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Planning for the future and a UBI

The other day Harry mentioned that he's thinking he won't renew his subscription to the Guardian Weekly because he never has time to read it any more.

I'm glad he hasn't cancelled it yet, because in last week's edition I read two articles which I whole-heartedly agreed with.

One was about the Olympics. David Goldblatt questioned whether it's true that “...the Games catalyse economic growth and leave positive urban and sporting legacies.”

Pictured above is a now abandoned olympic aquatics centre in Rio, the waste is on display here:

In the other, Jeff Sparrow (Guardian Australia columnist) was writing about the current pandemic and possible future pandemics caused by our ongoing deforestation and uncontrolled urbanism.

Sparrow says: “The leaders who can plan sporting events and business strategies years into the future seem incapable of grasping the desperate message from the world's scientists: simply, we cannot continue in the same old way without unleashing unimaginable catastrophes.”

Yet our political/bureaucratic/industrial/defence juggernauts continue to plan and “project” using hopelessly flawed and out-dated data.

Nothing is certain about the future of human society on this planet!

But planning is what humans do; and they continue to do it as though the future will be just like the recent past.

We are seeing lots of change already, but, until recently, western society has been able to side-step problems due to having massive resources for adaptation and repair. Other less wealthy societies have not been so fortunate. Refugees from climate-change-devastated landscapes in Africa and parts of Asia and the Middle East are changing the face of Europe.

At all levels of government in Australia there is a determination to continue to “plan” on the assumption of infinite population and development growth, as though there was no such thing as fossil-fuel-driven global heating, or severe droughts and catastrophic fires causing local – or national - water and power shortages, or massive, destructive floods. All of which is helping to cause rampant extinction of Australian flora and fauna species.

The Queensland state government celebrates their “win” of snaring the 2032 Olympic Games, with no acknowledgement of the carbon foot-print from demolition, building, and all the other related development activities that an international sporting orgy entails, not to mention the global travel involved. Nobody seems to understand that it's that kind of activity that's killing the biosphere.

In his article, Goldblatt is arguing that increasing summer heat, and decreasing winter snow, will make future Olympics unviable.

According to Sparrow, there's no question of us getting back to normal: “... renewed normality isn't the solution – it's the problem.”

The idea of humanity embracing a new, earth-centred (as opposed to human-centred) ethic is the best news possible. But it seems to scare the hell out of most of us. And not just because it's so different, but because there doesn't seem to be a plan!

Is it possible for humans to take a “softer path” towards enabling our ecosystems to survive and thus support our survival? Until the discussion around Universal Basic Income (UBI) got started, I was pessimistic. But proponents make convincing arguments that the benefits of a guaranteed income for all easily out-weigh the costs. For example, Canadian think-tank UBI Works has done the numbers and you can read about 8 Ways to Pay for Recovery UBI at:

The benefits that are usually recognised include the elimination of poverty, which is hard to argue against, and the opportunity for recipients (everyone) to spend more time doing what they want to do, or at least allowing them to do what they have to do (caring for children or the aged or disabled all come to mind) without worrying where their next meal will come from.

In December 2020 the Green Institute (The Australian Greens' think-tank) published results from a survey which asked 1,026 Australians whether they supported a UBI, that is, a cash payment given to all members of the community on a regular basis regardless of income and with no strings attached. 58% of respondents supported the idea, 18% were opposed, and 24% were unsure or ambivalent. How much this resounding approval of a UBI for Australians was influenced by the pandemic experience is anyone's guess, but experiencing lockdowns and income uncertainty have probably forced many people to re-assess their values and attitudes.

Also in 2020, academics Roger Patulny and Ben Spies-Butcher submitted questions relating to a UBI to the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA). Early results from the survey showed that the data seemed to complement the Greens Institute's survey results. Participants in the survey were asked what they would do with their time if they began receiving regular basic income payments:

“Would they continue to work as much as before, or would they spend more time doing other things?

Very roughly, about a third of people suggested they'd stick to their old routine, so if they're working full-time they'd continue to work full-time and if they're working part-time that's what they'd keep doing," Mr Patulny said.

About 5 per cent said they'd spend more time working, which was surprising.

About 15 per cent said they'd spend more time socialising with friends and/or family, or volunteering in community activities, and 11 per cent said they'd spend more time exercising like walking/hiking, or doing sports.

Roughly 4 per cent nominated creative hobbies, so that includes art, writing, performance, dance, theatre, and media making like film and websites.

"What that's telling us is what people really love to do, and want to do more of, is to get out and about physically and hang out with their mates, I mean that's the fun stuff, isn't it?"

Wouldn't it be great if the UBI was also the catalyst for a Permaculture revolution?

It was fascinating to observe so many people turning to gardening, and crafts such as knitting, during lockdown.

With a guaranteed income, a percentage of the population would have the choice of working productively at home rather than returning to a commuting workforce. Not only growing food, but making things and fixing things, which is what so many of us love to do when we are not at work, earning an income (in order not only to survive, but to be able to afford to do, in our spare time, what we really enjoy doing). There would always be the option to supplement a UBI with part-time paid work if necessary.

A guaranteed liveable income, rather than unemployment benefits, will be essential for coaxing workers out of the fossil-fuel (such as coal-mining, gas drilling, oil production) and fossil-fuel-driven (freight, transport, tourism, chemical, industrial agriculture) industries to transition to more sustainable jobs or livelihoods.

The benefits of Permaculture-plus-UBI include: reduced fossil-fuel use through less commuting and travel, increased local food production from gardens, orchards and edible landscaping, meaningful work rather than tedious or mindless work, more community engagement and economic/social co-operation, more time for outdoor exercise in the form of sport, walking, cycling, swimming etc.(and thus a healthier population), less dependence on institutions for care of infants, children, the aged and other dependents (due to more people being at home during the day rather than soul-less empty suburbs) and - due to the greening of our suburbs and towns plus the decrease in motor vehicle movements and other machine noise, and a slower pace of life – a closer relationship with nature. Which might allow us to adapt to our rapidly changing environment more quickly and effectively.

Whether this pandemic, or other future pandemics, forces governments to provide a universal safety-net to help the vulnerable to survive in these new circumstances, or whether growing inequality leads to more compassionate social welfare policies, a UBI seems like an idea whose time has come.

Judith Turley - August 2021

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Susie Zavodnyik
Mar 22, 2022

Love the photos! Look forward to your newsletter

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