George Monbiot calls for private sufficiency, public luxury

wooden house aspern
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ Apartments and bikes can be enough, and can be pretty nice

He makes the case that it is better to have magnificent public parks than big private backyards.

Sufficiency is the concept that you pick the right tool for the job; you don't need a chainsaw to cut your bread, and you don't need a car to go to the corner when a bike will do. I have suggested that it is a lot more important than efficiency; studies have shown that a leaky apartment uses less energy than a modern house, simply because it is smaller and only has one exterior surface. But for most people, it is enough. It is sufficient.

George Monbiot of the Guardian writes a long and depressing article about how The Earth is in a death spiral. It will take radical action to save us. He pretends optimism, that if we all pull together like we did back in the Second World War right now we can pull out of this nosedive:

I don’t believe such a collapse is yet inevitable, or that a commensurate response is either technically or economically impossible. When the US joined the second world war in 1941, it replaced a civilian economy with a military economy within months. As Jack Doyle records in his book Taken for a Ride, “In one year, General Motors developed, tooled and completely built from scratch 1,000 Avenger and 1,000 Wildcat aircraft."

But that is as far as the optimism goes, as he continues by noting that "the oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster."

I suspect that Monbiot had second thoughts about the article, because he wrote a comment to it that adds a bit of detail about his thoughts about how to really deal with the fundamental problem of the economic growth that continues to consume vast resources and pump out greenhouse gases. I can imagine the comments this will receive from our libertarian readers, but I am posting it in full:

Several people have asked whether the rich world will accept the "drastic cuts in living standards" required to prevent environmental breakdown. I understand the question, and it is true that no one ever rioted for austerity. But I think there's a different way of looking at it.

We have been induced to believe that our living standards are secured through private luxury. We have been encouraged, by advertising, marketing, the media and politics, to seek ever more for ourselves: bigger houses, bigger cars, more stuff to fill them with. But there is neither the physical nor ecological space for everyone to enjoy private luxury. If all the people of London got their own swimming pool and tennis court, London would cover all of England. We are quickly discovering the ecological limits of everyone seeking a mountain of stuff, as this pursuit sends us crashing through planetary boundaries. The reality is that one person's private luxury is another person's deprivation: the rich, under this system, intrude into the physical and ecological space needed by others.

However, there is enough physical and ecological space for everyone to enjoy public luxury: magnificent public parks and swimming pools, excellent mass transit systems (electric trams, trains, monorail etc), a rich cultural life that fills the void consumerism seeks - and fails - to fill. We can have a great quality of life and remain within ecological limits, but we have to give up the notion that we will achieve it on our own, through private accumulation. We can achieve it together, through the pooling of wealth. I've sought to boil this philosophy down to one phrase:

Private Sufficiency, Public Luxury

George Monbiot calls for private sufficiency, public luxury
He makes the case that it is better to have magnificent public parks than big private backyards.

Related Content on Treehugger.com