Stoneleigh has a more important story to tell at the moment.
Stoneleigh’s analysis is based the relationship between financial systems and energy systems. We are facing an economic contraction on a scale greater than that of the great depression. If those in charge of the economy had paid attention to the critiques of the economic model based on endless quantitative growth earlier, we might not be facing such a dire economic predictions. As it is, shifting policy to reflect geo-physical realities (such as the fact that the earth’s resources are finite and that climate change threatens civilization) would be smart, but it will not save us from more immediate dangers that will now be an inevitable consequence of the failure to manage financial sector responsibly combined with the failure to plan adequately for the advent of peak oil.