What about my pineapples?
At CANSEE2019: Engaging Economies of Change I presented a keynote presentation called “What about my pineapples?” during the complexities of change keynote panel. Below are my slides and some of what I talked about. You can watch the full keynote on the David Suzuki web page,
here. At the beginning you can hear my good friend Allison say she can tackle anyone else that tries to come up and get the baby from me besides her…
At CANSEE2017, I had just finished a special issue of Alternatives Journal all about ecological economics. I had worked for months on that issue with then editor, Leah Gerber. She taught me how badly academics write for other audiences and I taught her all about EE theory. When the issue was less than a week from press she said she had just one last question: “What about my pineapples?” I loved this question. Partially because I love when people say slightly ridiculous things, but also because she was tapping into something that many environmentalists forget about – what might we have to lose to make this whole ‘sustainability’ vision really work out? Will we have to eat fewer pineapples!?
Shortly after, I was at a meeting between York and the Ecological Footprint Network. Mathis mentioned that as countries were meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals they were exceeding available biocapacity. This is really problematic as it means our vision of progress is incompatible with biophysical limits. We can’t have our proverbial pineapples and sustainability, too. It’s especially concerning because the SDGs aren’t just pineapples and mac books – they’re education, women’s rights, basic necessities for life. And, there are many things that aren’t necessarily represented in the SDGs that have been ushered in along side growth economics such as rights (animals rights, disability rights) and some of our most cherished ideologies (freedom and feminism). So which SDGs and ideologies are tied up in growth and in the scale of our economy? If we scale back – what might we lose?
The first response I get to this is why can’t we just keep the good stuff (feminism and freedom) and get rid of the base stuff (inequality and use of fossil fuels). There are a few arguments you could make: 1. Oh the Thinks You Can’t Think – We’re constrained by our cognitive and social realities. The way we speak/live/interact with one another isn’t random. It’s tied to institutions and structures of society – we need our institutions to uphold our ideologies and we need our ideologies to rationalize our institutions – they’re mutually dependent. 2. Etropic Cost – Social complexity, ideologies, and ‘rights’ are entropically expensive because they require work and energy to uphold. For example, not all cultures inherently have rights for the disable. Today, more people get to live more comfortably than ever before in history despite their disabilities because we have entire sections of the market devoted to goods and services to make their lives more comfortable. Not only that, but our liberal ideology, that has grown alongside growth economics, has told us that the individual matters – and we should protect and make comfortable that individual regardless of the energetic or monetary cost. 3. The Nature of Complex Systems – In complex systems, picking at pieces doesn’t always turn out so well for the overall integrity of the system; there are hierarchies and subsystems – again our institutions are built on a complex history and we want to pick away at some of the most integral pieces of that history so there is a lot of uncertainly about what might happen. To some extent we want to pick away at that system and let the pieces crumble. I’m sure we’re all prepared to lose pineapples and mac books, but how do we keep women’s emancipation and education? These are wicked tensions because they don’t have easy answers and we honestly don’t know what’s going to happen in the future or if these systems will be compatible with low growth economics.
As interesting as all that was, I needed to get a PhD, so I tucked it all away and went to do some field work. My actual area of research is on Makers! Makers are people who make things (shock!). I did my first bit of research in more urban areas of South Ontario and I become totally convinced that every municipality should be investing in maker spaces and maker culture. I just wrote a paper for the Solutions journal title “The Revolution Will be Hand Made” – and I truly believe that. I wanted to see if maker culture produced something different in a different context. So I went to PEI – and it was totally different… First of all, all of the people I interviewed, around 60, except 2 of them were women. And to all of them, making wasn’t just a small subset of their municipality that could support a new kind of production, it was integral to their entire informal economy. They had created a whole world that was separate from the larger economic system teeming with trade, bartering, and gifting. They would make their own goods and trade those goods with the informal food systems and other areas of the community.
As cool as it was, I started to see the wicked tensions creeping in. This was a prime example of a post-modernity holistic and embedded economy with making as a central component to removing the community from growth economics – my paradise. But… The women were almost entirely back into care roles and relying on their ‘breadwinning’ husband. The children were homeschooled and there was no talk of university, it was understood that the children would take over the farm or something similar – their freedom of mobility had been removed. There was strong outgroup antagonism. They talked about needing to keep their local economy to the islanders because they were all aware of issues of scarcity. They only like tourists that come in the summer, as that is when they get any amount of ‘real’ money to purchase necessary goods from those on the island not participating in their economy. Many were against any immigration that might increase the population of the island. It seems, extended empathy can only really exist when there isn’t perceived scarcity, which isn’t good for our environmental future.
This is where my presentation used to stop. I saw some of these problems in action and cautioned de/low growth economists to be aware of that when proposing solutions for the future. It might mean a different kind of feminism, decreased empathy, and fewer pineapples. But for the last couple of years, this topic has really become quite popular amount emerging EE scholars. We honestly can’t seem to stop talking about it – and that’s understandable. We are an increasingly empathetic and just generation, so anything that might even slightly undermine that is really powerful. So, I decided to try and come up with some solutions or new ways we can engage with this. If, for example, modern feminism is being pitted against green politics, I need to come up with some answers for my children’s sake.
1. Revitalize the SDGs – There are ecological limits to the SDGs. We need to figure out what they are and how we can alter those indicators to be more in line with EE goals and values. The education goal, for example, should probably include the number of reskilling/provisioning/resilience building education available in a country or how well a municipality incorporates indigenous learning into their politics. This can lead to real policy development. 2. Oh the Thinks We Must Think – We are constrained by what we know now, but we also already know what we know now and we can carry that with us by continuing to be vocal about our need for social justice alongside environmental sustainability – we don’t need to prioritize yet, and we might never need to. But this means we need clear EE values so we know what we really want to hold tightly onto. 3. Act Prefiguratively – Once we have a clear idea of those values and of the kinds of indicators that might actually work for sustainability – we need to start living that life. Start doing education differently, conferences differently, and living each day differently. Maybe stop eating pineapples. My personal first step is to leave academia and stay at home with my ids. This is the most radical move I can make. It reducing our income significantly, leading to less travel, less consumerism, and removing pressure from the state to watch my children. It will also help me and my kids to develop lasting relationships with our local biosphere as we get to know it more. I will be living a new kind of feminism – a radical politic of the home which I’ve referred to in previous papers as a “polioikos”. To me, this is living a feminism that is compatible with de/low growth. 4. For the Common Good – Make a recommitment to focusing on Daly’s For the Common Good. Community helps to reinforce our identities and ideologies, so if we start there, we have more hope of keeping those ideologies that we hold sacred. Identities and ideologies are formed within networks of care – this is the ontological base for an ethic of care. It is freedom from others that promotes calculated self-interest and more indifference in place of the caring and concern that citizens often have for fellow citizens. 5. Systems as Central to EE Education – Reintegrate systems thinking as a central component to EE education so that when we make decisions and create policy options, we are also closely considering the system dynamics that might come into play. Only through formal complexity education can we be more aware of the possible wicked tensions and unintended consequences of our suggested changes.
I always end with a bunch of questions…. What, if anything, do we need to rethink in order for low-growth economics to be our reality? How intimately entangled are the systems of social progress and environmental degradation? What kind of sustainability policies can we offer that help retain our visions of social progress? Finally, if we undermine the state by shifting more toward community, what do we lose?…. Probably more than just pineapples, but we can arm ourselves to defend the things we hold most truly sacred by more seriously, and with a more concerted effort, promoting EE values through specific policy plans.